Editors note: This year we decided to do something a little different with our Fringe coverage. These features are all stories from behind the scenes at IndyFringe. We will still be reviewing every single Fringe show, and those reviews will be available online immediately after each show wraps up. Tag #NUVOarts in your posts and we will include yours as well.
At the end of the day Gabrielle Patterson calls herself a writer more than anything, and how she spends most of her time doesn't dispute that. Between working in local high schools to teach spoken word workshops to traveling around the country to perform competitively, she is constantly writing; and not just in one style. Patterson is a poet and recent playwright. In fact, this year will mark her first production of a Fringe show.
Her show The Wizer of Odd is a retelling of the house-crushing-brick-road-walking tale of The Wizard of Oz. The play began at OnyxFest, Indianapolis' only festival dedicated to the stories of African-American playwrights.
Pauline Moffat, the woman behind the curtain at Fringe, mentioned to Patterson that she should consider using the script in a Fringe show. Lots of auditions, practice and an ending rewrite later, the final story is something that's a point of pride. Each character is highly personal for Patterson.
The play doesn't have the fantastical setting of the classic predecessor (with 15 minute set changes that just couldn't fly). Instead, it borrows the archetypes and a bit of the narrative progression. The main character Camille (Dorthy) leaves home with her grandmother (Glenda, in the play) to search for her mother, who happens to be the Wicked Witch of the West. During the trip Camille is simultaneously looking for the love and affection of her mother and the "perfect man" in Oz.
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Along the road she meets the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion, all men who are better alternatives than the "perfect man" in her mind's eye. Eventually she ends up in a bar finding "Oz" — who is nothing like he pretended to be. Ultimately, she realizes that she had passed by family and companions who already made her happy.
"Sometimes we as women have a tendency to pass up really good guys for our ideal perfect guy," says Patterson. "Along the way my main character Camille goes along and meets Thomas who is representative of the scarecrow and she says 'well Thomas isn't smart enough,' 'the tin man is too blue collar.'" The man who represents the lion is a bouncer who won't fight, so Camille sees him as a coward. And drumroll — yeah, everything about Oz's perceived personality is basically a lie.
The dialogue is offered through spoken word instead of standard lines.
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Originally, the play was three acts with an hour and a half run time. After the revisions, the show has been whittled down to two acts and an hour on the stage.
Patterson decided to do a complete overhaul of the ending. In the Onyx version, Camille came home to her grandmother, broken and feeling like she should have never left home. The Fringe production will have a grand finale poem where every cast member gives their perspective. To close out the show, Camille makes a declaration of her strength.
The story on face value is about letting things slip by you, but for Patterson it's more. "It's about friendship, it's about family, it's about love, it's about finding yourself." And for Patterson, the writing continues to be a way back to herself.
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"What my play is about is ... being able to recognize what is good to us and what is good for us," says Patterson.
The relationship with Glenda and Camille is by far the strongest in the play. Glenda has cared for Camille her entire life. Even after giving her everything she needs, Camille wants to run away to find her mother. The characters are a near perfect reflection of Patterson's personal life.
"There are pieces of me in Camille everywhere," says Patterson. "Especially in her relationship with her mother. That was tough for me. Her poem to her mother is very personal to me. It is the most personal poem in the play for me."
Patterson was raised by her grandparents while her mother worked nights. As she got older, her relationship with her mother became "strained."
"The desire to have a relationship, a good relationship, with your biological parent is something that never really goes away," says Patterson. "I had to be able to take a look at my own relationship with my mother [while writing].
"It's one thing to write it out," she says. "It's another thing entirely to see it performed."
Writing has become Patterson's means of working through the tough times in her life.
In 2001 her 9-year-old daughter died. Instead of taking prescription drugs or going to group therapy, Patterson decided to keep a journal.
"That's how I got started writing," says Patterson. "Trying to write my way through my grief."
During this time she attended a spoken word event with a friend. She started to write poetry and eventually brought her pieces onto the stage.
"Poetry almost literally saved my life," says Patterson. "It has allowed me to work out some issues that have been dormant, through the writing."
She has been a spoken word artist for the last 11 years; for the last five it has been her main source of income. She was even granted the opportunity to open for Erykah Badu.
"Right now I am following my passion," says Patterson. "And my passion is take those poems to reach to the next level."
Level up Patterson. Level up.