By Thomas K. Lowenstein
New Orleans, LA, USA
Lara Naughton is a New Orleans-based writer and teacher. Her latest play, Never Fight A Shark In Water, opened in New Orleans on October 29, 2010, and will tour the country next year.
TKL: What is Never Fight A Shark In Water about?
Lara Naughton: Shark is a one-man play, a true account of Greg Bright’s experience of wrongful conviction. Based entirely on Greg Bright’s words, the play spans 27 ½ years, from his arrest to exoneration, and highlights the dysfunction and corruption of Louisiana’s criminal justice system. But more than that, the play follows Greg’s growth from anger to compassion, and gives witness to the transformative power of forgiveness. Charles Holt, a wonderful actor, does an amazing job of bringing Greg’s story to the stage.
TKL: How did you come to this story?
Lara Naughton: I met Greg while working on another documentary project with Resurrection After Exoneration, an organization dedicated to helping exonerated individuals reenter society. I was drawn to Greg in particular because of his natural talent as a storyteller, his ability to see his experience in a larger context, and his remarkable personal qualities of strength, honesty, courage, compassion and forgiveness.
TKL: What are the greatest challenges involved in telling someone else's story like this?
Greg Bright and Charles Holt
(credit: Terry DeRoche)
Lara Naughton: Getting it right. There are two levels to telling the story, the factual and the emotional, and each of those two truths needs to be conveyed differently on stage. Greg and I spent more than two years in the interview process, and it was essential for me to hear the same stories over and over again. That was taxing for Greg at times, in particular when we addressed the death of his mother. That experience was by far the worst experience of Greg’s life, and in order for me to fully understand its impact on Greg, I needed to hear Greg talk about it from his deepest, rawest memories and feelings. I estimate we covered that experience at least twenty times, and each time, new information would come to light. Then the challenge was for me to take twenty transcripts and distill the scene down to two pages, while maintaining the both the factual and emotional truths.
TKL: What does Greg Bright think of the play?
Lara Naughton: That’s a question for Greg, but from our conversations, it seems that Greg is overwhelmed by seeing his life portrayed on stage through someone else. It can be an emotionally charged experience watching rehearsals, and I think he’s very curious how he’s going to respond to seeing the world premiere. He has been a full partner every step of the way, and he has had final approval of every scene, from script to staging.
TKL: After the New Orleans opening, what next for Shark?
Lara Naughton: The play will have its collegiate premiere on Jan 26, 2011 at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, then it will begin a national collegiate tour. We plan to perform the show at up to 50 venues in the 2011-2012 school year. In addition, we’ve received interest from regional theatres and church communities, and we’ll be thrilled to share the production with these audiences.
TKL: Has working on this play changed your view of our justice system?
Lara Naughton: Absolutely. Enormously. I consider myself to be a well-informed individual, but I had no idea how pervasive the problem of wrongful conviction is, and it’s important to me that Never Fight A Shark In Water is part of the growing civil rights movement around this issue. And like most people, my understanding of prison life was based on media portrayals that either glamorize or demonize the offender. I am thankful to have been schooled by Greg whose insights into the experiences of innocent and guilty people in Angola have been invaluable to correcting my misperceptions. As he says, while he was in Angola, he saw the worst of the worst and the best of the worst. Society rarely gets to see the humanity of the prisoner, so we felt it was our responsibility to include that humanity in the play.
Never Fight A Shark In Water
Resurrection After Exoneration
Thomas K. Lowenstein is a writer, journalist, editor, and policy strategist. With a special interest in helping those wrongly convicted of a crime and in campaigning against the death penalty, he has worked tirelessly to focus attention on inequities in the American criminal justice system. Born in New York, educated in Boston, Mr. Lowenstein now lives in New Orleans with his wife and two children. He is the author of the novel, THE GHOST DETECTIVE.