Category Archives: One Came Home

An interview with Jessica Wright Buha

Note: This is a posting from Lifeline ensemble member Amanda Link, dramaturg and assistant director for our winter MainStage production of One Came Home.

An interview with Jessica Wright Buha, the adaptor of One Came Home.

JessicaWrightBuhaHeadshotActual

Q: What drew you to the book?

A: Alan Donahue, a Lifeline ensemble member, was the one who recommended the book to me. We had worked together on several shows at Lifeline when I was an assistant stage manager there. I was also his assistant prop designer on Treasure Island. He was always really supportive of my writing. He came out to see shows I had written for Deathscribe, and Whiskey Rebellion and other theaters around town. And one day he emailed me and said that when he read One Came Home, he thought that I should be the one to adapt it. I was in the middle of working on Lyle Finds His Mother for the Lifeline KidSeries and I was so honored and excited that he thought of me.

I immediately fell in love with the language and the world of the book. I am always drawn to lyricism and imagery. The way Amy Timberlake described the landscape of Wisconsin was just beautiful. And I have always been drawn to the late 1800s. I read a lot of Little House On the Prairie growing up. And I really like the mystery genre. I also loved the songs in the book. I was very interested in having actual songs in the show.

I also have an older sister. We are twins but she is technically older by three minutes. She is the more floaty of the two of us. She’s always moving, always changing jobs. She was the social butterfly growing up and I was the studious, quiet, homebody. She went through a phase where she was very difficult to get ahold of. She didn’t have a cell phone for awhile and she was just off doing her own thing. I related to Georgie’s idea that home is a sacred place. I didn’t have the typical teenage impulse of wanting to get away from home. I always wanted to be best friends with my sister but we were always so different. Getting to explore that sister relationship was very appealing.

Q: How did you begin the adaptation process for this piece?

A: I had just finished adapting James Joyce’s Ulysses and it was very dense. I went back to the text a lot while writing. For this one, I wanted to do it differently. I read through the book a couple of times and then on my third reading I took notes, made an outline, and chose snippets of dialogue. After I read it a fourth time, I put it away and wrote my first draft. It took me about two months to write that first draft and then I wrote several more drafts before we started rehearsals.

Q: What was your biggest challenge while writing the adaptation?

A: It was really difficult to take out the first person narration but still keep what I loved about the book. I decided early on that I didn’t want to have a narrator. It works so well in the book but I wouldn’t know how to do it effectively in a play. Georgie has such a great voice but I didn’t want it to turn into us reading the book on stage. I tried to find a way to preserve her voice and capture her emotional journey in a theatrical way.

Q: The Lifeline process is very unique. The playwright is at all of the rehearsals and receives a lot of feedback along the way. How has this affected your writing?

A: It really feeds into my style nicely. I like to crank out drafts quickly and then do lots of rewrites. I have typically experienced a lot of closed rehearsals where the playwright is not welcome and that can be difficult. I really like to be in the room and hear the actors speaking the words. If they are stumbling over the lines, the problem might be with the lines themselves and that is good to know. I trust the actors a lot and it is really helpful to be in rehearsals with them and see where their instincts are leading them. I feel very lucky to be able to change things throughout the entire process.

Q: What are some of your own personal writing habits?

A: I like to write at night when the house is quiet. I like to write on the couch with the dog sitting next to me. I will often put headphones on and listen to the same ten songs over and over again while I write. It’s like when you go to the gym and you listen to certain songs to motivate yourself. I do it to create a rhythm to encourage myself to keep writing. That way I don’t have time to stop and judge myself. I’ll also use music to connect to the emotion of the story. If I’m having trouble with a scene, I’ll step back and start writing paragraphs about it. I’ll describe the setting and characters and just keep writing until some dialogue pops into my head. Sometimes I’ll start acting things out while I’m writing and then my dog will look over at me like I’m crazy.

An interview with Amy Timberlake

Note: This is a posting from Lifeline ensemble member Amanda Link, dramaturg and assistant director for our winter MainStage production of One Came Home.

An interview with Amy Timberlake, the multiple award-winning author of One Came Home, That Girl Lucy Moon, and The Dirty Cowboy.

Q: What inspired One Came Home?

A: I wrote it over a long period of time, so there were many inspirations. I saw a production of The Taming of the Shrew and was disturbed by the relationship between the sisters. After that, I knew I wanted to write a story about two sisters. I had already written a middle grade novel called That Girl Lucy Moon, in which one of the characters is a 68-year-old business woman. I ended up cutting about 100 pages of her from the book, but I held onto her voice. Someone in my writing group suggested I try that voice as a 13 year old girl. She would be a future business woman, sure of herself even at that difficult age. Now I had two ideas but I still didn’t have a setting. That’s when I came across a book on passenger pigeons. I knew a little about this bizarre phenomenon and wanted to learn more. I’m an amateur birder and will occasionally pick up bird books, and this one was amazing. I had to keep reading bits aloud to my husband! It sounded like science fiction at times. And then on one page there was a map of Wisconsin, my home state, with a giant L-shaped blob in the middle of it. It was the site of the largest passenger pigeon nesting ever recorded. It was about 850 square miles, which is about the size of 3 and a half cities of Chicago all put together. I had also been watching a lot of Westerns and I thought, I could set a Western in Wisconsin. Why not?

Q: At our first rehearsal, we went around the room and discussed if we related more to Agatha or Georgie. Do you see yourself more in one or the other?

