Peter Gelblum of Mountain Community Theater (MCT) knows a good story when he hears one. Whether it’s loss or persistence, success or struggle, Gelblum is a student of the human condition, and he uses that insight to help transform his actors into storytellers on stage.
After watching the communities of the San Lorenzo Valley suffer in the white heat of the CZU lightning complex fire, Gelblum knew there was a story to be told. He spent months gathering information from seven locals who had varied experiences during the event and began to put together a vehicle for their stories to be shared.
The work is, for now, unnamed and undefined, yet so familiar to thousands of valley residents affected by the destructive blaze of 2020.
“This is an ambitious project and unlike anything I have done before,” said Gelblum, Director and Chairman of the Board of Directors of MCT.
He calls it a “verbatim theater project” and sees it as an opportunity to share different perspectives from those who have endured so much – and in some cases lost – so much.
“We have such a small valley here, and almost everyone knows someone who has lost their home in the fire. There was so much emotion and trauma around it that I felt it needed to be commemorated somehow, and I needed to do something dramatic about it – not just this. wasn’t dramatic enough already, ”said Gelblum.
He says the impetus for this production came from viewing Anna Deavere Smith’s solo production of “Twilight: Los Angeles,” a chronicle of the aftermath of Rodney King’s verdict and its impact on society.
Using the stories of passers-by, police officers and others, Smith weaves the poignant tales that follow the Los Angeles riots by voicing 30 different characters, and Gelblum seeks to have an equally meaningful impact.
“I knew I wanted to do an article on the fires, and obviously there was no script for it, so I created the script by interviewing community members who were affected by the CZU fire. “said Gelblum. “Their stories will be told by actors, and that’s the concept of the verbatim theater approach.”
Gelblum also nods to “The Laramie Project,” which told the story of Matthew Shepard, a college student who was murdered in 1998 for being gay.
“This is a more well-known verbatim theater project, and it’s a great way to tell a story from a number of perspectives,” Gelblum said.
Additionally, Gelblum cites a media presentation titled THE LINE on the pandemic in New York City as another inspiration for this type of performance.
“There was a cast from the Public Theater of New York telling the stories of 4 to 5 people who had been in the depths of Covid in New York City, from an ambulance driver to an emergency nurse, and it was a incredibly moving piece, ”said Gelblum.
He hopes to bring the same level of emotion and inspiration to his new work.
Gelblum says several MCT members lost their homes to the fire, leaving their readings raw and authentic.
“I interviewed five people who lost their homes and two people involved in fighting the fires,” Gelblum said. “Unfortunately, it was really easy to find people who lost everything in the fire.”
Formed in 1982, MCT is the oldest community theater company in Santa Cruz County. It offers live theatrical performances featuring and tailored to people living in the San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz County.
Based in Ben Lomond, MCT is a member-run, non-profit organization that relies on its performances, seasonal subscribers, and royalties from its own company-created script, “Miracle on 34th Street, the Play “, which she obtained the rights in 2010.
Gelblum said he plans to record the performances of his latest work and then upload them for everyone to see.
“The stories of these residents will be told by our cast, and it must be simple and straightforward,” he said. “We may do it as a play, but even if it’s a movie, it’s only going to be people talking. There will be no sets and costumes, it will just be the actors, telling the stories of these survivors. They deserve to be told. “
[The project name and release date are yet to be determined. Keep watch for future articles on this event. — Editor]