J.J. Strang Writer's Society
Issue No. 15
January 22, 2005
Lots of news from members old and new.
I hope that upon starting to use your 2005 appointment calendar (or pocket calendar or computer calendar or whatever) each of you have marked the third weekend of June (17th~19th) for our Second Annual 2005 Strang Writers Conference.
One thing we hope to finalize then is our mission statement which I have included again at the end of this issue.
Also be sure to contact Vickie Speek at vickie_speekyahoo.com with any ideas or suggestions for our 2006 Conference (150 anniversary of the shooting of Strang).
From Bill Cashman
“At last spring's get-together, I suggested we might consider publishing a book in 2006, the 150th anniversary of Strang's death. One idea that had come to me was to create a collection of fictional vignettes about life in St. James during Strang's rule, a kind of Winesburg, Ohio in which Strang was minimally present, on stage, in each story, but had a cumulative, overbearing presence. Such a book might have the at-least-provisional title of the Kingdom of St. James. Some who were present thought this was an interesting prospect, and others had actually written something containing parts that could be readily adapted. For example, in Rebecca Carlson's work-in-progress, she has a reporter coming to interview Strang, which creates the possibility of him meeting on board the ship (the USS Michigan) someone who knew about St. James, someone he would pump for information; such a conversation could become a chapter. What I was thinking of was a collection of stories that would each present the view of Strang's kingdom from the perspective of someone living there; some would be there for religious reasons, others for economic; some would be against Strang and some would feel he did not really touch their lives. Bennet, Adams, and McCullough might offer their views; other stories might involve coopers, fishermen, carpenters, farmers.... Several women could be represented.
“Another possibility for a 2006 book would be something like A Strang Miscellany–a different kind of book not unified by a central conceit. At the onset of our meeting last spring I remarked that I was contemplating writing something from a post-modernist perspective (and I'm not sure what I meant), and such thoughts continue to swirl around. Bill Olson has offered to create a time-spanning interview of Strang by someone in today's world–a good start to a Miscellany.
“In either case, the project would require an editor, and since no one else has stepped forward, I would be glad to nominate myself for this position--and to take responsibility for the actual publication and marketing of the finished project. So if this is of any interest to some of you, let's be prepared at our next get-together to spend some time discussing what to do and how to go about it. My guess is that for either project to succeed, five writers would have to subscribe to it no later than the coming summer.”
From James Vol Hartwell
“I had the Strang Kingdom flag made in the Philippines to fly in the 1850's Mormon Settlement of Horton's Bay.”
From Don Ollie
“After I left Beaver Island in July I visited places with Strang's roots in Burlington (Vorees). A new girl at the Chamber of Commerce knew very little about Strang so on my very own I found several points of interest related to Strang.
“I took the following pictures: Strang's grave, Vorees Cemetery, the house where he died, the LDS (Strangite) church and the Mormon House. If you would like these you may have them, however, I cannot send them via Internet since my scanner is down. If you want them e-mail me your "snail mail" (postal) address and I'll mail them to you.
“Keep me posted of any activities in which I may be able to participate.”
From Jennifer Nix
“I'm still trying to get the main recordings that were done in the meeting room; seems Robert has left the island, however, with many things hanging. I may be able to get the recordings from the man who lent the equipment. I've wanted to go over what was said, to begin preparing some kind of outline for a radio script. I'm quite certain that I'll have to do more personal interviews, once I have an idea of what we've got from the meetings. Long term project, looks like.”
From Constance Cappel
“We are holding our Second Annual Harbor Springs Symposium at the Birchwood Inn in Harbor Springs, Michigan. The topic this year is "Native Voices" with prominent American Indian writers, storytellers, and craftspeople speaking and leading workshops.
“You can find out more under Contact at: ConstanceCappel.com.”
From Carolyn Lewis
“”We are deep into a preservation project in Old Mission Peninsula Township, near Traverse and I'm doing presentations for public information and I have a couple of questions regarding Beaver Island in the 1830s through the 1850s. We're saving the Peter and Maria Dougherty House, which served as the first mission in the Grand Traverse region, and possibly northwest lower Michigan. The Doughertys were sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions in 1838 to help the Ottawa and Chippewa here comply with the 1836 and the 1855 Treaties. Mackinac and Sault Ste. Marie were accessible by boat then. What is the date of Strang's arrival and death on Beaver Island so that I may have a sense of it in relation to the Doughertys' time here , and were there any Indian Agents or missions on Beaver at the time.”
