Harlem Dramaturgy Project: Digging deeper — DC Copeland , Harlem Dramaturgy Project , Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance — AAPEX

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Harlem Dramaturgy Project: Digging deeper

Part Two
Once I started learning about the legendary people and places of Harlem for my play Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance, it became important for me to keep track of them. I did this through index cards and by creating a map of Harlem, circa 1931.

Please click image to enlarge.

In retrospect, I wish I had included Manhattan in the map to pinpoint the locations of the gangland murders that are relevant to the play's story. Those actual addresses however are found in the play (as is the above map in the playbook). This is a process I used to keep the fictional aspects of the story plausible. As an example, when my main characters Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson are walking down Lenox Avenue in Harlem and see white gangsters from the Cotton Club taking hatchets and sledge hammers to the rival Plantation Club and then throwing the debris into a bonfire in the middle of the street, I wanted to see if it was plausible for them to have walked to the Harlem River within a reasonable amount of time for the next scene. I discovered it was. My research also found a secondary source-- a newspaper article written about that incident recalled in a book (my first source)-- that backs up the story. As an added bonus, that article gives a voice to the African American perspective of what happened, revealing an underlying resentment to the white gangsters and others who came into their community and opened businesses that would bar Harlemites at the door. That info is included in the annotations found in the playbook. The annotations are there for the actors and the readers to help them better understand the time, place and psychological make-up of the characters in the play. Like the final sentence on the back cover of the playbook, it helps remind everyone that "it all happened in an almost forgotten time in America's most mythic city: Harlem."

DC Copeland

You can follow this series by clicking the "Harlem Dramaturgy Project" in the Labels section below.
Jaz Dorsey

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