Photo: Squallis Puppeteers
The Other America: An Anne Braden Story
Based on a concept by Nora Christensen
Written and directed by Isaac Fosl Van Wyke
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
“We have so much local history we don’t even know.” The statement rings so true from Keith McGill, a local actor who shares his vocal talents in The Other America: An Anne Braden Story. I was fortunate to attend the thirty-minute production with the accompanying discussion afterward hosted by Squallis Puppeteers and the Anne Braden Institute. Perfectly presented through Zoom, this is a biographical show about Anne Braden, a local writer who demanded change and equality in Louisville. Her story is rooted in the civil rights era and echoes through the current events that have awoken our world in the past year.
Squallis Puppeteers has provided a history lesson within The Other America. Easily accessible for their intended audience of third through fifth graders, Braden’s story is important for anyone of any age to hear. Through narrations and revelations, Braden guides us through a story of a “white woman from the south” who experiences a “chill of uncertainty” as she fights for justice. Isaac Fosl Van Wyke serves as writer and director and voice for Braden. Providing an extended monologue of sorts, Fosl Van Wyke renders Braden’s deep timber with cracks and a southern drawl.
Images and descriptors of racism in the south are strewn throughout Squallis’ production. Stories of protests, gunshots, and bombings are presented with sincerity and heart while never patronizing the younger audience. A warning and explanation is masterfully woven in about lynching, why it was chosen as a form of violence, and how to learn from that past. At the dramatic climax of the piece, Fosl Van Wyke has developed a familiar and trustworthy relationship with the audience. Lessons are learned as a difficult piece of local history is shared with honesty and an urgency for change.
The Other America originated as a one-puppet show by Nora Christensen. This production relies on the Anne Braden puppet and her trusty typewriter which she obsessively pecks at throughout. Perhaps you’ve seen Squallis Puppets out and about at an event in town. The imaginative details know no bounds and the same can be said for this show as well. A tiny world has been created for Anne Braden, complete with a flannel shirt, mounds of papers, and tiny books upon a bookshelf. Braden shares her story with the assistance of shadow puppets appearing behind her, reenacting pivotal moments of her story.
The post-show discussion with Squallis Puppeteers company members, actors, audience members, and Braden biographer Cate Fosl gave an informative afterword to the evening. As the production comes to a close, we see footage of Braden speaking at a 2002 march in Downtown Louisville. There, she begs for peace and justice in the light of a recent police shooting. While Braden passed away in 2006, her legacy lives on in this event and through the distinctive voice in her writing.
Puppetry by Nora Christensen, Skylar Tatro, Isaac Fosl-van Wyke, & Jordan Lanham; additional voices by Keith McGill & Joe Cummings; and music by Nathan Salsburg.
The Other America: Anne Braden Story
Entire broadcast available on YouTube and Facebook through Sunday March 21
All content this weekend is free, and donations encouraged to Squallis Puppeteers
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!