In 2004, Eric Samuelsen wrote a 10-minute play called THE BUTCHER, THE BEGGAR AND THE BEDTIME BUDDY for our very first SLAM. In 2006, Plan-B Theatre Company produced the world premiere of the full length version of that play, retitled MIASMA. As we begin our 2013/14 Season, aka The Season of Eric, we invite you to join us for a free reading of the play that started it all as part of THE ROSE EXPOSED on August 30-31, 2013.
[Program notes from the 2006 production.] I wish I could claim that MIASMA is the play I’ve always wanted to write, that the impulse to write it haunted me for years. In fact, however, this play’s origins lie in happenstance and accident far more than design.
Ten years ago, I was invited to be part of Plan-B Theatre’s first SLAM, a 24 hour theatre festival wherein playwrights were given the title and cast list for a ten-minute play we were then to write overnight. The title I was given was THE BUTCHER, THE BEGGAR AND THE BEDTIME BUDDY. I live in Provo, and as I drove home pondering what was, to me, a distinctly uncongenial title, I vaguely remembered a book I’d read a few months before, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Although I had no time to research, I thought I could remember enough of Schlosser’s accounts of feedlots and slaughterhouses to create a play around an old rancher-turned-beef producer, and his daughter who returns home periodically to beg money from him on behalf of her siblings.
I survived that first night of SLAM, and the Plan-B crew seemed to enjoy the play. I set the short play aside, and thought nothing more of it, until a few months later, when Jerry Rapier asked if I’d considered expanding it. I actually hadn’t thought to, but his question sparked something; I finished a first draft about six weeks later.
The original play had only three characters: Ben, the rancher, Eliza, his paramour, and Claire, his daughter. But I’d become very interested in the issue of illegal immigration, sparked in part by a second Schlosser book, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. And so I added a fourth character, Jorge, Ben’s foreman. I’d also become close friends with some of my Hispanic neighbors, and had seen firsthand their pain over local insensitivities towards them and their culture. My wonderful director, Adrianne Moore, recommended Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, and a trip to Nebraska further aided my research.
In time, I came to realize that the subject of the play had become the transformation of ranching, the West and ultimately, America itself. I began to think of the play as a metaphor for the commodification of rancher values, of cowboy values and verities. I came to realize that American cowboy culture has deeper roots, in the rich vaquero traditions of Mexican ranching. I began to explore Ben’s history and future, as represented by two other female figures, Liz, his ex-wife, and Beth, his farmer daughter. As I increasingly began to see the play in historical/political terms, I also hoped I could keep it firmly rooted in story and character; that Claire and Ben and Jorge and Liza could remain fully individuated, while also serving something of a symbolic function.
I wish I could add that researching and writing this play has led me to embrace what I now see as a healthier vegetarian lifestyle. I wish I could say that, as a result of writing it, I no longer eat meat. Unfortunately, such is not the case. Knowing how beef is produced, I still eat it; knowing where hamburgers come from, I still order them at restaurants. I have come to see America in increasingly tragic terms, but I am still very much an American.
Click here to secure your free tickets to the reading of MIASMA and for more information on the other events (1 paid, 2 free) events Plan-B is staging as part of THE ROSE EXPOSED August 30-31, 2013.