Q&A: Playwright Natalie Sherwood on The Premiere of A Good Little Rain

Natalie Sherwood on how their North Carolina roots shaped the writing of A Good Little Rain, a new play premiering at the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre at NC State.

In a production still of A Good Little Rain, a new play premiering at NC State this week, the cast of student actors peer through set pieces that represent mirrors. In these mirrors, the characters pose and posture, examine and evaluate their reflections.

The image distills the critical conflict within A Good Little Rain: how does self-image develop as a young person comes of age? And how will that self-image mutate through mental illness and grief?

These questions shape the play, which premieres at The Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre at NC State. Playwright and recent graduate Natalie Sherwood is one of the winners of The 2018 NC State Creative Arts Award, which honors exceptional original work in music, dance, and theatre by NC State students. Sherwood mined previous acting experience to translate their vision of a young person’s interior life to the stage.

Through the story of Michelle, Sherwood explores how identity emerges through grappling with depression, anxiety, and the loss of a parent. The nonlinear memory play dips into Michelle’s past and present, in dialogue punctuated by poetic interludes. The resulting character study is an unflinching portrayal of a young woman’s coming of age.

Sherwood’s commitment to realistic storytelling and emotional honesty stems from passion born of experience. The playwright drew inspiration from their own life in the writing of A Good Little Rain. The title of the play honors Sherwood’s mother, who wanted to write a book of the same name before her passing.

I caught up with Natalie Sherwood on realistically portraying mental illness, Southern narratives in theatre, and the writing of A Good Little Rain.

Tickets and more information on A Good Little Rain at go.ncsu.edu/goodlittlerain. A Good Little Rain runs from March 20th – March 24th, 2019.

In the description of A Good Little Rain, you explain: “Much of traditional theatre founds itself upon escapism and romanticism. I wanted to escape the escapism and deromanticize life’s hardships…”

Why was a realistic approach so important for the telling of this story?

At its core A Good Little Rain is an exploration of mental illness.  This story confronts very intimate challenges people face, internal struggles that are growing more universal but remain unspoken.  Unfortunately, in lucrative narratives these sorts of struggles with death, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and sexuality are often romanticized plot points.  They’re accessories and character quirks instead of dynamic sources of conflict.  I chose not to make light of these issues or make them seem uncommon.

There are parts of the play that exist in an unrealistic setting–a void within mirrors–but these sections are distinctly separated from reality only to portray a distorted self-image of the character, to encapsulate the vast emptiness that depressed people may feel.  The reality is that anxiety affects 18% of our adult population in the U.S.  More than 300 million people of all ages are affected by depression globally. Mental illness deserves our attention. It deserves to be seen as valid and treatable.  People deserve to know they’re not alone in their efforts to manage their mental health.  Hope is real.  

Who are your favorite playwrights? Who would you consider most influential in the writing of A Good Little Rain?

I am certain I have much to absorb when it comes to the expanse of playwrights in existence, but I do have an appreciation for Tom Stoppard and Theresa Rebeck.  They are meticulously clever in their word play and unyielding in their truths.  Christopher Durang is also a breath of fresh air when it comes to comedy.  

A Good Little Rain is inspired thoroughly by Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive.  I read the play in my Introduction to Theatre class at NC State a few years ago and worked with the text to direct a small vignette from the piece.  I found the story structure compelling—it alternates between the past and present, between observing scenes objectively and hearing personal accounts from the protagonist. 

You get to see her powerful, articulate voice juxtaposed with her lack of self-agency as her history unfolds.  It details a pedophilic relationship between a young woman and her uncle.  There is no pretense, no rose colored lens, no pandering; it is raw, ugly, vulnerable, and honest.  It is almost funny to say it out loud, but I was galvanized by a playwright so daring as to tell the truth.  

A Good Little Rain is a memory play based on your own experiences growing up in the South- and of course the South has a rich tradition of memory plays. How does A Good Little Rain pull from regional experience and Southern narratives? Where does it diverge?

Though it is a memory play, the content is contemporary in nature.  There are vignettes, however, that thrust the main character, Michelle, into her childhood often spent tailing after her grandfather doing odd projects.  Tender moments of nurturing and conflicting lessons of integrity influence her future mentality.  

I, too, spent time over my summers as a girl learning from my grandpa how to measure and saw wood, hammer nails, stain furniture, and add tiles to roofs.  Some of my favorite memories involve fishing at his backyard pond and mowing his acres of land on his green John Deere mower.  My grandpa taught me toughness, resourcefulness, compassion, and how to pull pranks.  Those same lessons he instilled in my mother, who originally wanted to author a book of the name A Good Little Rain.  She worked in tobacco fields and picked cotton for handfuls of change growing up.  Call it “southern grit” or what-have-you, but my mother had it.  The mother in the play is inspired by her.  

