In Reimagining Asheville, Local Playwright Turns Gentrification Into A Dark, Fanciful Fairy Tale
With new works, playwrights often work closely with the director to shape what happens on stage. But once Peter Lundblad finishes writing a play, his involvement with it ends.
“I really like giving it to a director and seeing what they do with it, so I try not to interfere,” he said. “I’m not a details a guy, so somebody else who knows that better. That’s one example of really learning to trust a director.”
Lundblad is perfectly content to leave his new play, “Buncombe Tower,” in the hands of the Magnetic Theatre. And he has left much for the director and cast to interpret. The play is a fantastical, futuristic vision of Asheville and an allegorical commentary on the fallout of gentrification.
“Buncombe Tower” opens May 10 and runs through June 2 at the Magnetic Theatre in Asheville’s River Arts District.
“This play is about Asheville and about where the power lies in Asheville and, on a smaller scale, how I think Asheville needs a Plan B,” Lundblad said. “I don’t think we can survive as a tourist town without taking care of the rest of it too. Like building hotels downtown or increasing housing costs, the bubble’s gonna pop, and what happens if Asheville’s biggest resource runs dry?”
Lundblad’s family moved to Asheville when he was in the second grade, and Lundblad was already writing plays when he graduated Reynolds High School. He went to Appalachian State and saw himself becoming a literary writer, but said he suffered a panic attack after college, moved back to Asheville and went to work in the mental health field.
Playwriting remained a creative, if not a career pursuit.
“I like playwriting because I don’t have the patience to write long, descriptive things,” he said. “In a play, you just write the dialog. That’s what I find the most fun.”
Lundblad found himself on a local playwriting group and he liked when more experienced playwrights such as Steven Samuels and John Crutchfield weighed in with notes on his work.
Crutchfield had Lundblad as a student when Crutchfield taught in the English department at Appalachian State University. He then watched how Lundblad worked earlier this decade when the two were part of a playwriting group organized through the Magnetic Theatre.
“His imagination just seemed to be free of cliche, which is very unusual in a young writer,” Crutchfield said. “From the very start, he had a very original and kind of wild irreverent imagination and, to me, that was extremely impressive.”
But echoing Lundblad’s sentiments about himself, Crutchfield saw a quiet, retiring temperament that left the young playwright too susceptible to others’ suggestions about his work.
“I do recollect having the thought if he’s going to make it as a playwright, he’s going to have to develop more self-confidence as an artist,” Crutchfield said. “To some degree, you have to protect what it is you’re trying to do and, if you find the one or two people who really get it and really know how to help you do it better, then you listen to those people. But with the people who are just trying to get you to write the play they want you to write, you have to screen those people out.”
While “Buncombe Tower” is a tangible expression of Lundblad’s interest in politics, the narrative is abstracted and non-linear.
“I was reading a comic book that had to do with ‘What if there was actually magic in the world?’” Lundblad said of his initial inspiration for writing the play. “So I thought, ‘What if Asheville had more of a mythic feel to it?’ and this particular play has a zen element, a Russian fairy tale, some 12-step (programming) in it.”
“Buncombe Tower” is only the second play Lundblad has had outside of his time in college--both by the Magnetic. Lundblad is in school again, studying social work, and at 33, he wants to become a therapist.
“Playwriting is one of those things where I feel I’m using all my intelligence, emotion, analysis, big and small kind of talents,” he said. “The idea of writing good work continually, I don’t know that it’s in me to do that. Playwriting is a passion and I don’t need to abuse that interest. I imagine I’d do it regardless of whether anyone wanted to put it on.”