- Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
- Karin Trachtenberg, right, and Jeff Tolbert rehearse a scene from “Ktsiaiak/Old Ones”
When writer Joseph Bruchac heard about SLAMVermont’s mission to showcase underrepresented voices in its upcoming festival of short plays, he felt more than an interest in participating. He felt a responsibility.
“If there’s no play related to the Abenaki community, they’re missing an important part of Vermont diversity,” Bruchac says, “which people have traditionally done for centuries in Vermont.”
His play, “Ktsiaiak/Old Ones,” which he cowrote with his son, Jesse, specifically for the festival, will premiere next weekend at the first-ever SLAMVermont event at Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts. Eight previously unproduced plays — all around 10 minutes long — will go head to head in raucous, slam-poetry style, at the end of which judges, and the audience, will determine a winner.
Karin Trachtenberg, who is producing the event with Karen Maloney, has been involved since 2003 with SLAMBoston, the original slam-theater event. When she decided to bring the slam to Vermont — she’s a part-time Bethel resident — she sought out Bruchac, a well-known Abenaki storyteller in upstate New York, to contribute.
“We were going to give preference to writers in Vermont, but the whole Native American piece was so relevant,” Trachtenberg says.
Written in English, with Abenaki words and phrases scattered throughout, Bruchac’s play centers on a courtroom battle over the rights to a Native American burial ground. The topic is dear to his heart. His family was involved years ago in protecting and returning Abenaki remains found in Swanton after someone found a massive burial ground while digging a foundation for a new house. In this case, the bones were saved and returned to the site, but countless other burial grounds have gone unprotected.
Connecting with his Abenaki heritage has been a lifelong endeavor for Bruchac, who is 67. He was raised in Greenfield Center, N.Y., by his maternal grandparents, who, like many Native Americans of their generation in the Northeast, downplayed their heritage.
Also showing at the slam is a play by New Hampshire 13-year-old Sophia Gilberto called “Never Ending Love,” about a woman’s visits to a nursing home to visit her husband with dementia. Roxbury’s Jeanne Beckwith will present “Mission to Mars,” about two very different astronauts who lose contact with Earth and can only communicate with each other. Leah Burdick, from Hartland Four Corners, and New Yorker Bill Conner are showing “Left Unsaid,” which explores the inner monologues of a couple whose relationship has failed. In “Shortbread,” Barre playwright Charles Henry Coburn follows a 16-year-old boy to a diner where he reconnects with the father who left him as a child. In Bethel playwright Maureen Hennigan’s “Table for One,” a blind date goes awry.
The plays have all been rehearsed, so the event won’t have the improv nature of a poetry slam, but a pair of emcees will be on hand to rile up the crowd. The playwrights seem less concerned about winning than to have a good time and gain a bit more exposure.