She and my grandpa also loved God fiercely.  They, and I, grew up Christian, as many Southerners do.  Throughout the play, Michelle loses her religion as she witnesses the death of her mother, who trusted God so deeply.  She struggles terribly with her failed attempts at prayer and by worshiping the wrong people.  The play doesn’t embody the entirety of the Southern experience, nor does it attempt to, but rather gives respectful and nostalgic nods to its rich influence on Michelle as a young woman.  

You’re an actor in addition to being a playwright. Did you find yourself looking at A Good Little Rain through an actor’s lens as you were writing it? How did being an actor inform your writing process?

Oh, absolutely.  I do not think I would be as successful in creating a fully fleshed out piece of theatre without my knowledge of the limitations of a stage.  There were moments I instinctively envisioned cinematically, with close frames and seamless cuts, and my actor brain had to work to translate it to the openness of a stage where almost nothing can be completely hidden from view. 

The most challenging aspect, I found, was keeping an eye out for the stage directions that implied acting choices.  I truly want the text to be interpreted by the actor, informed by their own life experience and psychology.  It was difficult to distinguish between an acting choice I made and a direction that singularly supported a character arc.        

The phrase “a good little rain” comes from your mother, who wanted to write a book herself with that title.

You describe the phrase as a saying from local farmers your mother encountered growing up in North Carolina: “She recalled hearing local farmers say they needed ““a good little rain,”” a shower that was just enough for their crops to survive the growing season.”

Needing just a little sustenance from an outside source to get by is a powerful idea. How does that concept come into play in A Good Little Rain?

It is interesting you say sustenance, when often people see a cloudy sky and rainy forecast as inconvenient and dreary.  Personally, I hold a soft spot for rain and petrichor.  Raindrops on a window and rumbling skies inspire pensivity and nostalgia in me.  Yet, for some ironic reason, as I related to Michelle’s character, I tended to view her mental illness and darkness as water. 

In one poetic interlude, she describes the heaviness she feels as though she is drowning, being swallowed by her sorrows and unwilling to swim.  By the end of the play, Michelle realizes that water is not all bad and that sometimes we need life’s obstacles to teach us how to grow. 

I think “a good little rain” is the stuff in life that we impulsively brush off as inopportune.  Somehow, years later, with compounded experience and introspection, we come to find that the rain we did not want was the rain we really needed.


Headshot courtesy of Natalie Sherwood.

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Cheap Chapel Hill Dates

Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s most inexpensive and atmospheric dates.

Maybe you’re a long-term couple and you’re saving up to buy Hopscotch tickets together. Maybe you’re single, mingling, and don’t want to shell out too much cash on a first Tinder date. Or you’re a student and you want to go out, but you’d also like to, y’know, eat food this month. Any way you slice it, we all want maximum romance at a minimum cost- so The Triangle Guide presents the “Cheap Dates” series. Up next, Chapel Hill’s most inexpensive and atmospheric dates. Frugal flirtation, here you come.

Drinks at The Baxter

For a dose of nostalgic, nerdy fun and reasonably priced beer, The Baxter Arcade on North Graham Street in Carrboro makes for a great date.

Whether you appreciate the history of the fifty vintage, all-original arcade games, or just want to try your hand at being a pinball wizard for an evening, Baxter Arcade is a great hangout for aficionados and newbies alike. Enjoy the cheerful pop art and count how many cultural references in the decor you and your date recognize.

With domestics going for $2.50, a 2 AM closing time, and an exciting mix of a crowd, The Baxter Arcade is a winning choice for fun, atmosphere, and frugality. Game on!

Ackland Art Museum

If strolling the halls of a museum and learning about your date’s taste in art appeals to you, Ackland Art Museum is a UNC institution with admission going for the best price of all: free. The museum’s permanent collection of 18,000 works offers something for art appreciators of all levels.

Whether you’re delighted by Asian and European masterworks, intrigued by twentieth century and contemporary art, or you just want to Snapchat pictures of ugly Renaissance babies, you’ll find what you’re looking for at Ackland Art Museum.

Nightlight

Ready to dance the night away? Nightlight on East Rosemary Street has you covered.

Housed in an unmissable pink building, Nightlight’s funky feel and well-curated selection of experimental live music and DJs make it a great stop for seeing if your date is really as good a dancer as they say.

Caffè Driade

Caffè Driade is easy to miss, so keep an eye out for the turn into a gravel driveway off of East Franklin Street. The most magical environs await.

Once you’ve parked, head for the brown, translucent-walled building tucked away in the woods. You’ll find Caffè Driade, a lovely coffee shop with a selection of pastries from local bakeries. String lights and tables cluster around the patios. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into another world.

