Monday, December 19, 2011

I Interview Playwrights Part 412: France-Luce Benson



France-Luce Benson

Hometown: Miami, FL

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q: Tell me about The Talk.

A: One might describe it as a Caribbean /Immigrant take on an After School special gone horribly wrong. Seriously, it’s a comedy/drama about a woman who never had the freedom to explore her own sexuality confronting her adult daughter who after many long years of ambiguity has finally embraced her own. It also explores how time and loss can begin to bridge the gap between mothers and daughters. As a first generation Haitian-American, I always write from that perspective. It is who I am, what I know, and an important piece of my artistic mission. So this play continues my examination of culture clash, identity, and the complex social conflicts specific to immigrants of foreign lands. Manu, the mother, comes to realize that while holding on to the traditions and conventions that preserved her cultural identity – she sacrificed her own desires as a woman. I also thought it would be fun to write a middle aged woman from a foreign country trying to figure out how to use a sex toy.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: Boat People, a full length play about a family in 1980’s Miami who illegally shelter a political exile from Haiti. It is set against the backdrop of the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, and the increasing tensions that existed in Miami during this period. Hundreds of Haitians were risking their lives to escape the brutality of the dictatorship, only to be imprisoned under inhumane conditions in detention centers. Meanwhile, immigrants from other countries seemed to be welcomed with open arms. This was also when the A.I.D.S. epidemic sky rocketed in America. There was still not much information and research and the C.D.C. at one point declared it a Haitian disease. The protagonist in the play is a teenage girl ashamed of her heritage and we follow her journey into acceptance and pride. I am currently developing this play in the New Perspectives Theatre’s Women’s Work Lab.

I am also honored to be working on a screen adaptation of Edwidge Danticat’s “Caroline’s Wedding”. It’s a feature length film produced and directed by Easmanie Michel.

Finally, I’ve just submitted a proposal for a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan grant to write a stage play based on Jean Dominique.

Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood who explains who you are as a writer and as a person.

A: I don’t know that I could pinpoint one defining moment. I do know, however, that when I was growing up there was a lot of discrimination in Miami and the Haitian community was the target of a great deal of negative stereotyping and even aggression. Many Haitian-American kids tried to hide who they were out of fear and shame. I regret to confess that I was one of them. But as I got older, and more informed, I started to appreciate my culture. I began to understand the historical reference point for the aggression. My turning point came when I wrote my first full length play in college. Silence of the Mambo was about a family living in Haiti on the night the Duvalier dictatorship was overthrown. I did extensive research writing this play; studying not only Haitian politics, but history, dance, music, spirituality- all things Haitian. I was fascinated and for the first time I felt an indestructible pride in who I was. It was then that I decided that I would write plays that would celebrate and elevate my culture, and educate others about Haiti’s rich history, legacy, and people.

Q: If you could change one thing about theatre what would it be?

A: More accessible/less elitist.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Anton Chekov, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Christopher Durang, and Lorca (just to name a few, but I have many). And, of course, my beloved mentor Milan Stitt.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: Write, write, write. Write everyday, without fail, and make sure you write when you are at your best. Give the best of yourself to your writing.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: The Talk opens on Jan. 19 as part of The Fire This Time Festival

Caroline’s Wedding, my screenplay adaptation begins shooting in 2012

A staged reading of Boat People will take place in 2012 at New Perspectives Theatre


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