Playwright Natalia Temesgen talks about writing adapting Eugene Bullard biography for stage
Last Saturday, we closed a phenomenal two-week run of my play “ACE: The Eugene Bullard Story” in the Springer’s Dot McClure Theatre.
I spent the lead-up to opening night dropping in on as many rehearsals as I could, watching in awe as top-notch actors collaborated under the guidance of director Paul Pierce and breathed authenticity and life into Eugene Bullard and the people that he encountered during his incredible life. Watching them rehearse as the brilliant design elements materialized all around them, I thought to myself, “I’m already satisfied. We have done Eugene justice simply by presenting his story with integrity and heart.” What I did not quite anticipate was the enormously positive response we would receive once we opened the show to the public.
Thank you, Columbus. You came out in great number to support this new play by a local playwright about a local hero that we had to arrange additional seats on closing night just to keep from turning 20 patrons away. You sat down and agreed to participate in the experience of Eugene’s life. You gasped when he was mistreated. You cheered when he succeeded. You breathed a sigh of relief when, late in his life, he again found hope for what was to come.
You stood to your feet every night and applauded — for the play, the company, but also for Eugene. I keep thinking about how much fulfillment this two-week endeavor must have brought him, assuming he has any idea we’ve saluted him in this way. In celebrating this man by crafting and supporting this piece of art, we have collectively righted a degree of the wrong he was dealt when he lived and made an unspoken promise to be conscientious of the way we treat others, no matter their color or social status.
I also must thank Paul for commissioning this work with such vision and compassion. He had known Eugene’s story for some time and hoped that he would commission a playwright to craft it for the stage. He asked me. I come back to this moment so often, because he knows a lot of other writers with talent and yet he asked me. In the 10 years I’ve been a professional playwright, this is the first commission I’ve ever received.
I cannot tell you what confidence it instilled to know that Paul believed I would do this story justice. It has been a lesson in the power of giving someone an opportunity. Eugene would never have been the first African-American fighter pilot if he wasn’t given an opportunity to prove himself. I would never have been able to share his story with a willing, gracious audience if Paul hadn’t given me the opportunity to prove myself. Thank you, Eugene, for your example. Thank you, Paul, for your faith in me. Thank you, Columbus, for your huge heart.
May “ACE” continue to go up, up, up.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.