by Lauren E. Nichols “For the one who was a slave when called to faith…
Phoebe Weems Retrospective
We opened our 2020-2021 season with our first ever virtual performance, a world premiere of Michael Wilhelm’s comedy-drama, The Dreadful Journal of Phoebe Weems. As we navigate the challenges of live performance during a time of pandemic worries, we are challenged to come up with innovative ways of bringing the arts to our community. We had excellent response to Phoebe, and would be happy to have more people view it. Please contact us via this website for information on how to do so!
As a way of memorializing this new performance type, and perhaps whetting your interest in seeing this play and others like it, we are placing the program’s dramaturgy page here for you to read. Please note: The Dreadful Journal of Phoebe Weems may be marketed in the future to middle school classrooms, because of its beneficial look at childhood fears and the problem of bullying. If you’d be interested in more information, or helping to fund this project, please contact us!
Timeline of the creation of Phoebe Weems
When asked, Michael Wilhelm readily admits that when his own daughter went through a period of “night terrors”, he wasn’t expecting it to be fodder for a full-length play years later. But such is the mind of a writer! After successfully producing Michael’s first play, Turtle Soup, about the legendary “beast of ‘Busco,” afO strongly encouraged him to write something else.
Phoebe Weems turned up in our inbox as an unnamed script in 2013. Two years–and several drafts– later, it had its first private reading in our offices. More time passed, more revisions were made. Last summer afO launched a new play-reading event, Fresh Finds, at which The Dreadful Journal of Phoebe Weems got another reading, this time in front of a larger audience who provided helpful feedback. After hearing this read-through (and especially after hearing Violet Park and her mom, along with Nate Chen, create the main characters) we were convinced that it was time for Phoebe to see the light of day. Long before we had any idea of what chaos and fear 2020 would generate, The Dreadful Journal was scheduled to open our season.
A word about fear
The kinds of fears in this play may seem ridiculous to most of us—they are irrational fears or “phobias”. A phobia is “an intense fear of something that, in reality, poses little or no actual danger.” (see helpguide.org) Phoebe’s own imagination creates most of the things she is afraid of, and these things are portrayed in an exaggerated way which is played for laughs in several scenes.
However, we don’t want anyone to get the impression that phobias in general are a laughing matter. Some people’s irrational fears keep them from going to an event they’d enjoy (because they’d have to fly, drive over a tall bridge, or take an elevator). A person’s phobia of the number 13 (yes, this is a real phobia!) could cause them to turn down a better job because the office is on the 13th floor.
Certain kinds of fear (fears of: the dark, loud noises, large animals, monsters, etc.) are quite common in childhood, and seem to dissipate on their own over time. However others can stick around, or may develop later in life. These fears may result in simply avoiding certain activities, but they can also induce anxiety attacks, insomnia and other negative symptoms. Helpguide.org’s “Phobias and Irrational Fears” page lists several useful steps for dealing with an irrational fear. If self-help does not seem to be working, seeking the advice of a pastor or professional counsellor may be necessary.
To bully someone is to “seek to harm, intimidate or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable” (Dictionary.com). According to StopBullying.gov, bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying can be verbal, social or physical.
According to the 2018 School Crime Supplement, about 20% of students age 12 to 18 experience bullying, nationwide. (See https://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/ind_10.asp for additional information.)
In general , the advice given to young people on how to deal with bullies is the same today as it was years ago: 1) ignore them, which changes the perceived balance of power in favor of the person being bullied; 2) tell an authority figure who can do something about the situation—this can be tricky, if there is fear of retaliation; 3) get a group of allies to come alongside to restore the balance of power. It is still true that, in many cases, there is “safety in numbers.”
In this play, Phoebe has tried ignoring and avoiding the bullies. Her teacher is aware of a problem, but does not have proof of the culprits until the end of the play. But the teacher does give good advice to Phoebe’s friend, to “stick close to her.” The apparent isolation of the victim is a significant factor in inspiring bully behavior.
Words of wisdom to rely on, in combatting fears and phobias:
“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 (ESV)
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1 (ESV)
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
II Timothy 1:7
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I John 4:18
“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33