Not many people are offered the kind of opportunity that I was offered by the village of Archbold, Ohio: to create a play celebrating the history of the place one was born and raised for a substantial fee. It gave me pause. This would involve revisiting my birthplace, going to the place where I spent my childhood and teen-age years and studying a community that is filled with my relatives. Some might consider it a fascinating undertaking. I was not so sure. At the age of eighteen I had been very happy to leave the confines of the place. In fact, I had been living in the South for over forty years. For the thirty-five of those years I had been writing for the theatre and I was convinced that the South fed my muse. I was certain that living in the south, a place that I was ‘in” but not “of” gave me a distance that enabled me to recognize colorful people and peculiar places that were fascinating and interesting enough to write about. I was pretty certain that Archbold lacked eccentricities interesting enough for a full length play. Finally, I asked myself, “Why not give it a try?” So last May my husband and I visited Archbold to reconnect with the village and research its history. During our morning with Traci Evans, curator of Sauder Village and Museum I learned about the history of enormous Black Swamp which covered 90 miles of Northwestern Ohio, spilling over into the territories of Michigan and Indiana. I learned about its settlers, three of whom were my ancestors. At the same time I began to see a unique and interesting story developing. I read through Township documents, court records, files of papers, the centennial editions of the village paper. I also interviewed a number of the village leaders. What I first thought was going to be a short play—an hour at the most—turned into a longer piece because I had found reams of interesting material that stimulated my imagination and my memory. And I had an epiphany when I realized that being “of” but not “in” Archbold gave me the same kind of distance to place as my “in” but not “of” relationship to the South. Furthermore, this project reconnected me with family and school friends and, most importantly, to see the village in which I was born and raised, in a new and different light.
The Village That Could By Brenda Schleunes