'Housebound & Garden: The Pandemic Letters Dramedy'

This is unlike any community arts event - live or virtual - you have ever attended.

Midsummer 2020, Disney Plus made arts and entertainment news when it aired their film of the Broadway state phenom, “Hamilton.” This new hybrid of “live theatre” and videography demonstrated to an eager public that even during a nationwide quarantine - the show must go on.

Cullman is connecting through the arts, creativity and technology to triumph beyond covid. According to 70-year-old Cullman-based playwright Ben Johnson South, “When an inter-generational group of us in the Cullman arts crowd first brainstormed this project, we recognized people feel isolated, lonely and anxious during this challenging time. We are doing what theatre, music, all the arts are good at - reminding folks they are not alone and giving them hope.”

“Housebound & Garden: The Pandemic Letters Dramedy,” as this multi-disciplinary, community arts event is titled, tells the story of a grandmother and granddaughter through their shared letters over three decades. There are many laughs for the audience to enjoy but it does not sugarcoat the darker moments. It is literary and artful because the characters enjoy the arts, but the family experiences will connect with everyone. This is an intimate-but-universal story about family love and loss during the coronavirus pandemic. The touching poignancy is lightened with laughter, joy and the hope to move forward. The storytelling is as timely as the daily covid numbers but it is also timeless. This is original theatre meant to be enjoyed now and for years to come.

The Cullman community has certainly connected to create this work it is sharing for the entire world to enjoy free on YouTube and Facebook, beginning Mother’s Day, May 9. Besides the playwright, the inter-generational actresses who are originating these roles, one 17-year-old (Tekoa Walker) and the other 50 years her senior (Melva Hackbarth Jackson), reside in Cullman.

“Dahhling,” drawls Melva Hackbarth Jackson, who plays the grandmother in this production, “because the character I play is from this part of the world, I get to use the honeyed-drawl I honed playing the strong mothers in a variety of Tennessee Williams’ classics. He wrote wonderful lines for women to deliver. I believe viewers are going to embrace the strong, loving, fun woman that I’m playing in ‘Housebound and Garden.’ We want all our Cullman and Alabama friends and family to enjoy watching but we’re also, as Blanche DuBois would say, ‘relying on the kindness of strangers’ viewing it on YouTube and Facebook.”

Teen-going-on-thirty actress Tekoa Walker adds, “Working with older generations was a formative experience due to their varied viewpoints and perceptions of life. I was able to relate to them all and I’m glad to be part of the community endeavor.”

The promotional graphics for “Homebound & Garden” were created by local designer Morgan Wooten. Some of the lush, symphonic music used in the production ws originated by Chandler Ogles, an 18-year-old aspiring film music composer who attends the nearby community college.

The videography was done in two, art-centric locations in Cullman: Ave Maria Grotto, listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, and in the crafts workshops of the city’s new murals+sculpture, public garden space, the community Art Park. The videotaping for “Housebound & Garden” and parts of the music were done by Brian Kirk, a multi-talented, mid-career creative in a production that is the first work of the newly launched, music/video/tech studio of Cullman Parks, Recreation and Sports Tourism. “Many people who come here say, ‘Cullman looks like a charming, Hallmark movie town,’” said Kirk. “It’s home for me but I have to admit, this place has lovely vistas to film on every street and around every corner.”

Even the culinary arts in the Cullman community are connected through this effort. When you link on social media to “Housebound & Garden” any time beginning May 9, you’ll be provided a suggested “dinner theatre-at-home menu” with additional links to Cullman restaurants, gifted cooks and mixologists including original recipes shared in some cases.

Original, inclusive, inter-generational and interactive - another creative way this community effort is stitching everyone together with this theatre/music/arts project is through sewing craft. Twice during the storytelling of “Housebound & Garden” a simple but meaningful hand-sewn gift is mentioned. When you link to the free showings where “Watch Parties are Encouraged,” you can link to a special, printable design to stitch your own sweet, mailable gift. The audience participation craft ws created by Kathy Lee, a heritage sewing instructor with the Cullman-based North Alabama Agriplex.

Cullman is inviting the rest of America to join their ‘watch party’ for “Housebound & Garden” while the community shows how together, through the arts and with creativity, we will all triumph beyond covid.

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