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Topper Birdsall, Playwright of “Wahoo”

February 13, 2012

As of April 20, 2012 Topper Birdsall can add ‘professionally produced play’ to his list of accomplishments.  His play, Wahoo, was chosen, for production in Lifestages Reflections, along with three others, from scripts written in our Recollections playwriting program for adults over age 55.  The plays were selected to represent a variety of voices and themes.  They will be presented at the Lyceum Theatre as part of Playwrights Project’s annual New Play Festival, performed in repertory with the 27th season of Plays by Young Writers (winning scripts from our 27th annual California Young Playwrights Contest).   Below, Topper talks about the process of creating his play, Wahoo.

Photo by Mel Yonzon

How did you first become involved with writing?

I’ve always written a little. I took a Playwrights Project Recollections class taught by Deborah Salzer. It was my introduction to playwriting. It was a bit challenging in that Deborah had us writing a small piece a week. How to generate ideas? Where to find the right words? Well, necessity did it. I wrote a new piece each week, one of which was Wahoo, in a shorter version. Constant revision produced what the audience will see. It all seems amazing to me.

How did you come up with the idea for your script?

Wahoo is my father so this is a “reflection” piece. It is based on actual events. The tavern, drinking, Christmas Tree store, and World War II are real memories. There’s some embellishment to make it more attractive to the audience.

What themes are involved in your piece?

Several background stories exist in Wahoo.  First, Wahoo, as a child, lived with a foster family and only went to school up to 5th grade.  He left school to go to work.  He was a dreamer and an optimist.  Eventually, he became an alcoholic and that, too, is reflected in this play.  Topper (that’s me) is Wahoo’s son, and together, with my mother and brothers and sisters, lived with Wahoo’s dreams, optimism, and alcoholism, which had a very negative side.  This is the story of a flawed father-son relationship.  Finally, it is set to the backdrop of the depression and World War II.  It reflects that important time in our history.  There is a theme of shared sacrifice during the war and the hardships it brought as well as the future economic promise.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?

The bitter sweet complexities of life. The importance of hope and a shared, interdependent, life . The man who provided Wahoo with the coupons necessary to buy rationed goods was also suffering, but he wanted to help his friend with so many children. The difficult World War II period subsequently produced unprecedented prosperity in the United States, which continues into this decade, although the nation now faces new economic challenges.

Do you plan to continue writing?

I write, virtually, every day. I plan to expand the one act Wahoo into a full length play entitled, “Wahoo and Casey Stengel.” I’m writing a play about death, revival, and birth titled “The Colored Musicians Club.” It’s about, among other themes, racial history in the United States, the birth of Dixieland music, New Orleans, and an elderly Negro musician in an old folks home. There are many other projects beyond these, including short stories and novels.

What advice do you have for young playwrights?

Write. Write as frequently as you can. Then, rewrite and rewrite. Read and reread. Attend plays. Study them. Don’t give up. Keep writing, you have something valuable to share with us. I’m waiting for it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. JoAnn Klinger permalink
    March 14, 2014 6:22 AM

    Hi Topper,
    Do you remember me? Kay and I were very good friends and my daughter carries Kay’s name. (Jayme Kay). She has turned out to be a great person, just like Kay.

    I see you stayed out West.

    If I have the right Topper, please email me at joannk1@ptd.net

  2. February 15, 2012 11:40 AM

    Barbara, we are so excited for you to be a part of the Lifestages Reflections workshop series!

  3. February 14, 2012 12:31 PM

    Thank you for the inspiration! Just started my first Playwrights Project Class last week! Loved it!

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