On the 50th anniversary of the notorious Cuyahoga River Fire, Lit Cleveland placed a call for original work by Cleveland writers addressing the devastating fire and other environmental issues. Over 100 poems, personal essays, plays, and short stories were submitted, and Lit Cleveland's programming committee and staff worked to review, select, and edit the submitted works.
Ultimately, over 20 pieces were chosen for an upcoming staged reading titled "Words On Fire: Remembrance of the Cuyahoga River Fire, 1969." Part of this year's Cleveland Humanities Festival, the free staged reading takes place Sat. 3/16 and Sun. 3/17 at 7pm in CSU's Student Center Ballroom. In anticipation of "Words On Fire," we sat down recently with the show's director, Chennelle Bryant-Harris, for an inside scoop on the show.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what's in store for this performance?
I have always been intrigued by the mythology of Cleveland—there is always a larger-than-life story about this city. So, I wanted to play with the idea of mythological creatures speaking these words. What if the goddesses of the river could speak? What would they say? How would they feel about the development of their body, the river? It will be a celebration! A rally for the river! A thinning of the veil so to speak.
In what ways have the selected works impacted your understanding of the Cuyahoga River Fire?
One thing I noticed in a lot of the pieces is that there seems to be a change in the tide. We are 50 years out from the last fire and the river seems to be headed in the right direction—wildlife is returning and the river is becoming part of the life of the city again. The sentiment of rebirth and reclamation is echoed through the pieces. It parallels the growth of our city.
What are some of the challenges of adapting written pieces for the stage? What is exciting to you about this process?
One of the biggest challenges in adapting written pieces for the stage is the editing process. I truly believe that different art forms are created to be tasted, enjoyed, and discussed differently. The artist's intent with the work is the most important part, so moving, changing, or editing works to fit a into performance was hard for me to do knowing that each word and phrase is chosen for an important reason and with the intent of being read off the page by the audience member directly. I want to honor the work and the words, and also create a dynamic performance piece. On the other hand, all I have as a guide is the text. The world that we will create is not bound by stage directions, characters, or a plot, so the audience has no idea where we are going. And that’s kind of fun!
Anything else you'd like to share about the show?
I hope our audience comes with an open mind, ready to experience these pieces and then go home and read them for themselves. I hear music every time I read them and our performance will encourage a soundscape too.
If you haven't already, register in advance for the free performances here. See you at the show!
"Words On Fire" is presented in partnership with Cleveland State University's English Department and
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University.
To create a strong community of readers and writers in Cleveland, Ohio through workshops, classes, readings and other events.