The Long Journey of “The Long Goodbye”

Vanessa Bell Calloway - National Black Theatre Festival       

            It was a long time coming.
            From the day I first came up with the idea for a new stage play back in 1985, the play’s title, story, and format have undergone a series of changes.
            The initial spark for the stage play was my love for Hollywood legend Bette Davis. I wanted to write a play about an older lady who was fascinated by her resemblance to Bette Davis. But then, my Aunt Ann passed suddenly and unexpectedly early Christmas morning in 1985, and her death sparked another idea – a play about a mother dealing with the loss of her daughter one Christmas morning. I made the original Bette Davis character a friend of the new lead, Mrs. Pet.
            However, when I started writing the stage play, a voice in my head kept saying, “This should be a screenplay.”
            So, I changed the format from a stage play to a screenplay.
            Then there was the title.
            Keeping the Faith was the title I chose when I began writing the screenplay.
            A few life events – a move to Tampa and then Detroit – and switching gears to write another script and a novella, slowed the screenplay’s progress.
            By the time, I finished the screenplay in 1991, I had changed the name to This Far by Faith.
            I began developing the screenplay into a film project with a producer/director partner, Carlesa Williams, of Jam Session Films in Detroit. Things were moving slow on this, so I eventually put the project on the shelf and returned to the Sunshine State and the University of Florida to get a degree in journalism.
            After a brief stay in New York City for a reporting internship with CBS News, and after earning my journalism degree and enrolling in graduate school at UF, I was pulled home to care for my mother, who had become disabled.
            Over the next several years, I wrote and self-published two novels and wrote a couple of screenplays. One day, I decided to pull This Far By Faith off the shelf and dust it off because the story – a dramatic comedy about a mother living in denial after the loss of her daughter – was still one of my favorites.
            That’s when the screenplay became The Long Goodbye.
            When I was done rewriting the screenplay, I sent it over to my agent/manager for his review. That was in 2015.
            He loved the screenplay and begin pitching it to a few producers and executives. It seemed they all loved the screenplay, but wasn’t sure how it would go over because “it wasn’t your typical ‘Black’ story.”
            Frustrated with this, and because I really wanted this story to be told, I decided to turn the screenplay into a stage play that I could produce myself.
            I completed this task last year after my first full-length stage play, Calming the Man, was starting to receive some attention and recognition.
            In April, I submitted the stage play The Long Goodbye, which no one else had read, to the National Black Theatre Festival Readers Theatre of New Works. I didn’t expect much, so I was surprised when the play was accepted to the “A List,” which is the best of the best new plays.
            A few weeks later, I asked one of my favorite actresses, Vanessa Bell Calloway, who starred in What’s Love Got to Do With ItComing to America, and a host of other films, if she would read the lead role of Mrs. Pet at the festival. To my surprise, she said yes.
            Last week, the story that began as a tribute to Bette Davis then became a tribute to my Aunt Ann, was finally performed before an audience with Vanessa Bell Calloway, and two of my hometown talents, Hope Demps and Tony Lang, at the National Black Theatre Festival.
            As I watched the performance, I couldn’t help thinking about the play’s long, long journey.
            It was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.
Note: Calming the Man, will be read with actor Lance Reddick in the lead, at the 4th Annual Leimert Park Theatre Festival in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 3, 5:00 pm at the Barbara Mason Performing Arts Center. For more information, contact Anthony Lamarr at anthonylamarwhite@yahoo.com.
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