Weekender

Tempest Productions stages a ‘verbal scrapbook’

The cast of “Accidents of Being,” from left, Lissa Ramirez, Miranda Marks, Elaine Meder-Wilgus and Mike Waldhier, rehearse for the upcoming production at The State Theatre.
The cast of “Accidents of Being,” from left, Lissa Ramirez, Miranda Marks, Elaine Meder-Wilgus and Mike Waldhier, rehearse for the upcoming production at The State Theatre. Photo provided

Tempest Productions Inc. will present “Accidents of Being,” based on the poetry by Mary Rohrer-Dann and adapted for the stage by Cynthia Mazzant, on April 1-2 at The State Theatre.

More than 100 years of neighborhood residents — from the railroad tycoon whose ancestor came over with William Penn to the housekeeper who married his only heir and left the estate to the people of Philadelphia. A fugitive slave passing through while hidden in a casket to immigrants from war-ravaged Europe. Farmers, factory workers, homemakers, artists, schemers and one or two ghosts. Those are the voices we hear in “Accidents of Being.”

Rohrer-Dann’s book of poetry, “Accidents of Being,” is inspired by the stories of the Philadelphia neighborhood where she grew up, and the Ryerss Museum and Library in Burholme Park where she spent so much of her childhood and adolescence.

This new verse play is the most recent collaboration between Rohrer-Dann and director/playwright Cynthia Mazzant. The two collaborated on “La Scaffetta,” produced in November 2015.

Tempest Productions is celebrating its 20th anniversary and decided again to feature the work Rohrer-Dann.

“I have been collaborating with Mary for over 10 years now and am taken with her creation of characters and stories through poetry,” said Mazzant, co-founder of Tempest Productions.

This production stars Mazzant, Miranda Marks, Elaine Meder-Wilgus, Lissa Ramirez and Mike Waldhier. It uses choral readings, spoken word, multimedia and verse to bring those stories to life.

“Farmers, factory workers, homemakers, immigrants and many others are heard from,” Mazzant said. “We see both the universality of the experiences that shaped their lives while also exploring the individual choices that they’ve made.”

As a book of poems that is still in progress, “Accidents of Being” had little overall structure at first. But Mazzant’s work with the piece has enhanced Rohrer-Dann’s words and heightens how the poems connect to each other.

“What she does with choral readings, layering voices and lines, using repetition and echo, continues to astonish me,” Rohrer-Dann said.

Rohrer-Dann’s poetry is full of imagery and words and the poems are written in both first and third person.

“The play fluctuates from characters talking about themselves as well as talking about others — sharing the stories of their friends, lovers, mothers, sons,” Mazzant said. “As characters, we become the storytellers, the narrators and the keepers of these moments. Think of it as a verbal scrapbook.”

The production hopes to reach out to cross-generational audiences and connect with people who love stories and narrative poetry.

“We can recognize in these characters, our own private struggles, sorrows, and our secret hopes and joys,” Mazzant said. “We can see our dreams, our loves, and our desires — these moments will resonate with the audience.”

With additional performances soon to come, Mazzant described her main goals for this piece and for future productions.

“To celebrate classical and universal themes, and to return to intimate conversation,” she said. “To explore the dialogues between families, portraits of existence and characters struggling within themselves — all depicted through the celebration of the spoken word.”

Rohrer-Dann said she loves working with Tempest, whose talented actors have been inventive, tireless and fun to work with.

“Their dedication to their craft and to each other amazes me,” she said. “Their interpretation of my characters often shows me nuances I hadn’t been aware of before.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Tempest Productions’ “Accidents of Being”
  • When: 8 p.m. April 1-2 and 3 p.m. April 2
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.thestatetheatre .org
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