Writer’s project holds mirror up to Vermonters

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(Host) A San Francisco playwright is working on a theater piece she hopes will hold a mirror up to Vermonters.

Ann Galjour says she wants to explore our differences between the rich and poor, the native and the newcomer and also show what they have in common.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Galjour is San Francisco based, but bayou bred. She likes to talk about her own experience with class differences.

Galjour was born in a town with the unlikely name of Cut Out, Louisiana. She recalls the clash of cultures when she and her friends visited New Orleans.

(Galjour) “They made fun of us. They made fun of our accents. They made fun of our rural ways.”

(Zind) Now Galjour is doing research for a new work, exploring the class and culture differences in our area.

It’s part of a Dartmouth College Hopkins Center three-year project called “Class Divide”.

She’s spending time with everyone from the residents of small towns along the Connecticut River to Burlington’s immigrant community.

And already she’s found places where there’s friction over economic and cultural differences. People who are struggling to make ends meet and those who are wealthy can live in the same community but seldom interact. It’s those differences that Galjour wants to explore.

(Galjour) “That division creates tension and conflict. And conflict is the lifeblood of story.”

(Zind) Galjour’s research involves organizing story circles from Brattleboro to Burlington.

Bringing people together to talk about themselves and their communities.

(Galjour) “I’m so happy and grateful to be here and to have the opportunity to hear your stories “

(Zind) A dozen people turned out at one recent story circle in the Orange County village, Post Mills. Some had lived in the area for more than fifty years. One was a newcomer.

For two hours Galjour listened and soaked in the details of the stories they told. There were tales of the 1938 hurricane.

There were reminisces about the people who once lived in the area: Like the local undertaker who drove people to the hospital in his hearse because there wasn’t any ambulance. The schoolteacher whose polio prevented her from getting around in the winter, so the children provided the transportation.

(Woman) “They had a sled with sides and they would come up and put her on the sled and back home in the afternoons. This was community!”

(Zind) The group also told Galjour about how the community has changed. The jobs at the now defunct local mill are gone. The area is becoming a bedroom community for people who work in Hanover or Lebanon.

Galjour heard about the familiar tension between long time residents and newcomers.

(Woman) “Town meeting time, when usually it was all the regular people there and then suddenly people started moving in from other places, flatlanders or whatever you want to call them.”
(Woman) “Then they come here and try to vote in what they moved away from and we don’t want it.”

(Zind) Afterward Galjour admitted there was little sign of any serious economic or social divide in this group of people. But she heard a few stories that may find their way into her play.

(Galjour) “Part of the research for me is to get information, but it’s also to get a sense of place. There’s a real character here.”

(Zind) Galjour’s play about the New England class divide won’t be finished until next year.

This month the playwright will be on stage in her one-woman show called Hurricane, with performances in Hanover, Brattleboro and Burlington.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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