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HMTC This Week – Mussel Slough Tragedy staged reading

I am elated when I write a new play. I look for friends to read it. I make adjustments to the script. When I have a next draft of a play, I plan for a staged reading with an audience. Why? I need their reactions and comments to polish the work.

The new play I have written is The Mussel Slough Chronicles – A California Tragedy. It is about the 1880 shoot-out in Hanford and what led to it. My journey in writing this script was a chance stop at the historical marker on 14th Street in 2011. I was looking at real estate and saw the historical marker about the Mussel Slough Tragedy.

In 2019 I had conversations with the Kings County Historical Society and noticed that their headquarters was just south of that historical marker. I asked the Historical Society how they felt if I wrote a play about the incident with their blessing. They mentioned book authors and researchers approaching them in the past, but I would be the first playwright. I began intense research.

There are a fair number of books written about the Mussel Slough Tragedy beginning with The Octopus, a story of California, by Frank Norris published in 1901. There is also a fair number of opinions on who did the first shot.

As far a full-length stage work, the earliest I can find of the Mussel Slough was in 2011 at CalRTA Fresno by Viola Bedford. It was a production with narrative, poetry, and a large cast. It outlined the main points of the Mussel Slough incident.

This new play begins with two couples enticed by the promise of land at $2.5 dollars an acre if they improve it. That they do. Water is the main issue, and the community works tirelessly on making a ditch from the Kings River to the Hanford area. Thus, the landscape of the county is changed. The strife begins when they realize that it was a misunderstanding, or lure to sell them the land at $25-35 dollars an acre. Obviously, there was outrage. The Southern Pacific Railroad had the patent and was accused of corporate greed. Legal action followed, and finally shots rang out. More died there than at the more famous O.K. Corral that occurred a year later in 1881.

Also added in the play for historical clarification are the land speculators, squatters, and opportunists who dotted California and influenced the Hanford residents. It is not overreach to say that this is the oldest and most famous Hanford story.

This is a grand opportunity for history buffs, descendants of Hanford settlers to participate in the creative process of the play. All comments and suggestions will be of value in polishing the script.

As well, if you have a good speaking voice and can invest a few hours to rehearse reading a script and present it once in front of an audience, we would like you to call. (Note: no memorization required.)

Outside a major city, it is not often there is an opportunity to work on an evolving play with a playwright. To add pudding to the cake, Don Brakeman, a veteran actor and director from Hollywood and Las Vegas, will direct the script.

Silvia Gonzalez Scherer HMTC

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