Montana’s Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger isn’t “just” a poet. In his long list of lifetime achievements, including authoring eight collections of poems, receiving fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council, and winning the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize and the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award, Jaeger is now the author of a verse-play. “Someday I’d Write This Down” is Jaeger’s first play, and it will debut at Flathead Valley Community College Sept. 6-8 under the formative direction of FVCC alumnus and practicing playwright Joshua Kelly.
When asked what inspired him to write a play, Jaeger had this to say: “In my travels as Montana Poet Laureate, I found myself longing for modes of conveying poems to an audience other than the standard poet-at-the-podium reading. People who gravitate toward poetry are, by nature, lovers of language. Also they are good listeners. They are comfortable sitting still and letting language move their imaginations. These people are auditory learners.
“Other people need visuals, props and characters on the stage ‘acting’ the poems. So, ‘Someday I’d Write This Down’ is an experiment in making a narrative series of poems more accessible to more sorts of perceptual styles.”
The play is about growing up in a small Midwestern town during the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s. It’s both funny and serious. The main character is an aging man who is remembering and reflecting on the events of his life over six decades. Each scene traces an aspect of this man’s cognitive/spiritual progression toward understanding himself, his family and the general human condition.
Jaeger was approached last fall by the head of FVCC’s Theater Department, Joe Legate, to write something that could be performed on stage. “I was surprised how easily so many of my poems fit into a larger narrative, and I began to imagine what poems might ‘look like’ when presented as a theatre production,” Jaeger said.
“Theatre allows the poem a multi-media advantage, aesthetically stimulating the audience from many angles at once – words, lights, colors, sound, props and movement,” he added. “It was a thrill for me to glimpse the possibilities.”
Kelly, the play’s director, is a Ph.D. student in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also teaches. When the curtain opens on “Someday I’d Write This Down,” Kelly will be back in Wisconsin.
“The largest challenge for me has been pragmatic, as I am conceiving the show, implementing its design, and staging it, but I won’t be here through opening,” Kelly said. “Instead, my extremely capable artistic team and my enthusiastic assistant director are executing my work after I go.”
Kelly and his team have worked hard to fulfill Jaeger’s goal of making poetry accessible to visual learners.
“I think the work we have been doing to create an enjoyable and moving theatre experience will allow an audience of any variety to come and see Lowell’s poetry in a new medium,” Kelly said. “We are striving to make this a performance and aesthetic treat for everyone.”
“Someday I’d Write This Down” runs Sept. 6-8 in the FVCC Theatre, located inside the Arts and Technology Building. Nightly performances begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are just $5 for community members and $2 for students and can be purchased online at www.fvcc.edu, in the FVCC Bookstore or at the door any night of the show.
– Jill Seigmund