Playwright George Brant in Conversation with Dramaturg Lauren Shouse
Lauren Shouse: What was your inspiration for writing Into the Breeches!?
George Brant: My wife Laura Kepley is the Artistic Director for The Cleveland Play House, and the theatre was about to celebrate their 100th anniversary, and as a result, everyone on the staff was digging into the theatre’s history. I became intrigued by the effort, which led me to rifling through the Women’s Committee’s archived scrapbooks of the Play House’s WWII years and discovering the pivotal part that the women on the home-front played in keeping the theatre afloat during that difficult time. This spurred me on to further research: wartime diaries, sweethearts’ correspondence with soldiers, African-American poetry of the time, anything that expanded my knowledge of women on the home-front beyond Rosie the Riveter.
At the time I had a commission with Trinity Repertory Company, a theatre which I’m quite familiar with from our time living in Rhode Island, so the play ended up a bit of a hybrid between the history of the two theatres.
LS: What is your connection to Chicago’s North shore?
GB: Well, I actually lived in the area for some time. I grew up in Park Ridge, attended Northwestern University and then wrote and acted in Chicago for about ten years after that. And it will always be Old Orchard Mall to me and I miss Marshall Field’s.
LS: While the play was originally set in Providence, you shifted the play for our local community – how does that impact the story, if at all?
GB: Yes, as Breeches! makes its way out into the world, I thought it might be more interesting to encourage theaters to work in the WWII history of their area into their productions to make it more personal. Growing up in the Northlight area as I did, I was happy to research the area’s history myself and make those changes. It’s been fascinating for me to get to know how each part of the country contributed in their own way to the effort.
LS: What is your connection to Shakespeare’s works, especially The Henriad, Shakespeare’s play series following the rise of Prince Hal?
GB: I grew up loving Shakespeare; I don’t know how many times as a kid I watched the VHS tape I’d recorded of Olivier’s King Lear. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a full Henriad at Trinity Rep and many productions of the individual plays. The Henry plays, particularly Henry V, felt like the perfect match for a theatre trying to rally the troops and the home front.
LS: What do you hope audiences take away from this play?
GB: Although the script takes place in the ’40s, my hope is that it resonates in our present day as well. Breeches depicts a time when our country pulled together in common sacrifice; a juxtaposition which I hope puts our current home-front efforts (or lack thereof) in sharp relief. In addition, while the play pokes fun at the sometimes absurd world of the theatre, I hope it also shares its unique ability to allow a person to become their best self while portraying someone else.
LS: What are you working on next?
GB: Next up in September is The Prince of Providence at Trinity Rep, an adaptation of the book by Mike Stanton about the colorful and corrupt long-time Mayor of Rhode Island’s capital city. I’m also working on a solo play, Tender Age, about childr detention at the border and developing an operatic adaptation of Grounded at the Met with music by Jeanine Tesori.