Happy birthday blog!
A year ago today, I started my blog. What started out as a fun blog about playwriting and traveling has kind of evolved into my wildly emotional musings about what it means to be a playwright (at least to me anyway). I’ve dropped the ball a bit on pro-tips and don’t have another foreseeable travel opportunity. But I wanted to do something really different to celebrate my blog being 1 year old today.
So, for fun, I did a very intense and very honest interview. With myself.
Who are your favorite playwrights?
Easy. Jose Rivera, Caryl Churchill, Suzan Lori Parks, Maria Irene Fornes, and Ntozake Shange. Of all those playwrights though, the only one to bring me to tears and then immediately want to change my life is Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls.
What’s your favorite play?
Well, that changes based on the day. My favorite plays are Cloud Nine by Churchill, Sonnets for an Old Century by Rivera, Venus by Suzan Lori Parks, and Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph. Gruesome didn’t make me cry but it did make me drive for an hour deep in my feelings after I read it.
What’s your favorite play that you’ve written?
It’s a tie between Abortion Road Trip and Breathe Me In. I think ART is more appealing but I wrote BMI when I was at my lowest and it’s the play that jumpstarted me back to life. I owe my entire playwriting career to Breathe Me In, even if it’s never produced.
What’s your least favorite play that you’ve written?
I will take that to the grave. But if you’ve ever talked to me or read more than one play of mine, you know.
What was the hardest play to write?
black kitchen sink. It’s my most autobiographical play. It was hard to write that honestly about something that happened to me while also protecting the people around me. Mixing fact and fiction in that one was tricky because so much of it is just the horrible, honest to God truth.
Why do you write?
When I write, I am writing directly to my audience. I know who goes to see theatre and they’re the ones I want to speak to. I like to think of my plays as letters to my audience. Sometimes they’re love letters. Sometimes they’re hate letters. Sometimes, they’re funny jokes. Ultimately, I want to hold up a mirror to my audience and challenge them to challenge themselves. I hope no one walks away from my plays, gets in the car, and then talks about their dinner plans. Talk about what you saw. Let it sink in. And then let it change you.
What’s your dream job/situation?
I want to be the artistic director of a community-minded theatre company that produces work by local and regional artists. I want to create a space where artists have room to experiment, to fail, to try something wild and know that they’re still be supported. I want uplift a community of not just playwrights but artists across disciplines. While I do that, I also want to travel at least once every two months following my own playwright adventures throughout the country. I want to be a practicing artist that lifts up other practicing artists.
If you could have one super power what would it be?
To stop time. Really, to control time. Mostly I’d like to take a nap but not lose any time so I could get everything done.
If your playwriting career ends here, could you be okay with that?
I’m trying really hard to think about it like this: I have done impossible things. I kept my head down, worked my ass off, and just hoped someday someone might notice. As long as I keep doing that, my career can’t really ever end. If I never again get paid to write another play, there’s nothing standing in my way from creating. I need to focus on creating, not income. Which, as a poor person, is counterintuitive. But if I only focus on money, I lose sight of why I started writing to begin with. So if I look it as “the purpose of my career is to create” then it’s never over.
Ideally, playwriting-wise, what would you like to see happen?
I’d like to travel frequently. To continue to write about the various communities I visit. I’d like to get another production of a play of mine. I don’t need to be major but I would like a production a year at least. It’d be nice to be a part of a playwright collective with strong leadership and full of playwrights I admire.
What are your biggest fears playwriting-wise?
I worry about my my ego a lot. I fluctuate between Cersei and Luna pretty seamlessly. For the non-nerds out there, I go from being weird and smart to smart and ready to burn cities down. I’m trying to constantly work on that.
I also worry that I’ve fallen into a comfortable pattern and that makes my work boring and predictable. And I worry that because of my location the best I can hope for is what I already have. I am trying to come to terms with that.
What’s the worst way to describe your work?
I really hate when people refer to my work as “topical” or as an “identity play.” To me, calling something topical is an easy way to dismiss a socio-political issue without having to take any personal responsibility. Name a play that doesn’t comment on what it means to be alive. Just because my plays are tied to social justice, that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing the same thing. What’s theatre’s beef with social justice anyway? Shouldn’t the arts be leading the conversation about social change? Do we really need another play about a white family dealing with the patriarch dying and the central issue is someone cheated on someone else? Who is that for? To me, calling plays “topical” or “identity plays” is a way to shut out diverse voices. All plays are “identity plays” because all plays deal with identity.
What was your first play?
My first play was called committed. To say it was messy is an understatement. By the end of play, everyone dies.
What’s your favorite blog post on this site?
Let’s say it’s 60 years from now, you’ve passed on, and someone is reading your play in a script analysis class. What play do want that to be and what is the thing you’d want them to say about your style of writing?
I hope I haven’t written that play yet.
Ultimately, I hope the takeaway is I write about messy women who make the wrong choices but still get to be the protagonists of their own stories.
It’s nice to think we all do all the right things at the right time. It’s so easy to say “I’m Arya or I’m Daenerys, two seasons ago.”
But that’s not me and that’s not most women I know. The women I know are Sansa. We trusted the wrong people, we got hurt, and then we had to come to terms with who we were gonna be and how we going to be that person. And sometimes that means doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Because we don’t have another choice.
I can’t just pick up a sword every time someone wrongs me, whether the picking up the sword is literal or metaphorical. Because I’m a woman of color and usually, even if it’s in defense of myself, I am the one who will be punished. Not my oppressor or attacker. I am the one who will be blamed.
So I hope my plays spotlight that. There aren’t enough women on stage right now who empowered by their feminity, by their straight up mastery of wit in tricky socio-political situations. The women who figured out they weren’t going to be respected by men in power either way so they might as well party and claw their way up to the top the only way they know how.
And to start seeing those women are powerful too. Just because our armor is invisible, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn so far?
I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many degrees I have, how many productions I get, how many cities I’ve been in, there are some people who will never see my value. I think I could literally win the MacArthur, a Tony, and Pulitzer all in the same year and they’d still value someone else more who has none of those things. And usually, unfortunately, it has to do with race. Which is heart breaking but it’s also just a hard truth I’ve learned (and am still learning every day).
Whats the best thing you’ve learned?
I heard people say a lot to “find your tribe.” And while we don’t say it like that anymore because that phrasing is problematic, the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is find people who want to support you and lift you up and focus on that. Find ways to lift them up and support them as well. Let the creative energy between the two (or group of) of you vibrate out to create a force field to protect you from the negative energy around you.
Look for light. Surround yourself with it. Find friends and artists who will cheerlead you and then do the same for them. In a world where people are feeling less and less connected, playwrights have this gift that ties communities together. Theatre actively engages empathy like no other art form so use that. Breathe that in so you can exhale compassion out to your audiences.
Huh. So what’s your favorite animal?
I like foxes and penguins. Recently though on Instagram, I’ve been following a lot of cats and bunnies.
Since this blog got started, how many cities have your plays been in? (Only April 2018 – April 2019)
11. In order, Tampa, Orlando, Pittsfield, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Des Moines, and Fayetteville.
So. What’s your next play?
Well. Technically AKA THE PITTS is my next play and I should also work on YOU WERE MINE. But….to be honest….a play title popped into my head and I’m real curious to see where it goes. Not that I have time. But let’s be real. When do I ever have time?