Del Norte County has a colorful past, one not always fully appreciated or understood by the young people who grow up here. A play scheduled to debut in November explores this disconnect, but folks can get a sneak preview tonight of how the production materialized.
College of the Redwoods English professor Ruth Rhodes will present “This is Crescent City: The Making of a Musical” at the CR Del Norte campus tonight at 6 p.m. in the library.
“Rhodes’ program, part reading, part sing-a-long, part discussion, explores what it takes to turn a creative idea into a full-length musical. ‘Celebrity’ performers as well as audience members will help provide a sneak preview of scenes and music from this original stage production,” said a CR press release.
“‘This is Crescent City’ is the story of history teacher Norman Randal, who inspires a small cadre of students to explore the roots of their town’s history. Their discoveries force the students to confront the demons of Crescent City’s past — as well as their own,” said the release.
The idea for the musical came to Rhodes when she was standing with her friend Geneva Wiki overlooking sea stacks off the coast of the Smith River Rancheria.
Wiki told Rhodes that her great-great-grandmother, a Tolowa woman, escaped genocide from settlers by living on one of those sea stacks and while there she even gave birth to a son — Wiki’s great-grandfather.
“I thought I knew a lot about our local history, but when she said that, I thought I was standing in a foreign country,” Rhodes said. “I really felt like this is a story that needs to be told.”
Beyond examples of persecution of regional American Indians like the Tolowa genocide, “This is Crescent City” also explores the Hmong diaspora and the motivations of the first white settlers to the area.
“The play is fictional — the characters are imaginary. But the history they uncover is well-documented in our community. And the historical events that happened here will be eerily familiar to those from communities up and down the North Coast,” Rhodes wrote in a press release.
“I think a lot about identity” and how that is tied to the places people are from, Rhodes said.
Growing up in Edinboro, Penn., a small college town with a population of about 7,000, Rhodes said she can relate to what it’s like to grow up in a small town.
“Including what it’s like when people think they know you; they want to pin you down with an identity. It may relate to who your ancestors are, what they’ve done or what you look like,” she said. “In a small town it’s very difficult to escape that.”
Rhodes started writing the play in 2009, but with a full-time job, two young children — and the collaborative process needed to make a musical — the project will just be presented this year.
Rhodes wrote the script for the show, as well as the lyrics and the basic melodies for the songs. But for the past year, she has been collaborating with co-composer and arranger Dr. Damon Sink of Western Carolina University.
It took almost two years for Rhodes to find a composer, a search that she will describe during her lecture.
Rhodes’ lecture explaining the manifestation of her play is a result of her receiving the CR Dr. Eugene Portugal Award. Named after the college’s first president, the Portugal award was established in 1993 to honor an outstanding faculty member and to exhibit the academic and professional contributions of the CR faculty to the college and the community.
Rhodes has taught English at the Del Norte campus for eight years. She did her undergraduate work in English literature at Binghamton University. At Case Western Reserve University, she worked with writers Mary Grimm and Claudia Rankin and completed a novel, “Alaska Men,” for her master’s thesis.
“This is Crescent City: The Making of a Musical” will also be presented at the CR Eureka main campus on Friday at 10 a.m. in room CA 109.