From a press release about Anne-Marie Oomen's new play:
“Murder, mystery, polygamy and politics; it's all in the new play at Old Town Playhouse, Wives of an American King, by Anne-Marie Oomen. The true story of when James Jesse Strang was Mormon ‘king’ of Beaver Island takes a turn into the heart as Oomen tells it from the perspective of his five wives. Anne-Marie says, ‘Little is known about the wives, thus they make excellent material for historical fiction. It was fun to write about them with the freedom to imagine what they might have been like; to make a play that is literary and imaginative more than historical. I wanted to take these almost invisible women and make them talk to us through the lens of our own time, calling on the universal experiences of women, especially women who have had to subvert their power.’ Strang came to Beaver Island in the mid-1800s with an newly formed sect of Mormons who saw him as their prophet and leader. Though this sect was strongly against polygamy, God soon revealed to James that he should take a second wife, and then three more after that. He was the father of thirteen children so perhaps some of you reading this are related to him. During the decade that he ruled as self-appointed king of the island he also served two terms in the Michigan legislature, and was accused and acquitted of treason in a high profile trial. He was assassinated by his own followers in 1856. The wives are played by Kelly Curits, Karen Haspas, Michelle Perez, Nicole Case and Bonnie Deigh who also play the roles of male counterparts. This creates some interesting ironies, parallels, and a challenge to the audience, not to mention director Jeanette Mason. Phil Murphy brings authenticity to the part of Strang. Another stellar contribution to this production is musician Thomas Stokes who has adapted, arranged and conducted the traditional American hymns for the play. Supported by a production crew that includes Steve Morse as technical director, Rosanne Fifarek and Mary Gillette as co-directors, Diane Hubert as Producer, Jeff Kroeger on set construction, Gary Bolton on sound, Barbara and Dan Goodearl doing props, Kathy Verstraede doing costumes, and Dick Cieslik and Vickie Mathis as co-stage managers there is little doubt of the quality of Wives of an American King. Anne-Marie Oomen is Chair of Creative Writing at Interlochen Arts Academy, author of two chapbooks of poetry; the memoir, Pulling Down The Barn, (Wayne State University Press); and editor of Looking Over My Shoulder: Reflections on the Twentieth Century, a collection of writing by older adults. Of the eight plays Oomen has written, OTP has premiered most of them. Several have also been produced in theaters around the Midwest. On Thursday, February 17th there will be a question and answer session with her after the play for interested writers and historians. In our own interview I asked Ms. Oomen these questions:
Q: Producing a new play seems like a scary thing. What evokes the courage?
"A good director. I love working with director Jeanette Mason. We've collaborated before and work well as a team. We listen to each other and the actors carefully, give a little, take a little until we come up with a scene that rings true. She asks tough questions which, when we tackle them together reaps a better product, not to mention an exciting and challenging process."
Are there any special challenges about casting a new play?
“I love the process of working on my scripts with actors in a collaborative spirit. This amazing cast brings a rich mix of experience to the boards and it shows. With each rehearsal I am learning more about the script and the characters. These actors bring the characters to life and in the process of discovery, together we develop a greater understanding of their interactions and their place in the story line of the play. I am able to rewrite, bringing greater cohesiveness to the play through the rehearsal process. This tells me how effective my work is and gives me the opportunity to hone it.”
How does a playwright get new plays into production?
“You have to have a relationship with a theater. For me that's Old Town Playhouse. Even though I've moved in and out and back in to the area, I've always felt OTP was an artistic center for me. OTP has been especially serious about the development of new scripts over the years. They have always been supportive of developing new plays and often include a new play by a regional playwright in the studio season. It's one of the roles a good community theater can play for developing writers, by supporting that expression of new art in the field.”
How do the technical crew and production people help in the development of a new play?
“I am especially grateful to the production and technical crews who are willing to work with a new script. They are included in the dramatic process knowing that they'll have to be flexible and creative. Its made for an incredible discovery. For example, I learn things about the show from the light, sound, tech and music personnel. After hearing the music score, arranged and adapted from period hymns and music by Tom Stokes, I was inspired to rewrite some scenes. Stokes is an amazing musician and his score has added so much to the play. It's haunting, melancholy and joyful as is needed to reinforce characters, mood and action."
You've written several plays based on history. What is it that attracts you to history?
“Maybe it's laziness. I've always loved working with history as a base because it gives you some inkling of narrative from which to begin shaping real plot. You're given a kind of half story and you have to ask yourself what kinds of characters would make this event happen. What would they have to be thinking, or believing, in order for this to occur? It's like putting together a complicated puzzle rather than making up the puzzle from the scratch.”
Following is a reprint of our tentative mission statement. We should finalize it at our spring meeting.
J.J. Strang Writers Society
The Mission of the J.J. Strang Writers Society is to promote scholarly research and to stimulate and facilitate interest in James Jesse Strang.
1. The name of the organization shall be "The Strang Writers Society."
2. The society’s purpose
a. To make Beaver Island a center for Strang scholarship.
b. To provide fellowships for Strang writers.
c. To promote events related to Strang.
d. To obtain grants to provide funding for the above.
3. Membership will be open to anyone with an interest in Strang.
4. Dues for membership shall be set from time to time depending upon need.
5. Officers to be elected by the membership:
6. Annual meetings shall be held during the last half of June each year.
7. A newsletter shall be published quarterly or more frequently as needed. It shall be distributed either by e-mail or USPS.
8. Relations with other organizations
a. Beaver Island Historical Society: Possibly operate under the umbrella of their 501-C3 tax status.
b. Michigan Humanities Council ?
c. Other organizations (as members may suggest)