Playwright Greg Everett sees the the city’s famous graveyard as “the perfect candidate for meaningful art that really touches people.”
Inspiration takes many forms.
“I’m wildly neurotic,” says playwright Greg Everett. “As an artist, I’m full of self-doubt, so one of the most fundamental questions that I ask myself and struggle with is, how do I make people care? That question becomes two-fold when it comes to theatre. First of all, how do I make something meaningful, and once I manage that, how do I convince people to come see it? I think that I find site-specific art so compelling because it answers those two questions.”
Everett’s latest script is a site-specific work inspired by the Old Burial Ground that sits in the centre of downtown Fredericton. Between Brunswick and George streets, with Carleton Street’s imaginary line running directly through the middle, the cemetery is home to hundreds of early city residents. Originally planned as a town square, the area was later deeded to the Church of England. The first recorded burial on the site was in 1786.
This Friday, Everett’s play Written in Marble, Buried in Earth: The Spirit of a Place will receive its first public reading at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, just a few blocks away from its source of inspiration.
“So why make a site-specific play about a graveyard? Because, on an aesthetic level, the looming dread and lurking ghosts of a graveyard are exactly the kind of world that I enjoy writing into,” said Everett, “and because the Old Burial Ground is the perfect candidate for meaningful art that really touches people.
“I think especially in the case of the Old Burial Ground, bringing people physically to the site adds a visceral element to the way they receive and think about the subject matter at hand, which deals with community tensions over how the site is used and cared-for, the way that written history obliterates lived experience, the silencing of the voices of indigenous peoples, and, more broadly, questions about life and death, sanctity and respect,” he said. “A cemetery has the potential to immediately unsettle without any necessary stagecraft, and that unsettled state is one that I am trying, through the broad strokes of this project, to turn into a state of mindfulness.”
Everett was one of several featured playwrights in last year’s NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. His play, Carrion Birds, was one of two works to receive performances at UNB’s Memorial Hall as part of the festival’s Acting Out series.
As Everett is quick to point out, Written in Marble, Buried in Earth: The Spirit of a Place is something altogether different from his previous work.
“This script is a pretty big departure for me in that it doesn’t follow a narrative,” he said. “The framework is the place itself, and a widely disparate number of things have happened there since the first burial in 1786. It’s anti-chronological and anachronistic, on the one hand as a conscious attempt to deconstruct strong historical narratives like that of the Loyalists, and on the other hand because the Burial Ground is sort of like its own ghost, and that’s how ghosts work. What I’ve done is consume different forms of research from a ton of different sources, and then let the script grow organically from that mixture, while trying my best to remain true to the site itself. In the play there are funeral processions, delinquent kids, voiceless spirits, forgotten soldiers, revenants of the Wolastoqiyik, anything that I felt really called out to me when I was reading and then writing.”
Though not a site-specific reading, this Friday’s event will provide the audience the opportunity to enjoy the script read aloud with notes and context on the play’s development process.
“Because the script is site-specific, but for many logistical reasons the reading cannot be, I’ve edited the script into a sort of presentation where I’m able to provide some context for the research behind certain characters and ideas, the theoretical basis for different parts, and just general notes on the intention behind the script as a whole,” said Everett. “For this reason, I’ll be reading much of the script myself, accompanied by slides with archival and contemporary photos and newspaper clippings.”
Local theatre artists Lara Lewis, Jen Flewelling, Sam Crowell and Travis Flynn will join Everett for this reading.