August is a strange and wonderful month in the theatre. Following tradition rooted in the London social season of the Regency era, most theatre companies “go dark” in the summer months and don’t produce new plays until about September. There are exceptions to this old pattern, like the many summer-stock or repertory companies that produce only off-season. In Raleigh, for example, “Hot Summer Nights” consistently produces polished summer fare, featuring some of the best performers in the area.
But for the most part, August is the month of anticipation, when seasons have been announced, actors are returning from the beach and rehearsals are about to begin. In the theatre community, there is a faint but noticeable hum, like an orchestra tuning up. It is an exciting moment, as all the promise of the next season, all the stories and characters, wait in the wings.
It’s no coincidence that the theater season very closely mirrors the academic year. There are natural times, as those Londoners knew, to return to work and the city, and other times to head to the beach. So, as the many great theatre companies in the Triangle begin tuning up for the new season, I’m experiencing another kind of anticipation as well: the thrill of going back to school. This month I’ll start teaching drama at Research Triangle High School, a new charter school in Durham, and while I’ve taught for 14 years, this will be my first time teaching as a regular classroom instructor.
It is a thrilling and daunting opportunity for me. The school’s incredible faculty and innovative curriculum model promise a year full of discovery and exploration, perhaps even more for me than for the students. New ideas, stories and characters, all waiting in the wings.
It makes me think of William Jevons, a British economist of the Victorian era who would have been very familiar with the ebb and flow of the London Season. Jevons posited a unique theory of happiness, that we derive satisfaction from a given event not only from the event itself, but also from the anticipation and the memory of the event. Further, because the anticipation and the memory of a given event inevitably last longer than the cause, those stages are capable of imparting greater happiness than the actual, transitory event. The excitement we feel in advance is as real and tangible a pleasure as whatever we are looking forward to.
So, it is August. That strange and wonderful month, when anticipation (and therefore satisfaction) is in the air, and a new story waiting in the wings.
Ian Finley originally hails from Utah, where he studied at the University of Utah, and premiered YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN: A TRIO FOR SECRETARIES (KCATF 2001) and THE NATURE OF THE NAUTILUS (Kennedy Center/Jean Kennedy Smith Award winner 2002). Written for a company of deaf actors and performed in American Sign Language, NAUTILUS was Finley’s first experience writing material intended to spur conversation between diverse communities.
Finley received his MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of Performing Arts. While there he received the Harry Kondoleon Award for playwriting and premiered GREEN SQUARE, NIGHTENGALE SONG and SUSPSENSE (recently performed by Bare Theatre Company in Durham and as part of the 10 x 10 Festival in the Triangle at the Carrboro Arts Center).
In 2004, Finley moved permanently to Raleigh to serve as Director of Education at Burning Coal Theatre Company. In this position he has taught playwriting, Shakespeare and theatre arts to students aged seven to seventy, for grade schools, universities and other organizations throughout the Triangle. He also leads Burning Coal’s Summer Theatre Conservatories, regular educational trips to New York and London, and Burning Coal’s annual KidsWrite Festival. This festival produces new plays by students grades 6 – 12 from eight counties in the Piedmont area.
In 2005, Burning Coal Theatre Company Artistic Director Jerome Davis suggested the possibility of writing an original play about the history of those buried at Historic Oakwood Cemetery which could be performed in the cemetery itself. Working with historian Bruce Miller, Finley wrote the script, OAKWOOD. The performance was a success and led to the creation of the “Our Histories” series at Burning Coal. For “Our Histories,” Finley has partnered with numerous Wake County organizations (including the Raleigh City Museum, Mordecai Historic Park, the Town of Cary, Raleigh City Cemetery and others) to create original scripts inspired by the history of the area and performed in spaces relevant to the characters. As part of the “Our Histories” series, Finley has researched and dramatized over 75 separate stories of the history of Wake County.
The high point of Finley’s work dramatizing the history of his adopted home was the 2009 premier of 1960 at Burning Coal Theatre Company. Working with various Burning Coal company members over five years, interviewing people throughout the community, Finley crafted a script exploring the desegregation of Raleigh’s schools. The premier took place in the restored Murphey School Auditorium where the vote to desegregate the schools had taken place fifty years before.
In addition to his work as a playwright, Finley has worked on film projects and explored the effect of interactivity on narrative structure via computer game design. His work in this area includes THE KLOCKWERK: THE SHADOW IN THE CATHEDRAL (Textfyre Inc, 2008), KAGED (1st Place, International Interactive Fiction Competition, 2000), EXHIBITION and BABEL (XYZZY Award for Best Story).
Finley continues to teach throughout the Triangle area for Burning Coal and write plays that he hopes will spark discussion and bridge community lines. His next script, a two-part adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s JUDE THE OBSCURE , premiered at Burning Coal Theatre Company in April of 2012.