Three women, each from a different era in Arizona history, sit around a table playing cards and swapping stories.
One of them — Elizabeth Hudson Smith — says she was instrumental in shaping Wickenburg’s culture at the turn of the century, but shunned when the town’s economy went south.
The card game never happened, but the tales the women tell are true.
Their stories, as well as those of other lesser-known Arizonans of the past and present, are illuminated in “Untold Stories/Unsung Heroes,” a play put on by Arizona State University’s School of Theatre and Film. The show is part of Arizona’s centennial celebration.
To pack 100 years of history into the play’s 90-minute run time, its creators had to conceive a creative format for the show.
“The basic concept was the traveling wagon theater companies that would go into towns in Italy, and they would perform little skits,” says Michael Kocher, a student actor. “We’re trying to do a modern version of that.”
Themes throughout the play are explored using different styles: dance, song, monologue, even shadow puppets.
Though the play is factual in nature, Pamela Sterling, its director, emphasizes that it’s not dull.
“It’s still very physical and very playful, and at times very funny,” she says.
The play also delves into contemporary issues, often linking them to the past. Kocher’s favorite scene has to do with SB 1070.
Another is about a young man packing up a wagon to head west to Arizona.
“We juxtaposed that with a story from an elder, living now, who talks about moving here in 1953 and packing up their trailer and moving here from Missouri because of her daughter’s asthma,” says Sterling.
Another part focuses on the contributions of Apache warriors and relates back to Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat on foreign soil.
You will learn about Borislav Bogdanovich, an artist and relative of film director Peter Bogdonavich, and George W. Parsons, a Tombstone lawyer and banker, who had a bird’s eye view of the gunfight at the OK Corral.
The show was created in a class taught last fall by Sterling, also a professor. Students dug through archives of Arizona’s history, interviewing sources and researching residents of the Grand Canyon State.
One of the difficulties for everyone involved was theatrically representing non-fictional people and events.
“It’s a different kind of interpretation, and actually, I think it calls for more honest acting,” says Sterling. “You’re not allowed to comment on the character. You just say the words.”
Staying faithful to history even challenged student set designer Kristin Blatchford.
“It’s definitely left me with a greater appreciation as far as Arizona goes,” she says.
“For people that are not a native of Arizona they’ll be able to view new parts of Arizona and go, ‘Yeah, that’s why I moved out here.’ Or people that are native can be like, ‘Yeah! I remember when that happened,’ or, ‘I remember seeing that.’ Everybody that sees it will be able to connect and will be reached on at least one level or another.”
• Preston, a junior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Photo courtesy of Cline Library Special Collections, Northern Arizona State University, and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.