NEWBERRY — Articles in The Newberry Observer that not only verified a story Buffy Summer thought was urban legend or an idle tale but brought it to life inspired the Newberry Community Players’ production for August.
The original play was co-written by Summer and her mother, Sue Summer, a frequent contributor to The Observer.
Buffy heard her mother talking about the summer of 1963 and the Swift Strike the year of its 50th anniversary. But she knew her mother’s gift as a local storyteller and had doubts major peace time military maneuvers could have taken place in Newberry County.
A friend showed her some articles from 1963 and suddenly she became inspired, not only to learn more but to share the local history through art, specifically a play.
Buffy, a financial planner in Newberry who serves as a financial consultant to the Newberry Community Players, talked with Director Ellen Hunt about the script being used as a fundraiser for the group.
Hunt was all for the idea, which led to a writers retreat to Hickory Knob State Park. Sue and Buffy roughed it with no refrigerator at the cabin area.
“As we ate on the porch we realized our original idea for a play about a teenage daughter who grabbed the attention of the soldier just did not work,” Buffy said.
Instead, the play became built around 11-year-old boys and their seeing the military operations that included more than 80,000 soldiers as a business opportunity where they could earn enough money to buy a color television set.
The stories are based on memories shared orally and via social media.
“The coolest thing,” Buffy said, “was getting people to talk about Swift Strike Three and share their memories either orally or through social media.”
She said the best line in the play came from social media and the memory of an elderly lady, a broom and a machine gun, but people will have to attend the play to hear the line live.
WKDK radio is a character because by converting newspaper source material into radio script, the audience could learn content and the drama could advance at a manageable pace, Sue said. At one point the radio hangs in the boys’ tree house.
Buffy said period music from the 1960s helped with the creative process. Local high school yearbooks were a treasure trove.
For Sue, who was 11 in 1963, some of the inspiration comes from her brother, Danny, who was a prankster who often got up to mischief. The protagonist and his friend are both amalgams of family friends and acquaintances from the 1960s.
Sue’s mother’s brother — Col. (Ret.) Bobby Corley, a resident of the West End and student at Newberry College — participated in the Swift Strike III.
This is the first time the mother-daughter duo has co-written something. Sue did write a piece about Buffy and Christmas in her Women in Motion column for The Observer that was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
For Buffy especially, it was special to give back to a group that has meant so much to her through the years.
Buffy first acted with the Players at age 6. She was in their 35th anniversary play and as a part of that play, repeated her improvisation from age 6 when a bored Buffy flashed her bunny rabbit underpants at the audience. In the 35th anniversary production, she flashed bunny rabbit boxers at the crowd. She brought that playful spirit to the writing process as well.
“Not everyone can be an athlete or cheerleader and the Community Players offers a place to belong and learn teamwork and experience (life lessons) in a more comfortable place for some. Life can be hard as a teen and Community Players can be a tool to help people get through those years,” Buffy said. “What I found valuable was being able to coach people who were younger but also receive guidance from older youth and from adults at the same time.”
As the capital city of the fictional nation Columbia, Newberry was the epicenter of fighting between the Blue and Red armies. Swift Strike III was intended to test new technology, to experiment with military strategies, and to evaluate how armies might interact with a civilian population during wartime.
“Most folks who were in Newberry at the time remember the excitement. Young boys camped out in tents made of bedspreads over clothes lines, soldiers eagerly swapped C-rations for homemade jelly biscuits, the opposing armies recruited community leaders as ersatz government officials — and spies,” Sue said.
Hunt is asking the community for help in finding olive drab Army uniforms for cast members, a couple of chenille bedspreads and Swift Strike III memorabilia to be displayed in the lobby of The Ritz during the production.
Anyone with photos, movies or C-rations — maybe a parachute or a general’s Jeep — can contact Hunt or Sue Summer at email@example.com.
“Swift Strike Summer” will be presented Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 3 p.m. in the Ritz Theater. Tickets will be available through the Newberry Opera House at 276-6264.
Volunteers are needed for a variety of drama, music, mechanical and creative skills sets. For more information contact Hunt at 803-924-7158.