Friday, March 28, 2008

Ghost of Tom Joad appears in Wyoming

John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," has been transformed into a famous John Ford film with Henry Fonda, a Minneapolis stage version with Gary Sinise as Tom Joad, and an opera with music by the Utah Symphony and Opera. Woody Guthrie wrote his song "Tom Joad" after seeing the 1940 movie, which he called "the best cussed picture I ever seen." In 1995, Bruce Springsteen released an album, "The Ghost of Tom Joad."

It’s tough to beat the novel, one of the best cussed novels I ever read. Labeled "communist propaganda" by the Associated Farmers of California, it follows the travails of the Joad family as they move from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to central California. Eastern Wyoming and Colorado were in the Dust Bowl, but the Okies and the Jayhawks had it the worst.

Here we are, almost 70 years after the novel was published, in the throes of the 75th anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and creative people are still finding ways to translate Steinbeck’s compelling tale in new and interesting ways. That may be due to the times we live in, where another Great Depression could be looming over the next horizon. Or it may just be that good writing stays alive.

Some creative people in Wyoming have come up with two new presentations of the novel. A "Grapes of Wrath Readers Theatre" will be held on Friday, April 11, 7:30 p.m., at the Historic Atlas Theatre in downtown Cheyenne. It’s a presentation by the Cheyenne Little Theatre, which traces its roots back to the New Deal era. This is one of a series of "readers theatre" events held by the CLTP this season, a mix of original material and the classics. Here’s a description of the production:

John Steinbeck’s moving, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, adapted by Frank Galati as a Readers Theatre. This passionate story of the plight of the poor, who have displaced by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression centers on the Joad family as they travel to California from Oklahoma in hopes of finding a better life. It forms a context for programs adopted under the New Deal to address economic and social issues of the time. Historic photos of Wyoming during the Great Depression and the New Deal illustrate impacts of this era on our state. A discussion follows the reading. Directed by Keith Thomson. Funded in part with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts through the Wyoming Arts Council, Dept. of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Casper College dance instructor Jodi Youmans-Jones read Steinbeck’s book "over and over, allowing its most poignant parts to filter into dance movements," according to an article in today’s Casper Star-Tribune. "Then she made a soundtrack of classical, gospel, R&B and old-time country music ranging from Woody Guthrie to Jewel to Yo Yo Ma to Beethoven to the Blue Man Group."

The result is a "dance concert" based on the book. Performances will be held in the Casper College Scifers Dance performance Theatre tonight (too late), March 28 and 29, and April 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Youmans-Jones began thinking of adapting the classic last April when she discovered the Wyoming Arts Council was focusing on the Great Depression in honor of the 75th anniversary of New Deal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps for a National Endowment for the Arts "American Masterpiece" series.

"The face of poverty and the homeless isn't one. They're faceless. We relegate them to being all thieves, all dirty, all druggies, all alcoholics," Youmans-Jones said. "Sounds pretty familiar to me."

I work at the Wyoming Arts Council, but this isn’t one of my programs. Any non-profit or educational organization around Wyoming was eligible to apply for an American Masterpieces/New Deal grant. You still can, by calling the WAC in Cheyenne at 307-777-7742. Tell them that Tom Joad sent you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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