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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

David Fulmer returns to Storyville

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Congratulations to Atlanta author David Fulmer, who announced this week that he will collaborate with local theater 7 Stages and New York’s New Federal Theatre for his first-ever script for the stage, Storyville. The play is based both on his Valentin St. Cyr murder mysteries set in New Orleans and the lone history book, Al Rose’s indispensable Storyville, about the city's notorious red-light district at the turn of the last century.

There are lots of potential stagings for the play, although funding issues prevent Fulmer from revealing specific plans at this time. But options include a staged reading at next spring’s Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, and Atlanta certainly figures in the future.

Here’s a transcript of an email interview I conducted with Fulmer, who, along with St. Cyr novels such as Chasing the Devil’s Tail, also has written the locally set The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues as well as The Blue Door (set in Philadelphia). He also served as a judge in CL’s Fiction Contest this past January.

How did this project come about?

Al Rose’s book “Storyville” is the only history of the red light district. It was a wellspring of information that I used in my three (and soon to be four) Storyville novels. In the back of the book are transcripts of interviews that Rose conducted in the 1960s with former denizens of the district: a high-dollar prostitute, a crib girl, a pimp, a madam, and so on. I found the interviews fascinating: vulgar, funny, illuminating, and all compelling. I couldn’t get it out of my head that these first-person accounts had dramatic potential. I shared the transcripts with my friend (co-founder/artistic director) Del Hamilton at 7 Stages and he came back with the idea of combining excerpts from the transcripts, excerpts from my books, and some newly created passages into a script that might be stage-worthy. I spent months putting it together. Del liked what he saw well enough to go forward with development.

Talk about this being your first stage work.

It’s real challenge because I was pulling material from four books — three fiction and one non-fic — and adding some new sequences, then working the pieces around to make them fit and flow. It’s daunting; but I know the only way to create something innovative is to cross into new territory.

Tell us a little bit about Storyville and your use of the red-light district in your books.

Storyville was the only legally sanctioned red light district in U.S. history. It was declared as such by a city ordinance in 1897 and was closed by government decree in 1917. At its height, 2000 prostitutes worked in this a twenty-block square. Basin Street was the zenith, with grand bordellos and music halls that catered to New Orleans’ version of the carriage trade. At the other end was Robertson Street, which was occupied by “dime-a-trick” cribs. And everything you can image in-between. This was all happening at an usually vibrant time in American history, the first two decades of the 20th century. We were in the midst of a social, political, economic, and artistic revolution. Jazz and blues were both being born. The rural to urban migration was beginning. Cars, airplanes, home electricity, telephones, indoor plumbing, and more. So you have this scarlet world in a eccentric city at a rare historical moment.

I chose this setting for my first three books because it presented so many possibilities. The books did very well, winning nominations and awards and getting critical raves. So I felt completely familiar with the territory. My interest in the characters that Rose interviewed and their stories came out of this. I had it in mind to do something with the material for a couple years before I approached Del.

What makes Storyville so fitting to the stage?

Storyville was itself a stage. It was a backdrop for all kinds of drama and pathos served up by an incredible cast of characters. There’s never been another place like it and never will be. The Rose interviews are testaments of those times. The immediacy and candor — the honesty — that the subjects display make for good material. I wanted to bring these characters back to life as part of a broader and I hope deeper drama about an extraordinary and transcendent time and place in American history.

Any other details?

We’re in the development stage, which means working on gathering the financial and production resources to stage the play. It’s a huge challenge and I’m glad to be working with Del Hamilton, because he’s such a seasoned veteran and brings a sterling reputation, earned over the past twenty-some years, to the table.

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