Tennessee Diary: A Sneak Peek at Theatre Replacement’s Creative Process

The Greatest Cities in the World is based on interviews and interactions with residents of the large collection of small towns in Tennessee that are named after world-famous cities– like Paris, London, and Rome.  Collected and transformed into a multi-media performance by Theatre Replacement, the play takes the words of one world and makes them specific to our experience of living in Vancouver, examining everyday life and mapping out what it means to be a citizen of our constantly shrinking world.

Moscow mayor

The Mayor of Moscow

The Greatest Cities in the World is the winner of the 2010 Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award for Theatre, and is directed by James Long and Maiko Bae Yamamoto, and features musical composition and direction by Veda Hille.  It’s on from March 9 – 13, 2010 at 8 pm at The Cultch.

As Theatre Replacement traveled through Tennessee visiting people and towns, they kept sprawling and uninhibited travel diaries of their experiences.  Here are a few excerpts from each entry:

The Bar-BQ man is gracious enough to chat with me as I eat my pulled pork sandwich. The women wouldn’t talk. They were busy dealing with a constant rush of customers and swatting at flies. They slide a window open to take orders and slam it back when they are down. There is a serious infestation around the shack but I have been assured by a woman I spoke to earlier (the ex-mayor) that The Wolf River is owned by “the clean kind of coloured folks.” As I said I am now in the true South.

The barbeque man’s name is Leon. He speaks quietly in a very thick accent punctuated with multiple “mmmm hmmms.” Leon was born in the area 55 years ago. He tells me his family has been in the area for generations which stops me for a second. I’m not interested in chasing race issues in this country, it was never my intention but it can’t be ignored. Generations has a different kind of weight down here in Confederate country. I didn’t ask but his grandparents may have been owned by the local farmers. Just up the road is Pulaski, the birth place of the KKK. A woman I spoke to earlier referred to the nice white lady she lives with up the road. Rush Limbaugh defined political correctness as a liberal attempt to avoid the truth. Leon claims the Whites and Blacks started getting along better after 9-11 because there were bigger things to worry about. I asked him what it was like before. “People just didn’t talk to each other.”

An Athens To Moscow Ramble:
It should me mandatory for every left leaning individual to spend an hour with Limbaugh once and a week. He’s an incredible, clown like personality, still using the word “communist” in a sinister fashion. Other fancy Rush phrases of note:

– “Environmental whackos trying to rip off the American of their tax dollars.”
– “We aren’t causing global warming, so we can’t stop causing it.”
– “If we could cause it, why wouldn’t we release a bunch of carbon in our backyards in the winter to warm things up”
– “Those that do not believe in God will believe anything.”
– “You are “worth” what you earn, and there is no other way to measure it”.
– “People deserve to drive the cars they want to drive. We have enough oil to run this country for decades. Lets be American and go get it!”

The talk, though entertaining, eventually drove me off my American wagon.  I fixed with some CBC podcasts. I watched a little MVP on the television when I arrived in the Moscow area. A show I never watched in Canada. I’m assuming its Canadian. Its about hockey and has at least one actor that I recognized. I’m drinking a Moosehead right now. Thank you wondrous Wal-Mart. Once again the chain has stunned me with its incredible ability to please. By the way, Athens TN has the largest Wal-Mart in the Southeastern US. It’s true. I seen it with my own two eyes.

The people in this corner (NW) are a lot different than the rest of the state. It doesn’t feel like the South anymore. Moscow may have an underlying tension surrounding race but independently people were friendly. It feels like the Midwest in Bogota. More reserved, conservative, private and a whole lot less welcoming. Maybe its independence day and they sense my Canadian colonial roots.

Paris manParis:
Bogota left me it a bit of a funk. Nobody there. The only real interaction I had was in the biker bar where I was less than appreciated. This combined with my night in messed up Memphis had me longing for home and dreading my next three nights in Paris.

My first impulse was to blame geography. Eastern Tennessee was a highlight. People were friendly, the mountains were beautiful and while it was hot it wasn’t unbearable. What surprised me was the homogeny of Eastern Tennessee – all older white people. I’m in America. I’m in the South. I expect a little more diversity. Of course there is a minority population here, but it is few and far between in the countryside. I assume Dollywood acts as 100 mile repellent for the Latino and African-American population. Hard to say. Perhaps it is the heavy republican lean to this part of the state. Again hard to say. Either way to the West I go.

Rome and Carthage:
I started the day with a Google search of Rome, Tennessee. Two Myspace pages came up for people living in Rome. One for a 52 year old woman named Sherry who seems to be into wolves, and another for gothy kid named John. I was forced to create a Myspace page of my own in order to make contact, so if anyone wants to be my friend go ahead right now I only have two, someone named Matt who looks to be a Myspace concierge of some kind and another group that welcomes Canadians to America with notices about the fourth of July. A pop-up also informed me I already had a crush in Nashville. All I had to do was choose my gender to find out who. It seemed suspicious.

I left both Sherry and John of Myspace messages asking them if they wanted to meet. I realize now that John is only 17 so I may look like a weirdo. Sherry might think I’m a weirdo too as neither have responded.

London ManLondon
Things one should know about London:

1.In London everybody waves and you should wave back.
2.The Wal-Mart near London is a wondrous place. It is vast, friendly and filled with every object imaginable, plastic and organic. There is nowhere else to buy anything in this city. All the other stores have closed.
3.There are no privately owned restaurants with the exception of Seays. Everything is a chain and sits back on the highway in Newport
4.The two state bugs of London are the ladybug and the firefly.
5.London is where Al Gore ignored failed in his bid to become President. He considered its support a given. As a result London ignored him and he lost.
6.A lot of people grow dope in this city.
7.There is also a whole bunch of people collecting food stamps and stealing cars.
8.A few years ago they set up a roadblock on the highway into London. The first four trucks that came through were stolen.
9.In London the barns are big and beautiful.
10.If you talk to the right person you can buy an acre of land for $1500.

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