Updated: Jul 26, 2019
To research for this play, I first reached out to those on Whittier’s city council and port
and harbor committee, whose emails were posted on the town website. I was able to
get some interviews from that, and through those connections I was able to reach out
further to other residents.
One thing that surprised me was how open the residents were to the idea of me writing
a play about their town. I am used to a certain level of reluctance or a desire for privacy,
but those I interviewed jumped at the chance to tell me all about their lives and their
experience living in Whittier. I was intrigued by much of what they told me, particularly
by the sense of community they described and the hodge-podge of people who make it
up. I was a bit disturbed by some of the things described to me that are commonplace
in Whittier, such as alcoholism and domestic abuse, as well as how it is handled by
residents. Due to the close proximity of the apartments, when there is an issue at hand
everyone is aware of it but most of the time people turn the other cheek and stay out of
things, unless the issue escalated significantly or a child is involved.
The lore of Whittier is interesting to me because it is such a specific place and the
lifestyle is unlike anywhere else in the United States, while at the same time residents
know what it’s like to experience “regular” American culture. It is such a new town that
there is a lack of older tradition-- what one normally associates with folklore. In fact,
nearly everyone I interviewed for the project started off by insisting vehemently that
there was no lore to be found. This is, of course, not true at all; Whittier has its own
traditions, stories, and culture. This is powerful because it certainly challenges the
common assumption that folklore has to be “old.” Artistically, there is a long tradition of
stories revolving around small, insular towns so getting to explore that with the help of
real people in a real place was very intriguing to me.
Because many of Whittier’s residents are unaware that they are, in fact, part of modern
lore, we were able to consider this idea aloud together during our interviews. Much of
what I consider cultural lore about the town revolves around community-- town-wide
holiday traditions, for example. It became clear to me that community is at the heart of
nearly every facet of life in Whittier.