Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Play about Faith, Connection and Prejudice

A Few Questions for Catherine Trieschmann

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann is no stranger to SCR’s artistic staff. We’ve been following her work for years—and commissioned her in 2007—and we’re thrilled to be co-producing the world premiere of her latest play, How the World Began. With rehearsals underway, we asked Catherine to reflect on her inspiration for writing the play—and the intersection of life, religion and weather in her town of Hays, Kansas.

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann

What was the genesis for writing How the World Began?
I was lucky enough to receive a Sloan commission from Manhattan Theatre Club, which is a commission designed to get playwrights writing about science and scientists. Since moving to Kansas five years ago, I've been struck by the heated debates concerning creationism and evolution that are periodically held in my small town of 20,000. How the World Began is my attempt to make sense of why people are so passionate about this issue.

Could you tell us more about the importance of the play’s location to you?
My first year in Kansas, the small town of Greensburg (located about an hour south of me) was decimated by a tornado, and the images from that natural disaster have haunted me ever since.

One of the most striking things about living in Western Kansas is the powerful effect of weather on the community. It, of course, affects the farming community profoundly, but even we townspeople have to beware of heavy hail, thunderstorms and tornados—not to mention extreme heat and cold. The sky is ever-changing on the plains, and it is simultaneously majestic and scary and beautiful.

The play’s characters seem to represent three very different perspectives on the continuum of religious and scientific beliefs. In crafting these characters—and their conflicts—how important was it to you to represent all sides of the ever-changing battle over evolution and creationism?
In writing the play, I don't know that I was so intent upon representing all sides of the evolution vs. creationism debate as much as I was intent upon creating characters that were extreme in their beliefs but sympathetic in their portrayal. There are no moderate views in the play, perhaps because moderation is not the most dramatic of choices, but also because it was the extreme passion and commitment I saw expressed by the people of my town which drew me to the material in the first place. I personally have no problem reconciling evolution and the existence of God, but I was intrigued by people who do.

NEXT WEEK:  Catherine Trieschmann presents “A Day in the Life of a Plains Playwright.”

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann has been living and writing in Hays, Kansas, for the last five years. But her newest play, How the World Began, which will premiere on SCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage on Sept. 25, is her first play about Kansas.

In it, she tells the story of Susan Pierce, a new biology teacher from New York who moves to the small town of Plainview to teach in the wake of a devastating tornado. Susan says, “Haven’t you ever looked at photographs after a tsunami or an earthquake half-way across the world and thought, if only I could do something? Wouldn’t it be great to go to bed at the end of the day, tired and used up, knowing you actually helped people?”

Greensburg, Kansas following a F-5 Tornado in 2007.


Susan moved to Plainview to lend a hand—and to start a new life.  But she is an outsider in this small, farming town, and unprepared for the firestorm that will erupt after she makes a careless comment while teaching the origins of life.

When student Micah Staab, a devout Christian, takes offense and confronts Susan, she at first denies having made the comment, then tries to explain that she was talking about early non-scientific beliefs that had nothing to do with God. But Micah feels disrespected, and when Susan refuses to apologize, his guardian Gene gets involved. Gene Hinkle is the town’s garrulous ex-postmaster, and soon everyone in town believes that Susan is an evolutionary zealot.  The town gossip leads to building pressure that threatens to dismantle Susan’s new life and vocation.

Trieschmann’s drama subtly explores the hot-button topics of creationism and evolution—as they’re taught (or not taught) in modern classrooms today—through the prism of three character’s strongly held personal beliefs. It’s a character-driven play about faith, connection and the innate prejudices people sometimes have toward beliefs different from their own.

Jarrett Sleeper, Kirsten Potter and Joe Spano in rehearsal for the 2011
Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of How the World Began.


How the World Began was presented in a reading during SCR’s 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival and is being produced in association with Women’s Project Theater in New York. Daniella Topol is directing both the SCR production and the one at Women’s Project, which will produce the play in January 2012. How the World Began will have its European premiere at Out of Joint Theatre in London this fall.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to seeing the play on Sunday. I assume that The pro evolution crowd will dominate the audience because one side has science & facts & the other side relies on superstition & faith.I've found that evolution deniers aren't very interested in listening to the overwhelming evidence that supports the theory.