Climbing the Appalachian Mountains … in Winston-Salem
An Appalachian folk story isn’t just told by a fireplace or spread only by the word of twang-laced mouths; it’s also told through song. Celebrating his Appalachian roots once again in the Triad is Preston Lane with his original work, Brother Wolf, which combines epic storytelling and live regional music.
“When we were asked to expand our programming to the Hanesbrands, we were looking for a piece that was a signature of our work,” said Preston Lane, Triad Stage artistic director and director of Brother Wolf.
The play, set in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, where good and evil battle, was first produced by Triad Stage in 2006, and was the first collaboration between Lane and famed local musician Laurelyn Dossett.
“It’s such a pivotal piece in my development as an artist,” Lane said about his first original work in which he celebrated his Appalachian roots.
“It’s been thrilling to approach it again with a different cast and a new design…I’m a different director and a different writer than I was then. (The change) has been fascinating.”
Brother Wolf is the final production of Triad Stage’s first season in Winston-Salem.
Based loosely on the story of Beowulf, the play contains demons that lurk in the dark forests and threaten the early pioneers. When the Speerdane family dares to build a church, they awaken the violent monster, Grin Dell.
Besides approaching the re-production with a new vision as a more seasoned director, Lane also commented that some of the changes were simply a product of their new environment. The stage at Hanesbrands Theatre is a larger, more open space and so it called for a different tactic.
“It is impossible to compare them because they are different,” Lane said. “It is like hearing a favorite song performed by two separate artists—the soul of the song is there, but the interpretations reveal new secrets.”
As for the live traditional music on stage, Lane said the story couldn’t be told without it. He and Dossett have now collaborated on five plays together, creating a new style of storytelling that uses music as a pivotal underscore.
“Using authentic instruments, ballad style and music style helps set the time and place for the audience,” Dossett said about how the music aids the story. “The mood of the song influences the mood of the play.”
Dossett further commented that her songs are a way to “deepen the story,” allowing characters to reveal inner emotions without actually vocalizing them to the audience.
“Her music brings an incredible heart to the work,” Lane added.
“It reveals things that couldn’t be revealed in a traditional play.”
Lane recalls when he first asked Dossett to collaborate on Brother Wolf. “I barely knew her then,” he said, “but I knew her music. I heard her song Leaving Eden and I love this song so much because it’s about North Carolina. It had a real authenticity to it. I had been looking for someone who appreciated authenticity in music and who had a regional voice.”
And though Dossett didn’t know Lane, she was a Triad Stage season-pass holder at the time. . “I knew about Triad Stage and I respected what they were doing.”
So why did she say yes? “I like a challenge,” Dossett said. So how does a musician make the transition from writing for an album, to writing for a stage?
“In some ways it feels like a restraint,” Dossett said, “but the restraints are also really helpful in the creative process. The songs have already been assigned a direction or a goal, so it makes the writing easier.”
“Songwriters live in a world that’s self surfaced,” Dossett added, saying writing for the stage is also freeing as a musician because there’s more material to tap into—other characters, emotions and situations to express.
Dossett says she never expected her “beautiful partnership” with Lane to have blossomed like it has, but she’s glad she took that leap so long ago.
“The show was such a key piece in our development and was the first step of the journey Laurelyn and I have taken together as we seek to create new ways of telling the stories of our region through theater and song,” Lane said. “The play felt like a wonderful way to introduce Triad Stage to the audiences in Winston Salem.” !
Triad Stage’s Brother Wolf performs at Hanesbrands Theater in Winston- Salem, 209 Spruce St., May 6-25. Tickets are $10-$48. For tickets and more information call 272-0160 or visit www.triadstage.org.