By MARINA WATERS
When those who are performing in the play “Not All That I Carry” step on the stage at the Jonesborough Senior Center, they aren’t just playing a character — they’re telling the story of someone’s life.
And come showtime on Thursday Nov. 16, that someone will just happen to be sitting in the audience.
The play is comprised of real stories from real people in the Jonesborough community. The stories were collected as part of the Jonesborough Story Initiative, which revolved around collecting the community’s stories in order to archive them. After senior members of the community recorded their stories for the initiative, McKinney Center Director of Outreach Programming Jules Corriere molded the stories of heartache, happiness and hardship from decades passed into a one-act play that will be performed for the community.
“This what I’ve devoted my life’s work to: going in and collecting real stories from real people,” Corriere said. “The stories are amazing and extraordinary and I think if we know who we come from, we can draw strength from the people that have come before us. So these stories carry survival value with them. It carries not only our heritage and our culture, but it carries the wisdom and the strength that they had that can allow us to move forward in our own lives.”
Corriere, who has been a playwright for over 20 years, said it was no task naming the play. The idea struck her after one man, who was a part of the Battle of the Bulge — the U.S. Army’s largest battle of World War II — shared his story. Though he talked about the event, he still held onto that which was just too difficult to discuss.
“The very first interview that I did was with 91-year-old Vern Dauerty who was at the Battle of The Bulge. He’s rarely talked about it, but he decided it was time now. When the recording was over, he came up to me and he goes, ‘That’s the story that I wanted to tell — but it’s not all that I carry.’ And when he said that, I knew it had to be the title of the show.
“That sentiment is, I’m sure, what a lot of our elders and seniors are feeling right now. Each of them are carrying so many more stories than we even think about them holding. We only see a little bit of it so we see some of their story, but we don’t see all that they carry.”
The stories in the play range from lighthearted look backs at youthful love to the hardships of loss in America’s war-eras. The stories tell of our country’s, and more specifically, our region’s history throughout World War II and other significant periods, but no matter the subject, the play focuses on the true stories of real people.
The people whose stories will be shared on stage will also be honored at the end of the play, which only adds to the strength of the production, Corriere said.
“Those people are going to be sitting in the audience — and that’s powerful. Theatre is always powerful when it presents a powerful story,” the director said, “but what I think is powerful about this is that the story we’re presenting is about our own friends and our own neighbors, and to recognize their own value and their contributions to their community and to their country.”
For cast member Lee Clements, her part of the story, which tells of a woman’s love for her youngest child, is a moving part of the production.
“Jules assigned the parts so that’s the one she gave me,” Clements said. “Then when I found out about it, it was really powerful and emotional because I know the person that it’s about. So knowing her personally and knowing it’s her story makes it really special and touching.
“That’s why I get so nervous. I want it to honor her and the love she has for her youngest, Caleb.”
Though her main objective is to honor her friend and her story, the cast member is also hoping the show will bridge generational gaps for members of the audience.
“It will also help connect us with the emotions we have and the experiences we’ve had,” Clements said. “Hopefully people of all ages will be able to identify with them. Whether they’re kids or contemporaries, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I remember that,’ ‘I’ve had that similar experience,’ or ‘Oh I didn’t know they felt that way.’ Hopefully it will connect people of all generations and bring people together and help them understand people from different generations.”
As for cast member Carole Hilemon, who plays multiple parts in the production, the show may not be a direct story from her life, but she too understands memories of the past and what it means to be able to share those stories.
“My brother didn’t like to talk about Vietnam when he came back. I remember that. My mother and I lived together and we had a little two-bedroom, tiny little mobile home and my brother got to get my room. It was my room that he took over. But I remember the wind was blowing and our front door just slammed open — my brother was just up out of that bed, and he was like this,” Hilemon said, her arms up as if she were holding a military rifle. “I just thought, ‘Wow, there’s something inside there that he’s not talking about.’”
“So it brings back a lot of memories for me. I can’t relate to the people, but I can relate it to what’s happened in my life.”
The play, Hilemon said, also made her wish she could hear the stories of her family and collect them as a personal archive of stories that aren’t lost to time.
“It brings people closer, even if I don’t know them,” she said. “It’s really an interesting thing to know about people’s past. I wish I knew more about my mother and my father, my granny, my grandfather. I wish I would have known more about them. So if there’s any story that I’d like to tell people it’d be that while they’re still living, talk to them. Write it down, get that history.”
As for Corriere, she’s not just hoping to honor the lives of the characters and real-life people featured in the play; the playwright is also hoping to inspire others to share their stories — and to not carry them alone.
“What I hope it does is to encourage people to also tell their stories. They’re a piece of our culture, our history and our past that we want to carry forward,” Corriere said. “We’re quickly losing the generation of World War II and we want to really capture that story. We hope that this encourages other people to share their stories and to recognize everybody else’s story. Everybody has a story.”