Boise residents speculated for a long time about a curse on the corner of 8th and Main in downtown. This valuable piece of real estate saw a building burn down. It spent years as a vacant lot then after a failed project, the downtown corner spent years as a hole in the ground. That hole had become a city landmark bordering on icon status by 2011.
That's when some local actors and writers with Alley Repertory Theater decided to put together a play about the city. Co-creator Evan Sesek says the hole was a powerful symbol to explore the city’s identity. That show was Voices From the Boise Hole.
Now the skeleton of a multi-story building rises from the corner and theatre goers have a new play to go with it. Sesek says for the new iteration, Voices From the Boise Hole 2, filling the hole represents the future of the city.
“There’s sort of a tension between wanting to keep Boise this small town that it is or that it feels like, but also getting bigger buildings and any of the things that come with a big city.”
Voices introduces a series of characters in monologues. It starts with actress Leta Neustaedter, who stands among the audience.
“One of my characters has issues with the new building being built,” she says. “And (she) is actually pretty sure that the building won’t survive and will become a hole again.”
Her character harangues the spectators like a street corner prophet. She’s taken it upon herself to renew the curse on 8th and Main.
“Before you think about trying to stop the curse, mine was not a Native American curse, and it was not a Chinese curse. It was not a voodoo curse or an Egyptian curse, and it was not some little fairy curse,” the character taunts. “My curse… was derived,” she catches herself before she can reveal any more. “Oh, no no no, I see what you’re doing.”
This character was based on comments posted on a newspaper website when the new Zion’s Bank building was announced for the site of the hole.
Neustaedter’s other character may live in the same city but she’s a world away. A teacher who married young chaperones a junior high dance and sees herself in the kids spinning slowly around her.
That scene is also a long way from the downtown construction site where the play begins. The hole is just the starting place for the play. It quickly climbs out to explore the community and its people. Sesek says he and co-writer Jason Haskins did not want to write a play that, like so many, seems to be set nowhere.
“I think sometimes the more specific you get the more universal it becomes, which seem counterintuitive,” he says. “But I think if we made this show and it was just sort of like, ‘it could take place anywhere’ I think it wouldn’t work in a weird way.”
Many of the monologues have Boise references. There’s the bar fly, bitter in his nostalgia for all the bars he used to know and the ability to smoke in them. There’s the last Occupy Boise protestor, the guy who wants to build a walled community in north Idaho, the former Boise State football player…
“A member of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl champion teams,” Sesek explains. “You know they were on top of the world and now (he’s) trying to find what’s next.”
Other parts could take place anywhere. There’s the housewife who spends all her time giving sales parties, played by Jennifer Stockwell Doner. The monologue jumps back and forth between her sales pitches.
“Pampered Chef wants one of you to take a tote home for free!” she shrieks in manic cheerfulness. Then her voice drops into a seductive drawl. “After just a few minutes of your time you’ll see why an Essence of Romance party is like no other.” The parties are remarkably similar apart from the host’s tone of voice. Her speech slides into an almost spiritual timbre of a missionary. “We here at Scentsy believe in creating the mood.”
With each sales pitch the audience learns a little about why this woman spends her time selling kitchen gadgets, sex toys and wickless candles.
Sesek says he wanted to write a play that everyone would enjoy. But Voices From the Boise Hole 2 is satire.
“It (will be) interesting to see if people would be ticked off by anything in the show,” he says. “I don’t think at any point… we have a ‘screw you Boise.’ In fact I think maybe some of the people would identify with wanting to keep Boise the same or wanting to keep the perception of Boise a certain way and … the struggle with that because there are a lot of people who want it to be different things.”
Sesick says a community means different things to different people. In its playful way, the layers of meaning we give to a place are what the Voices From the Hole speak about.