A cup of brewed coffee here will set you back $1.50, though you can certainly spring for the array of tasty caffeinated beverages. Caffè Driade would make for a great morning coffee date- it opens at 7AM most days-but it would also make for a magical evening rendezvous. Grab a glass of wine, enjoy the fairytale atmosphere, and unwind on a Carolina evening until 10PM weeknights and 11PM on Friday and Saturday.

Weaver Street Market

A Weaver Street Market picnic is a quintessential Carrboro experience. This coop offers tons of tasty treats, so let your wallet be your guide as you choose something to snack on.

Then, grab a seat at one of the picnic tables out front and people-watch to your heart’s content. Watching the town of Carrboro pop in and out of the yard is one of the greatest pleasures of hanging out in town.

More Cheap Dates

Cheap Raleigh Dates

Cheap Durham Dates

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Cheap Raleigh Dates

Affordable Oak City romance.

Maybe you’re a long-term couple and you’re saving up to buy Hopscotch tickets together. Maybe you’re single, mingling, and don’t want to shell out too much cash on a first Tinder date. Or you’re a student and you want to go out, but you’d also like to, y’know, eat food this month. Any way you slice it, we all want maximum romance at a minimum cost- so The Triangle Guide presents the “Dates on a Shoestring” series. Up next, I hunt down Raleigh’s best affordable dates. Frugal flirtation, here you come.


Chocolate at Videri

For a sweet date, check out Videri Chocolate Factory.

As ubiquitous as the pairing of chocolate and romance is in American culture, unfortunately the chocolate in question is often chewy, flavorless, and in a sad sampler box. Give your chocolate experience a serious upgrade at Videri Chocolate Factory on West Davie Street.

Take a self-guided tour of the factory through the viewing area, where you can peer through the glass windows at the artisans making chocolate, working Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 3 PM. Next stop? The Videri retail counter, to pick up a sinfully delicious chocolate bar or other confection of your choosing. Then, sidle up to the coffee bar and enjoy your treats over coffee in the charming cafe or on their patio.

Sustainable purchasing standards, superior ingredients, no fillers, allergy friendly, and vegan options- this is chocolate you can feel good about, and an experience to savor. Dump that pathetic grocery store chocolate sampler and hit up Videri for all your romance/chocolate needs. They’re even open until 10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, so you can get your chocolate fix into the evening.

Unique Art at VAE

The wall at the entrance to VAE Raleigh.

If you’re looking for some of the most unique art in Raleigh with no entrance fee, it’s time to hit up VAE Raleigh on West Martin. VAE Raleigh (the nonprofit force behind SPARKcon) boasts a 4,000 square foot gallery space that exhibits a host of rotating visionary artwork. Experimental, eclectic, politically relevant- the art on display here is sure to inspire conversation.

Check out their calendar for events- VAE Raleigh often hosts artist talks, summits, and happy hours in the gallery space and around Raleigh. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for VAE Raleigh’s hours- they’re closed on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. (Hours are 11 AM to 6 PM Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and from 11 AM to 4 PM on Saturdays.)

Arepas and the NC Museum of Art

Arepa goodness at the NC Museum of Art park.

A fast food date? Blah, right? Think again.

Take it from me; meet up with your date at the original Guasaca location on Lake Boone Trail. This cheerful counter-serve restaurant makes the most delicious, fresh fast food you’ve ever had- arepas. (If you’re not familiar, arepas are corn cakes popular in Venezuela and Colombia). Guasaca stuffs each fresh-baked corn cake pocket with delicious ingredients, and serves them wrapped in paper with an accompanying sauce.

Order to go. Get a signature arepa each, and chips and guasaca (Guasaca’s take on guacamole) to split. The signature arepas start at $3.95, and chips and guasaca go for $2.65.

Resist the urge to devour your bounty immediately, and drive to the NC Art Museum for a picnic. Enjoy your meal on the museum’s sculpted, sprawling grounds, and hit up the free, permanent collection afterwards. A delicious, uniquely Raleigh date- and all for a modest price.

Coffee at 42 & Lawrence

Picture-perfect at 42 & Lawrence.

Between the bowler hat light fixtures, the understated jazz, and the monochrome aesthetic (down to the mugs!) I’m calling it now- 42 & Lawrence on East Martin is Raleigh’s most atmospheric coffee date.

Whether you’re a pair of potential lovebirds or a couple looking to reconnect, you’ll find a delicious cuppa on the curated, creative menu, and a unique ambiance for your caffeinated rendezvous.

The Farmers’ Market and Dix Park

The State Farmers’ Market

For a perfect weekend date, explore the State Farmers’ Market with your beau. Peruse the fresh produce, plants (perhaps present a bouquet to a special someone?) and specialty items under cover of the shelters.

