There is plenty of good that comes from growing up on a farm. For award-winning playwright Elaine Wilson Alexander, some of the benefits include a quick, wicked sense of humor and a unique perspective on life, which will be showcased during the world premier of Life As We Know It at the Gilbert Theater. The Gilbert is teaming-up with Up & Coming Weekly to present this unique collection of five of Alexander’s one-act comedies.
Alexander is the daughter of Dave and Barbara Wilson and a fourth-generation Fayetteville native. She grew up on a beautiful 800-acre farm on what is now Morganton Road. It may have been the wide-open spaces and fresh air that stimulated and impacted her creativity, but undeniably, it was her family that taught her to see the lighter side of life .
“Growing up, both my parents were funny. We had several cats on the farm and even they had a droll sense of humor,” said Alexander. “I grew up watching Saturday Night Live and Second City Television. This shaped my sense of humor, too.”
As a child, Alexander said she often felt like an outsider. Her teen years were marked by a battle of “the farm girl versus the “cool girls” from the subdivisions. She was constantly aware of the differences between herself and the other children, but she found these differences more amusing than detrimental. It didn’t take her long to use these insights to her advantage and ultimately put them to good use.
She can pinpoint the moment when she realized she was funny: It was a Brownie meeting. Like most gatherings of young girls, this particular Brownie troop was divided into cliques. Alexander recalls that she showed up to one meeting dressed “out of uniform.” As anticipated, the other girls mocked and teased her for the offense. Rather than get upset, she turned the tables on them.
“We were doing an animal skit and I was a stray cat. I howled and writhed like I was starving. I really put a lot into that performance. By the end of the skit they were laughing uncontrollably. They were nice to me after that,” said Alexander. “Sometimes it’s good to be the outsider. You get more laughs that way.”
As a youngster, Alexander took drama classes and participated in community theatre, however, it took awhile for things to come full circle. She entertained thoughts of being an actress when she was in high school, but words from a loved one changed that course of action. Realizing she was “no Meryl Streep,” she set out to become a journalist. She found great success in the publishing world. She traveled, met and mingled with celebrities and, as a journalist, rose successfully in the ranks of the Fourth Estate before deciding to settle down to raise a family. If anything, her career as a journalist served to sharpen her observation skills. Later she considered getting back into acting but “…I saw myself in a video,” said Alexander. “I looked like a character from the Wallace and Grommet comic strip.” So, she quickly returned to writing — only this time it was writing plays and not articles.
She found that being a mother put her in an excellent position to observe comical “real-life” situations, which are always excellent fodder for entertainers. After all, what parent hasn’t walked away from a school meeting, ball game or other kid-centric activity scratching their head at the behavior and antics of supposedly responsible adults ? Whether it is a PTA meeting filled with moms trying to one-up each other, a yoga class or a trip to the grocery store, Alexander looks to those around her for topics to write about finding much of her humor in the mundane.
“I see the comedy in life and in the unmet ambitions we all have,” said Alexander, adding that “… nobody tries harder than a middle-aged woman. It’s like being in middle school, but now we are combating wrinkles instead of acne.”
Bill Bowman, publisher of Up & Coming Weekly, recognized Alexander’s satirical humor as original and fresh. He believes it is something theatre goers in the Fayetteville community will enjoy and support.
“I read her work and then went to South Carolina to see one of her plays preformed. Needless to say, I was blown away with the humor, the uniqueness of her style and freshness of the material,” said Bowman. “Upon returning home, I asked Elaine to send me her plays and, after reading all six of her short one acts, I knew this would be a great opportunity to bring her home and share her work with the community. I asked Robyne Parrish, artistic director of the Gilbert Theatre, and Jeremy Fiebig, managing director, to review her work. They too were impressed. We (Up & Coming Weekly) agreed to partner with the Gilbert to produce her work.”
Bowman goes on to explain that from the beginning he felt Alexander’s work would be a great fit for the Gilbert Theatre since they have been a long-time advocate of creative and original works and a huge supporter of local talent. From its inception, the Gilbert Theater’s vision has been “… to be the premiere theater in Eastern North Carolina for audiences who value innovative, daring theater that explores the human condition in a respectful, imaginative way.”
Fiebig will direct the upcoming production of Alexander’s work.
“We love the fact that Elaine is a local talent from Fayetteville. In addition to celebrating her work, we want it to celebrate the Gilbert Theater and our unique place in the Fayetteville cultural community,” said Fiebig. “Elaine, knows what life is like here and that is something the audience will appreciate about her work.”
Life as We Know It will open in late December. “We are doing this right after the busiest time of year. People have had to deal with extended family, travel and cold weather. This will be a way to escape and infuse a breath of fresh air into the holiday season,” said Fiebig. “It is going to provide our community an opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Gilbert Theatre in an unique, fun and interesting way and, it will be something to get them laughing.”
The proceeds from Life as We Know It will go partially to the Gilbert Theater for expanding its community cultural programs and educational services. Funds will also go to the Cumberland County Kidsville News! Literacy and Education Foundation. Alexander is coming home and this will be the “world premiere” of her works. But, don’t count on it being the last. To find out more about Alexander’s play Life as We Know It go to www.gilberttheater.com.
Photo: Gilbert Theater presents humorist and playwright Elaine Alexander as she returns to Fayetteville in December.