A: When you write in first person, you end up feeling very strongly connected to that person. I like giving my opinion, but I’m not as dogmatic as Georgie. I actually don’t speak like Georgie at all. My Grandfather talks like Georgie. In my book The Dirty Cowboy, I made my first attempt at my Grandfather’s voice. He had a very Western way of approaching people. He would just tell them the truth and move on and let them do what they wanted with the information.

Listening to stories being told was a big part of my childhood, especially whenever I would visit my grandparents. In One Came Home, Georgie is telling this story to someone. It’s a long story, but she’s a talker so it works.

Q: What is it like for you to see your work adapted into another form?

A: It’s exciting when you’ve written something that makes someone else want to create something. I haven’t seen One Came Home yet but when Lifeline adapted The Dirty Cowboy, it was so much fun! I’ve been to a lot of shows at Lifeline so I trust you guys. You take good care of your stories and it’s clear that you value literature.

I can’t wait to see how you’ll do the birds! And what will Billy look like? I’m looking forward to seeing the show.

Q: When did you start writing?

A: In the third or fourth grade, I wrote a poem. When I showed it to my Dad he said, “You really have a way with that.” And that little comment stuck with me. I was always a big reader. I loved to read. And I thought my library card was like a super power badge that I could use to get anything I wanted. I lived in a small town and I could walk to the library by myself and then use the books to travel to different times and places. The idea that I could write my own book was so cool, but also really intimidating. I had a long path to becoming a writer because it didn’t seem possible. I thought I should do something more practical. I studied economics and then history before I got my Master’s in Writing. But all along the way I took every creative writing class available in high school and college because it was always something I wanted to do.

Q: Do you work on one thing at a time or do you tend to have multiple projects going at once?

A: I always have lots of ideas. I’m trying to get better at working on more than one thing at a time. Right now I have two things. I’m working on a novel and that is my primary focus. The secondary project is a nonfiction picture book. I am in the research phase for that one, trying to see if it will work.

The novel is written in third person and there is lots of humor in it. I don’t want to say too much about it but I will say that one of the issues from One Came Home has come into this book. Telling this story is one way that I am working through a question that I have. All of my writing is like a record of my thoughts through stories.

Passenger pigeons

Note: This is a posting from Lifeline ensemble member Amanda Link, dramaturg and assistant director for our winter MainStage production of One Came Home.

Amy Timberlake’s book One Came Home is set in Wisconsin in 1871 during one of the last great passenger pigeon migrations. The nesting that took place in Wisconsin that year covered an estimated 850 square miles and is the largest one recorded. In his book The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction, A.W. Schorger proposes that nearly all of the passenger pigeons in North America were present at that nesting. Amy loved the idea of having “a living, breathing setting” for her story.

ochblog1Passenger pigeons were in the news a lot this past year because September 1, 2014 marked the hundred-year anniversary of the death of Martha, the last remaining passenger pigeon. The species is now extinct, but when Europeans first began exploring North America, there were an estimated 3 to 5 billion passenger pigeons. Their numbers are difficult for us to imagine today. A flock could take 3 full days to pass overhead. And they flew so close together that, as John James Audubon described, “the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse.” Each spring they migrated en masse from the South to the Midwest and returned in the fall.

The passenger pigeons were quite different from the pigeons we’re used to seeing here in Chicago on a daily basis. They would be more similar in their shape and coloring to a mourning dove. They had short red legs, light powder blue throats, reddish-fawn bellies, rich red breasts, and slate blue heads. Their strong pointed wings spanned two feet. They traveled with great unity of movement at an average cruising speed of 60mph. While flying, each bird’s head was only inches behind the tail of the bird preceding him, and no more than 2 feet from the birds above and below him. The roar of wings and calls of birds could be heard up to 3 miles away. As they grew nearer, the sound grew to frightening proportions. Passenger pigeons required large dense forests and ate acorns and beechnuts. Traveling and nesting in such large numbers protected the birds from their natural enemies by virtue of sheer numbers, but also made them vulnerable to hunters.

ochblog2Professional hunters followed the passenger pigeons around the country. They could easily capture more than a hundred birds with one throw of a net. One gunshot could bring down dozens of birds. Once the telegraph and the railroads were added into the equation, making it easier to find the birds and ship the meat to other locations, the passenger pigeon numbers rapidly decreased. The birds only laid one egg a year. That in combination with over hunting and deforestation quickly led to their extinction.

But that is not the end of their story. There is currently an organization that is trying to bring them back. The Long Now Foundation has started a project called Revive and Restore. They are interested in de-extinction and have selected the passenger pigeon as their test species. The passenger pigeon was chosen because it is “not only feasible to successfully bring back, but also presents enough challenges to push the science forward and open up the possibility of de-extinction to many more species. An extinct mouse would be an easy win for de-extinction, but it does not challenge us to produce the methods necessary to revive birds or reptiles.”

Many people wonder about the repercussions of such an experiment. Scientists do not yet know how reintroducing an extinct species will effect the existing ecosystem. We’ll have several years to debate the issues as the project progresses. This year they are beginning to replace segments of the band-tailed pigeon genome with the essential passenger pigeon sequences. By 2022 they are hoping to generate live passenger pigeons using band-tailed pigeons as surrogate parents. The live birds will then be bred in captivity and eventually returned to the wild with a soft release target date of 2027.

Stewart Brand, of the Long Now Foundation, suggested that “this generation gets to rethink extinction, gets to rethink habitat loss and habitat restoration, and gets to ponder the role of biotechnology in protecting biodiversity. Welcome to a very interesting century.”

Sources include: Hope is the Thing With Feathers by Christopher Cokinos, The Silent Sky by Allan W. Eckert, The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction by A.W. Schorger, longnow.org, and the Wisconsin Historical Society.