After exploring the Farmers’ Market, take the short drive over to Dix Park to enjoy Raleigh’s largest city park. You can end your day with a monthly yoga session at Williams Field (dates here.)

Seasonal sunflower fields at Dix Park.

Check out cheap dates in Durham here!

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Cheap Durham Dates

How to date in Bull City on a budget.

Maybe you’re a long-term couple and you’re saving up to buy Hopscotch tickets together. Maybe you’re single, mingling, and don’t want to shell out too much cash on a first Tinder date. Or you’re a student and you want to go out, but you’d also like to, y’know, eat food this month. Any way you slice it, we all want maximum romance at a minimum cost- so  The Triangle Guide presents the “Dates on a Shoestring” series. This week, I’m serving up the best the Bull City has to offer in terms of great dates that won’t break the bank.

Coffee Date at Beyù Caffè

The Oprah Mocha

Meeting for coffee is a classic first date for a reason. It’s low-commitment, and it feels perfectly natural to stay for half an hour, or to linger late if the conversation flows. But you can tip the scales in favor of the date going well if you choose the right setting- and, of course, if the coffee is good. And for ambiance and coffee quality, you can’t beat Beyù Caffè.

With its exposed brick and big windows, Beyù Caffè’s sophisticated, airy environs are low-key romantic. And the coffee is top-notch. Local roasts, plus cream and milk from Homeland Creamery? Yes, please! Grab one of their tempting lattes or mochas (shoutout to the Oprah Mocha!) or split a French press pot for $4.95.

Date at Duke Gardens

Love may just bloom at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

It’s harder to think of a more romantic, or more uniquely Durham date than strolling Duke Gardens with your beloved (or beloved-to-be.) The Gardens’s picturesque settings have seen many a Carolina date, proposal, and nuptial. You can bank on the romance factor- love has a long history of blossoming here.

Wander the Garden’s 55 acres hand-in-hand, plotting how to spend the money you saved on this date, because admission to the gardens is free! (Be aware parking will set you back $1 per half hour. More details on the Duke Gardens website here.)

Open from 8 AM to 5 PM, you may want to consider going to Duke Gardens on a weekday if you have the option, as things can get pretty packed at primetime on the weekends.

Ice Cream Date at The Parlour

Sweet romance at The Parlour.

Ice cream is an underrated low-commitment date, or a lovely little outing for a couple. The Parlour on Market Street makes phenomenal ice cream by hand, in classic and imaginative flavors, and all served up in a pretty, pastel environment. There are great vegan options, milkshakes, baked goods, and every manner of sundae customization you can think of. This is a great afternoon or evening date- The Parlour is open from 12 PM to 10 PM Sunday thru Thursday, and 12 PM to 11 PM Fridays and Saturdays. Yes, sometimes the ice cream line can go out the door, but that’s part of the experience. The ice cream is that good, and the line gives you more opportunity for conversation. (You’re right across the way from Major Bull, and if he’s not a conversation piece, who knows what is.)

Art Gallery Date at 21c Museum Hotel

21c Museum Hotel’s signature pink penguins are tucked all over the galleries.

Whether you’re a sophisticate, or you just want to look like one to impress your date, a wonderful way to take in modern art on a tight budget or a tight schedule is to visit 21c Museum Hotel on North Corcoran Street.

21c is part of Museum Hotels, a chain of boutique hotels with modern art galleries on the premises. The Durham version, housed in the historic former Hill Building, has rotating exhibitions of contemporary art on over 10,000 square feet of exhibition space. The sleek galleries are free and open to the public 365 days a year. If you and your date want to get some context for the art, guided docent tours are available at 5 PM Wednesdays and Fridays, and are also free and open to the public. So put on your finest (or not), impress your date, and get your culture fix for the best price of all- free.

Bathroom signs at 21c- for dates of all gender identities!

Drinks at The Atomic Fern

Let’s face it- pricey cocktail bars are a lot of fun. They’re also a guaranteed way to make your wallet weep, and chances are you won’t be focused on getting to know someone when you’re thinking about your dwindling bank account. Luckily, the remedy lives on East Parrish Street in Durham, and it’s called The Atomic Fern.

The Atomic Fern does have a membership fee… but it’s $3, and you can bring a guest. Beer goes for around $4, wine and mixed drinks for around $6. The focus at The Atomic Fern is on conversation- so no TVs, no loud music, and board games to settle into (bonus points if you bring your own!) The surroundings are cozy and quirky, the patrons are chill, and it makes for a great date spot if you just want to relax over a drink and really get to know the person sitting across from you. This is let’s-get-a-drink done right.

Major Bull is a romantic at heart.

Check out cheap Raleigh dates here!

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