Story about the last two days of the last group of working telephone switchboard operators in the last city in the USA to get rotary phones, Sept. 1969.
NUMBER PLEASE! was first presented in the readers theater format in June 2001 at the Grand Casino in Biloxi, MS as the main event of the Telephone Pioneers of Mississippi state convention. The Regional Manager of AT&T located in Greenwood, MS funded the event. The show has been presented another 18 times in restaurants, VFWs and country clubs. In 2013, the play was presented as the Grand Opening Event for the renovation ceremony of the Arkansas City Opera House in Arkansas City, AR. NUMBER PLEASE! was the main entertainment event for the Heart and Soul of the Delta Symposium at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS in 2014. The play’s latest journey was being featured in the TruTV reality show BREAKING GREENVILLE in 2015.
The play was written and is directed by David Lush (short bio) who directed the Raytown Arts Council’s 20th Anniversary summer musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. NUMBER PLEASE! was a 4th place winner in the 2013 National Writers Digest Playwriting Competition.
The Mississippi Delta is a rich source of literary material with colorful characters, interesting topics and a history focused on the Mississippi River, music, agriculture and major historic events.It is from this background that NUMBER PLEASE! evolved.
NUMBER PLEASE! features a cast of three, middle-aged to senior southern women. The two-act play takes place in the former office of the Rosedale Telephone Company on the second floor of the former Rosedale City Hall during the last two days of the last group of working telephone switchboard operators in the last city in the United States to get rotary phones – that being Rosedale, Mississippi in September 1969.
Telephone switchboards may not seem particularly interesting, important or historically significant, but as the play points out what was significant was a new technology coming to the Delta bringing a change in a way of life. And not just to the Mississippi Delta but to small and large cities across the United States. Gone would be the instant communication with that friendly voice saying, “Number please!” Technology had progressed to where the wall phone with the crank handle was to be replaced with another phone with a rotary dial and dial tone. Now all a caller would get when picking up the phone would be an impersonal dial tone and no action until someone picked up the phone on the other end.
The switchboard operators were the front line on what was going on in a community. They were the ones who found people, made contacts, kept secrets, provided needed and targeted gossip, shared community information, were political weathervanes, served as mothers and grandmothers and fathers, when necessary, and so much more.
Each woman in the play is an institution at the phone company, and has been for decades. Now with that working life coming to an end, the community would change. Communicating would be different. And this is what “NUMBER PLEASE!” shares with the audience – how this change to rotary phones changed people, lives and a community.
The script was written following interviews with 186 former telephone switchboard operators in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta over a period of two years. They provided stories of happy things and sad events; silly times and incidents that make one shake their head; stories of inspiration and ones of courage, and all mixed together into a recipe of poignant and bittersweet moments, here called “lemon moments”, ending in a cathartic experience for each cast member.
And speaking of recipes, these ladies love to eat, share recipes and try new culinary delights. Many operators brought food each day to the phone company for all to sample and comment on. And in the play, the ladies carry on that tradition and eat throughout with appropriate commentary on their culinary likes and dislikes.
The dialogue is authentic to the time. Most of the incidents, stories and events featured in the play are taken directly from those interviews providing an authentic and bittersweet slice of southern life.