Some fans of theater might not like Anne Marie Cammarato’s approach to the medium. She writes and directs plays meant to entertain, yes, but moreso, she strives to engage her audience, to force them to think, to offer a mirror — not always flattering — of the communities in which they live.
“A lot of people, they think of theater and they think of Broadway musicals,” she says. “They don’t think of theater as a place that can really cause audiences to think and act and behave differently.”
She was the artistic director at Delaware Theatre Company from 2004-10, and one of her final contributions was rife with controversy. “10 Months: The Wilmington Voices Project,” was a docu-drama that featured three actors who played composite characters she culled from interviews with Wilmingtonians. It centered on the city — on how the riots of 1968 (which led to the National Guard’s 10-month occupation of its streets) changed its makeup and on how in 2010 it experienced the highest number of murders and gun violence in its history.
“The last thing I want to do as an artist is to put on a play where people go, Oh, it was nice,” Cammarato says. “With ‘10 Months,’ there were people who really objected to it, people who thought it wasn’t representative of their city, it didn’t represent their point of view on the community. People thought I was Wilmington-bashing. Some of the people that I had interviewed for the play thought I took their words and twisted them too much, that they weren’t represented in the play. And then I got a lot of, Wow, that was incredibly brave theater, that was something we want to see more of, we’re so glad someone’s starting the conversation.”
Cammarato is, at her core, an educator. She has a degree in educational theater and believes the medium should do more than entertain.
“It plays a much bigger role in people’s lives,” she says. “It can educate, and it can heal, and it can ask questions, and it can provoke — and it should do all of those things.”
But audiences, she says, generally aren’t interested in going to a play if they think they’re going to be taught something. There are theaters and artists that produce plays like that, she says, but they’re not prevalent because they typically don’t make money.
Scar The Earth
SARA, a high school senior, is alone on stage. She holds a stack of papers and flips through them for a minute. She looks nervous while she does this. Finally, she finds what she wants, rolls up the papers, and shoves them into her back pocket. She speaks to a bare stage.
SARA. I’m Sara. You don’t know me. I mean, you don’t remember me.
(That didn’t sound right…she tries again.)
I’m Sara. It’s been…a while…seventeen years…since you’ve seen me.
(Long pause. She clears her throat.)
I’m Sara. It’s really important that I tell you who I am. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do this for a long time. And I don’t know if I can even do it now, but I’m going to try. This feels kind of stupid, but I’m going to do it, so please just listen.
The Division’s grant has provided her an incentive.
“I have a deadline,” she says. “I find it more inspirational than a source of discipline, but there’s certainly more incentive for me to get going on a project than I ever had before.”
Cammarato lets ideas marinate for years — “10 Months” was five years in the making — and has five in the works. One of them seems destined to stir the community it examines. (She’s fascinated by how communities see themselves.)
“There’s a play in my head about how a community – we’ll call it a fictional community — deals with a major tragedy in its midst,” she says. “And I’m speaking most specifically about the the arrest of Dr. [Earl] Bradley, the doctor in Lewes [who in February 2010 was indicted on 471 charges of molestation, rape and exploitation of 103 child patients].
“My dad knew Dr. Bradley. It really hit close to home. When you learn that sort of monster lives in your midst, and you learn what has happened since his conviction in the town of Lewes, or particularly what hasn’t happened, like how has the community healed and not healed.”
The reality, she says, is fascinating and theatrical.
The grant has allowed her to spend time interviewing people, a process that will help her to fictionalize the characters as much as possible without losing the crux of the story.
Cammarato is working with Sandy Robbins of the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program to stage a public reading of the play in late fall.
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