I’ve never been to Arkansas before. I was invited to teach playwriting workshops and judge at the Arkansas State Thespian Festival this past weekend, which worked out smashingly well because I got to see a production of our musical Shout!
So, let’s be frank here. Like most people, I was a little leery about going to a place I’d never been too, but had heard many stereotypical stories. I have an active, sometimes overactive, imagination. Now, I’m certainly not going to damn a place before I’ve been there and had my own experiences. But let’s be frank. I had my game face on and my teeth a little gritted.
Here are some first impressions and observations.
- There are a lot of buffets. Buffet City, China Buffet, Hunan buffet, the hundred foot buffet.
- At the Garden Centre there’s a side for Lawn/Garden and a side for Farm/ranch.
- There are a lot of gun stores.
- There are a lot of church enclaves. Not just the church building, but a church and a school and out buildings.
- Church is big. Church of the burning heart. I saw an auto dealership with a bible verse above the door. In the airport all the book stores featured their religious and inspirational books right at the front.
- As someone who loves words, the names of places just leap out at you. Texarkana. Arkadelphia.
- Don’t say R-kansas.
- People are extremely friendly, and it seems like they are genuine in their friendliness, which I don’t always encounter in the south. Sure there were individuals who weren’t genuine, but that happens in every single corner of the world.
- People are extremely polite. And again, it comes across as sincere. This was one of the only conferences I’ve been to where competitors thanked the judges for judging and thanked the time keeper.
- People are nosy too. But in their friendly way, it just seems like they want to talk to you. Sincerely.
- Everyone says ‘yes ma’am’ like it’s a period at the end of a sentence. I’m sure ‘yes sir’ is the same. But I’m a ma’am, so that’s what I heard. As a writer, it had a lovely rhythm to it.
So, what exactly was I gritting my teeth over? Absolutely nothing. I love that. I have no issue with being proven wrong in these kinds of situations. I had a great time at the conference.
My favourite sterotype smashing story happened time and time again in my playwriting workshops. A student would come in with an accent thicker than mud and in my mind I’d think ‘oh boy here’s a stupid hick.’ And they never were. They were bright, and they ‘got’ the exercises and they always tried. Even if they had been thrust into the workshop on the behest of a teacher, they tried. They were a joy to teach and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
And at the end of the day? Arkansas drama kids are exactly the same as California drama kids and New York drama kids and Florida drama kids. The accents may change but the kids are basically the same. They all love theatre. They know they’re a little dorky and they love they have a place to go to be themselves. They talk too much during the shows, when they know they shouldn’t. They celebrate with their friends when they do well. They commiserate when they don’t. They sing together, they cheer together, they hug, they laugh, they have a great time.
Nice to meet you Arkansas.