Wednesday, February 06, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 550: Donnetta Grays

Donnetta Grays

Hometown: Columbia, South Carolina

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I am working on two plays of my own ‘The Review or How to Eat Your Opposition’ which is currently being developed as part of terraNova Collective’s Groundbreakers Playwrights Group and ‘Sam’ a play about an 11-year old girl (Sam) who is unexpectedly transplanted from her home in Georgia to NYC. It’s a coming of age story with several emotional stumbling blocks for this kid placed there by her very young and ill-equipped parents. I am also collaborating with some tremendously talented friends on a few of their own personal projects. I won’t go into detail but the work they are doing is gorgeous and I can’t wait for people to hear what’s being created in living rooms all over the city!

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

A:  I was an extremely shy kid. Hardly spoke. Got picked on a good bit in middle school. In fact I call middle school “three years of my life I can’t get back.” Anyway my mother - always ready for a good story - would, everyday after school, ask her three kids about our day. Both my sisters were extremely articulate and damn near loquacious going into elaborate details about who did what to whom, at what time AND what they were wearing. I, on the other hand, would shrug and usually answer, “It was okay.” My mom would see through this though. She read my frown and furrowed brow and could tell something else was going on with me. So, one day she did this sort of miraculous thing where she wrote me a letter and left it on my bed for me to find. It read something like, “I know you are sad.  I don't know why you are sad but I think it might be hard for you to talk about. I want you to know that I am here if you ever do feel like talking about it. And, you know, sometimes it’s easier to write your feelings down than to say them out loud. ” Etcetera etcetera tears tears tears... ANYway, it was this truly wonderful thing that I totally took advantage of and she and I started writing these little letters to each other where I would open up about all this kid angst and she would advise and console me. It was our little secret exchange and it cracked my heart wide open. And so, I guess I am still putting some form of kid angst on paper and trying to express those very complicated emotions that most of us would rather hold on to in private.

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

A:  If a theater artist can’t afford to see a show then the ticket is too damn high.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Allison McNeely and Joy Vandervort-Cobb. My high school drama teacher and college mentor respectively. Allison taught me what theater was, how to love it and how to create it. Joy made me believe that I could actually do this for a living and nurtured that hunger in me from the moment we met. They were and still are gorgeous actors, directors and teachers. And I am not sure if they know this, but for as much as they taught me about my craft I spent just as much time watching them lead. Turning students into actors and crumpled scripts into productions. They knew how to take command in this way that elevated the work of those around them so I always has this sense that theater wasn't something that was created while I just sat back and watched. It was something that I could actually take the lead in creating.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  A variety of things. Really it’s too much of a variety to go into but I will say if there is a foul-mouthed sexually confident but emotionally delicate woman of color involved I’ll probably be there watching that.

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

A:  Please, I am still in the asking for advice stage. No comment...yet.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  'The Review or How to Eat Your Opposition' will have a workshop presentation this spring along with plays by Lynn Rosen, Andrew Rosendorf, Jen Silverman, Susan Soon He Stanton & Anna Ziegler in terraNova Collective's Groundworks New Play Series. Check the website for details:

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