Tiffany Parks' PAWNSHOP 6/21 (Nashville) — Pawnshop , Tiffany Parks — AAPEX

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tiffany Parks' PAWNSHOP 6/21 (Nashville)

Tiffany Parks

On Monday, June 21, AAPEX will present a reading of PAWNSHOP by Atlanta playwright Tiffany Parks. The reading will be held in the theatre upstairs in Nashville's most famous coffee house, Bongo Java, 2007 Belmont Boulevard, across from Belmont University.

PAWNSHOP deals with African American-Jewish relations in Atlanta in 1950 and has received the AAPEX Best New Play 2010 Award. This reading is a first step in moving the property forward towards filming in our AAPEX "stage to screen" project which we call FILM NOIR.

The Nashville cast features Vilia Steele, Jonah Kraut, David Allds, Benee Wisdom, Dave Chattam and Mike Callahan.

I asked Tiffany to share with us what inspired her to write this play. Below is her response.

This play was inspired by my late grandmother and the many stories passed down by her family. My grandmother’s mother, Big Mama, worked her entire life for local Jewish families on Lavista Road. My grandmother’s family lived on Mangum Street in the slums a few blocks from the prominent Atlanta University (now the Atlanta University Center), the State Capitol, and many prominent African-American churches. Blacks needed the Jews to survive and the Jews needed the Blacks to thrive. Pawn shops were a way of life. When blacks needed money and a loan, a pawn shop was not far away. Jews employed blacks to work in their shops all of the time. Peter Street, now known as the Castleberry Hills community, was home to many Jewish pawnshops. There was a strong relationship between the Jews and Blacks. One story that stuck out in my mind was Mr. Schaefer, the Jewish grocer, who gave my grandmother’s family credit for food.

The research.
I went to the William Breman Jewish Museum on Spring Street, in Midtown, Atlanta. I consulted with Sandra Berman, the archivist. At the Breman I researched the Black/Jewish relationship in Atlanta. I read personal stories and books on this subject. I discovered that a lot of Eastern European Jews immigrated to American during the early 1900s because of the pogroms in Eastern Europe. When they came to America, some Jews came to the South and opened businesses in all black communities. This black/Jewish relationship was a relationship of necessity. First, Jewish immigrants were considered foreign and thus discriminated against in the segregated South. Secondly, many Jewish immigrants did not speak English. All of these issues worked in harmony with blacks and Jews because they had to rely on each other for survival. I also interviewed David Goldwasser who owned the Brooklyn Loan and Jewelry pawnshop. Mr. Goldwasser’s father owned the shop in the 30s and 40s. He owned it during the late 40s and 50s. It was located in Downtown, Atlanta. He told me about the daily operations of the shop. There were many Jewish pawnshops and groceries located on Peters Street. Also, I talked to Mr. Szczupak from the Congregation Beth Jacob synagogue. He speaks fluent Yiddish, and he helped me translate some of the dialogue in the play to Yiddish. And of course, I talked to my family members who actually grew up in this world. My grandmother’s mother worked for Mr. Schaefer and the Goldsteins. Her mother worked for Jewish people as well. Many of the older people in my family worked for Jewish families. Back then, the only job for most black women was domestic work.

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