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Eye of the Storm: Crafting Hurricane Hotel

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By Matthew Myer '12

Hurricane-hotel-1-web.jpgWhen Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, author and visual artist John K. Lawson and his family fled the destruction. For the next six weeks, while the flood waters inundated the town, Lawson, his wife, Aimée Michel, and their little boy took refuge in a borrowed house in the Catskills. While they waited to return, John wrote Hurricane Hotel as a love letter to the destroyed city.

Lawson’s novel is a story of destruction and redemption. Its characters reflect the kind of people living in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina so brutally changed the city.

The novel was published in 2007. That year Aimée toured with her husband doing book signings and readings. “Everywhere we went--after hearing John read--people said that the language and characters were so theatrical that we should dramatize it,” she shares. It was also the year Aimée joined the faculty of Simon’s Rock. In 2008 she began adapting the novel for the stage and did the first public reading in August 2009. Audiences loved it, but work and life intervened and the project languished for the next few years.

Last summer Aimée decided to turn it into a workshop. After spending the fall semester hammering out a script, Aimée presented it to Simon’s Rock students. They have since gone through read-throughs, workshops, and around seven practices a week to put the show together.

Hurricane-Hotel-2-web.jpgThe show depicts the story of Zane (played byTaylor Horn ’09), who has returned to what’s left of the Hurricane Hotel, the place he called home years ago before running away from his family. There he encounters the memories of all the people he knew at the hotel, from the cool and collected Jake (Jake Ireland ‘11) to the wild Chemical Sisters (Audrey Fierberg’11 and Jackie Harris ’11). As Zane relives the past, he discovers how his life led to where he is now.

It’s still a work in progress. “It changes every day; this is simply part of what makes it a workshop,” she says. At each practice, with each scene, notes are scribbled and lines changed just as the actors say them. A line, prop, or way of entrance is always being moved or changed in an attempt to perfect it.

With each change comes a new spark, as the Simon’s Rock cast brings the characters and story to life. Whether it’s the way the Chemical Sisters make their trek across the highway, or how the actors learn to jump on a pile of pillows without knocking them over, there’s a flat-out joy that comes from creating a production.

Hurricane-Hotel-3-web.jpg“Like New Orleans, the characters in this play are bigger than life. They are complex, fascinating people, and our cast is absolutely committed,” remarks Aimée. The show, like any other first run, is a collaboration of efforts from the writers, director, cast, dramaturg, and anyone who watches and adds their input to the workshop.

But there’s another aspect to this production which is not so typical. After each show the production team will hold discussions with audience members, giving them the chance to explain what they felt—and to become part of the workshop. Aimée explains, “It is a workshop production because we don't yet feel that we have fully completed the process of creating the play, we are still in development.”

Hurricane Hotel premiers Thursday, March 7 in the Daniel Arts Center, with four performances running through Saturday, March 9. For more information, click here.