Hometown: I was born in a tee-tiny town called Laurinburg, NC, but I grew up in Chapel Hill and Winston-Salem, NC.
Current Town: Proud resident of Washington, DC for 23 years!
Q: Tell me about the Welders.
A: The Welders are, first and foremost, a collective of playwrights, plus one Executive and Creative Director. Over the next three years, we will collaboratively produce world premieres written by each of the founding playwrights. Then, at the end of that time, we will pass the entire organization (from the tax-exempt status to the money in the bank) to another group of five playwrights. It's an elegant mission that directly serves DC talent, and gives playwrights true agency in one of the most challenging professions in the arts. We are providing an alternative, playwright-driven platform for new play development (as opposed to waiting around for the phone to ring) and working WITH and FOR one another.
Q: Tell me about The Redneck Holy Grail.
A: THE REDNECK HOLY GRAIL is a play about finding meaning, about the importance of heritage and home and individual voice. But it's also very funny - an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole journey through a bizarre urban landscape, as the central character Diana tries to figure out the rules of a chaotic and surreal world. It has elements of magical realism, fairy tale characters, Oz, Tim Burton...all mashed up in a hero's journey for a "sacred" grail that Diana doesn't even believe in.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I am working on a lot! Here's the laundry list: a new play commissioned by Cincinnati Playhouse, a new musical (with collaborator Matt Conner) commissioned by Signature Theatre, a comedy called THE RETURN TO LATIN that was commissioned by Theatre J's Locally Grown Initiative that the J is continuing to workshop, and a new play commissioned by GWU. I also am writing a new play called THE SOONER CHILD, which is being developed by 1st Draft at Charter Theatre. Those are the main ones. Plus re-writes of REDNECK!
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Writing was my first creative expression, and I have literally been writing since I could spell. (But I didn't write a single play until my mid-twenties! I was an actor, and had no interest in anything "behind the scenes") I started writing stories and novels as a child to "fix" sad endings of my favorite books - so that Rhett would end up with Scarlett, for instance.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Wow. Hard question. Theatre is the toughest job you'll ever love, as they say... I suppose I should say that opportunities for playwrights are far too rare, but that's why we started The Welders, to combat that issue and to inspire others to do so too! I guess the thing I find the most frustrating about professional theatre is the under-representation of women. But it's more than women not being visible in theatre - it's the frustrating fact that the numbers on this issue haven't really budged over decades. At all. My women friends from the 60's and 70's express how alarmed they are that here we are in the 20-teens still talking about the same lack of opportunity. I wish I knew what to do about that. All you can do is keep making noise, I guess. Keep taking the steering wheel yourself.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I started my fascination with acting via my fascination with old movies. When I was a little girl (like, 6 or 7...) my heroes were classic screen gods and goddesses. I was obsessed with Humphrey Bogart, and remember, as a very young child, having a profound sadness that I would never get to meet him. I adored Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis...as I got older I transferred some of that adoration onto theatre geniuses like Shakespeare, Chekhov, Meyerhold, Grotowski, Stoppard... Now, however, my heroes are definitely the amazing theatre people in DC I get to work with. If I started listing names, I'd never stop. But there is a certain brand of actor in DC that is smart, brilliantly talented, plain-speaking, uber-professional, ego-less, inspired and very much about the work. Those are my heroes. You know who you are... (Smile)
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that surprises me. No one in theatre ever sets out to bore anyone, of course, but I do wish theatre people would make sure they know WHY they are telling a story onstage. Not asking that results in theatre that doesn't know how to be surprising.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Be sure you want to do it. It's a tough, tough field, and I say that as both an actor and a director as well as a playwright. Playwriting is definitely the toughest of the three. But if you KNOW you must do it, then find your people. Find your community. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, but will tell you the truth (like, "This play isn't good enough to be shared yet.") And be willing to work your butt off. Stir in a little humility and unshakable belief in your work, and you'll make it work!
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Come see THE REDNECK HOLY GRAIL, directed by Sonya Robbins, at The Atlas, March 19-April 5, 2014! And check us out at www.thewelders.org!
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