GREENSBORO — The Old North State has an enduring, proud legacy of the oral tradition. Whether through the strong voice of the family patriarch or the wise words of an aging matriarch, the oral tradition has long blended fact with fantasy, folklore with ghost tales and legend with timeless honor and values.

In its production “Family Business,” the Touring Theatre of North Carolina puts a new, yet not altogether unfamiliar, twist on the state’s oral tradition and what it means to tell a story.

“We use the word, vocal inflection and gesture, so that the set is in the mind of the audience member,” Touring Theatre Artistic Director Brenda Schleunes told Q-Notes. “We require the audience’s imaginations and intellect to be involved.”

Slated for June 25-29 at the Broach Theatre in downtown Greensboro, the production — not quite play and not quite musical — blends the spoken, narrated word with music, dance and symbol to weave together two tales of family drama, transition and humor.

Schleunes said North Carolina’s rich oral tradition has always been a part of the Theatre, adding that some of the group’s first work includes Tar Heel folklore. She also said she likes to remain true to each piece.
“I never make very many changes,” she said. “It is all in how it is divided up.”

Adapted from two nationally-acclaimed short stories by North Carolina writers Jill McCorkle and Randall Kenan, the touching and provocative “Family Business” is bound to turn some heads, raise some eyebrows and, most important, make people think.

What makes the production especially exciting for LGBT audiences is the adaptation of the Kenan short story “The Foundations of the Earth,” from his collection “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.” Collectively, the stories take place in the fictional town of Tims Creek and focus on what it means to be poor, black and gay in the South. The “Family Business” adaptation draws from the tale of a grandmother who is forced to come to terms with the sexuality of her dead grandson when his white partner brings the body back home for burial.

“I probably did five drafts [of Kenan’s story],” said Schleunes. “The more I looked at the narratives the more I started to see possibilities in it. So I changed who I gave what part to and each time I went through a draft I learned a bit more about it.”

The other adaptation is a story by McCorkle, in which a recently divorced woman must come to terms with the separation and a new experience of living alone.

The production is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Greensboro Public Library and funded in part by the United Arts Council of Greensboro and the Guilford Green Foundation, an LGBT non-profit charity.

Public discussion on topics such as love, loss, homosexuality and divorce will follow each performance.

‘Family Business’ June 25-29
Where: The Broach Theatre, 520 S. Elm St., Greensboro, N.C.
When:
Wednesday, June 25, 8 p.m., “Pay-What-You-Can” Preview Night
Thursday, June 26, 7:30 p.m., Premiere performance followed by a reception at The Blue Diamond Gallery. (This is a fundraising event for the Touring Theatre of North Carolina. Call 336-273-7205 for reservations. Tickets for the premiere performance and reception are $50.)
Friday, June 27, 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 28, 8 p.m.
Sunday, June 29, 3 p.m.
Tickets $12.
Call the Carolina Theatre Box Office at 336-333-2605 for tickets for all performances except June 26.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.