Chattanooga audiences will get to meet some of the people living in playwright Peggy Douglas' head as her latest play is staged on Signal Mountain over the next two weekends.
"Originally I just had these voices that kind of talked to me here and there — voices from my past, stories I've heard from people, things I've seen. I turned them into individual poems and monologues, and I could begin to see how they're linked together and how I could create an overall narrative arc that connects them all," she said. "I had a lot of experiences to draw on."
The result is "Southern Exposure," a musical monologue play that examines life in Chattanooga in the 1950s and '60s. Sixteen actors, ages 16 to 69, bring the 29 stories to life Oct. 2-3 and 9-10.
"Peggy calls them 'dynamic monologues," said director Dennis Parker, who is also producing and acting in the play. "The actors are fully invested in these characters — in showing the emotions they're going through and the lives they're recounting.
"I like to say they don't tell these stories; they show them," he said of the cast.
The stories range from "absolutely hilariously funny," like the tale of a fourth-grade food fight, to "grippingly dramatic," such as one about a woman's poignant pleas to her son to come home before she dies, Parker said.
Musical interludes, featuring popular songs of the '50s and '60s or that evoke the social turbulence of the times, further frame the production.
If you go
* What: “Southern Exposure”
* When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2-3, 9-10
* Where: McCoy Farm and Gardens, 1604 Taft Highway, Signal Mountain
* Admission: $12-$15
* Tickets: http://www.southernx.org
* Note: Not appropriate for children under 16.
"Most of the characters are dealing with the larger issues of the era," from the Vietnam War to women's rights, Douglas said. "There are a couple of gay characters, two African-American characters. I tried to write from their perspective, how did they find their strength."
This is Douglas' fifth play, though she would put "playwright" as the secondary line in her literary bio.
"To be honest, I'm a poet," she said, but poetry doesn't always draw an audience.
"I don't know if you've been to any poetry readings, but you're lucky if your friends and family show up," she said, laughing. "I was thinking, how can I get more people?"
* Gordon Inman, reeds
* Ben Van Winkle, guitar
* Given Arnold, bass
* Nathan Shew, percussion
Douglas said she had about 100 monologues from which she selected the 29 for "Southern Exposure."
"I was able to pick and choose to create a full story," she said. "Although most people think about the '50s as being happy-go-lucky years, it wasn't for working-class people and African-Americans and a lot of women. It contrasts what was considered normal at the time with what some people were dealing with."
"Southern Exposure" will be staged outdoors at McCoy Farm and Gardens to allow for social distancing. Chairs will be provided for seating. No concessions will be sold, but guests are welcome to bring snacks and nonalcoholic beverages.
"It's done as monologues, so the actors don't have to interact with each other," Parker said. "And it's easy to spread everybody out on the lawn."
Email Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.