Andrew McCuaig’s “The Wallet” is headed to Broadway’s Symphony Space.
About 15 years ago, teacher Andrew McCuaig scribbled a short story in his La Follette High School classroom. In May, it premieres on Broadway as an opera.
It’s like lightning striking for McCuaig. His class was experimenting with short, short stories — “flash fiction” — when McCuaig came up with “The Wallet.”
“It’s only two pages, and it’s set in a tollbooth,” he says. A young woman working the late shift has an irritating co-worker who leaves behind a soda and his wallet. A woman escaping domestic violence comes through the tollbooth with two kids in the back seat and says she needs money. “That’s where the wallet comes in,” says McCuaig.
“The Wallet” has traveled a long way. It was published in Beloit College’s Fiction Journal in 2003. “And then three years later I got a letter out of the blue,” says McCuaig. A Manhattan publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, asked to include it in Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. The 2006 book is still in print, and is often used in classrooms. Another Madison-area writer, poet Alison Townsend, is also featured in the anthology. Both Townsend and McCuaig have won the prestigious Pushcart Prize, which honors the best from small presses.
“Three or four years later, I got an email,” says McCuaig. A Puerto Rico publisher wanted “The Wallet” for an English as a second language textbook.
Finally, a year ago, McCuaig was contacted by Experiments in Opera, an innovative nonprofit production company in Brooklyn, New York. Composer and co-founder Aaron Siegel asked if he could adapt “The Wallet” to opera — very short opera. It will be staged with others as part of “Flash Operas,” opening May 5 at Broadway’s Symphony Space performing arts center.
“It’s a great honor. It’s really exciting,” says McCuaig, who will be attending with family. “It’s also quite bizarre to imagine my characters singing their lines.”