Greenport resident Amie Sponza has acted in plays before. But when the leader of her theater workshop asked each member to write a short play, Ms. Sponza was stumped. She had never written a play before.
And certainly not one about a topic as charged as what the theater workshop was working with: racism.
That is, until she spoke to her mother, who shared a strange letter Ms. Sponza’s Irish great-grandparents received one day in the mail.
“Junkman get out,” the letter read in part, “or we will bump you off.”
The vaguely threatening letter — the context and meaning of which long since lost to time — served as inspiration for Ms. Sponza. The final product, a short play called “Junkman,” is set to be performed for three days in New York City this week along with other short plays all reacting to “The R Word.”
“A lot of people had memories of growing up and dealing with different kinds of racism,” Ms. Sponza said. “Racism comes in all shapes and sizes.”
“Junkman” features a husband and wife — played by Riverhead resident Stephan Scheck and Ms. Sponza herself — who get a threatening letter in the mail. The play focuses on how the couple responds to the letter.
“It’s a frightening prospect to think ‘what if?’ ” Ms. Sponza said.
Mr. Scheck said his character’s reaction shows the husband’s prejudice as he gets defensive. “It’s basically insecurity, which is basically what most racism is about,” he said.
Mr. Scheck first began performing in 2003 in a production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” It was during that production that he first met Ms. Sponza and the two became friends. Mr. Scheck said he was happy to take a role in her first written play.
“She’s following her dream and I was more than happy to get involved with the thing,” he said.
Ms. Sponza’s play will be one of 12 performed, each one tackling racism in a different way and from a different perspective. Her own play was revised 14 different times before she found a version she liked.
“The beginning ones were very much in my voice, like incredulous,” she said. “I had no real background of information from a first-hand source … I had a lot of questions myself.” After a while she realized the play lacked drama, and tried to add a different perspective than her modern one.
“It was a great learning experience for me as a performer to look at it from the writer’s standpoint,” she said. The chance to perform in such a unique play also gave Mr. Scheck the chance to “start fresh.”
“You get to inhabit a character that’s not your own,” he said.
He hoped that those who see the plays will take time to reflect on their meanings and walk away a bit more enlightened than when they arrived.
“Racism is never ever going to go away, but that shouldn’t mean we never try to improve our lives,” he said.
“Junkman” will be performed at Shetler Studios & Theatres on W. 54th St. in New York at Theater 54 on the 12th floor from Thursday, Dec. 1 through Saturday, Dec. 3.
Photo caption: Stephan Scheck of Riverhead and Amie Sponza of Greenport during a test performance of Ms. Sponza’s play ‘Junkman,’ which will be performed this week in New York City. (Courtesy photo)