Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The story of a life -- in an hour

Last month Megan, Nicki and I saw LeCount R. Holmes Jr. portray Frederick Douglass (left) in a one-man show at Penn State-York. Holmes has distilled Douglass' monumental life into an hour.
Part of how he's done this is clear during his performance. For example, he takes a key Douglass quote --
"We create our present by the influences of our past. Our past has been created and it can never ever be erased."
-- and repeats it several times, using it to link ideas and themes in Douglass' life.
After the performance (and later, as a follow-up, in e-mail), I asked Holmes for more specifics on how he chose what to put in and leave out in order to tell Douglass' life story in an hour -- because we do the same kind of decision-making when we report and write stories. He said after studying Douglass' life, he "started writing and created a story to support his speeches."
So, Douglass' public words became the spine of Holmes' story.
In the e-mail, he elaborated: "You look for common threads of consistent messages in the speeches. During my presentations I have been able literally to put myself into Mr. Douglass' shoes so to speak. I find myself thinking like him.
"I also think his messages became a fabric of our society beginning with the Civil War, and are with us right to the present.
"The consistent messages are important for me to weave into my presentations."
I asked Holmes for examples of what he'd left out of his performance (given that we're often faced with the same decisions in our writing). Holmes said he does not mention that Douglass founded several newspapers (he does mention the most well-known, the North Star) and that he once was thrown off a train because of the color of his skin.
Any thoughts on how Holmes' work can apply to ours?