Wednesday, November 04, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 801: Cheryl L. Davis

Cheryl L. Davis

Hometown:  Mt. Vernon, New York

Current Town: New York, New York

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  At approximately 6:14 p.m., on my plate is (are?): Bridges, a new musical commissioned by the Berkeley Playhouse, which is due to premiere February 2016; a rewrite of my play Tuxedo Junction (about Alabama Jazz Musician Erskine Hawkins), for the Birmingham Childrens' Theater, also for February 2016; tweaks on my play Carefully Taught for the Astoria Performing Arts Center, which is going up from 11/5-11/21; a new historical epic work with director/dramaturg Gwynn MacDonald and playwright Randall David Cook dealing with race, sexuality, and secrets in America (more later!), and; some rewrites on a TV pilot spec script. Aren't you glad you asked?

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

A:  How about as a writerperson? I still have memories of seeing my very first play in elementary school. There was a girl who played a daisy and when I saw her in the hallways the next day, I called out "Hi, Daisy!" She, of course, thought I was crazy. But that was how caught up in the experience I was. After that, I decided to write a play for my entire second grade class. And, so nobody felt left out, I wrote a role for every single kid. Needless to say, that was extremely time-consuming, and since I only wrote out one copy, the play was lost to the ages in the grubby little hands of second-graders passing it between themselves during recess.

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

A:  Make it more affordable for wider audiences. My play Maid's Door was able to reach people at the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn who can't afford Manhattan ticket prices. My play Tuxedo Junction is not only going to appear at the BCT, but it will tour schools in the Birmingham area and introduce children in poorer communities to theater.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Lynn Nottage. Not only do I find her work incredibly gripping, her works differ greatly from each other.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Work that takes me by surprise, either dramatically or comically.
Some years ago in London, I saw a production of Joshua Sobol’s play “Ghetto”, about Jews making theater while imprisoned in a ghetto in WWII. The characters were repeatedly berated and told “No theater in a graveyard” – yet they continued to raise their voices in song, and to perform to the heights and depths of their souls. In one particular scene, a Nazi soldier raised a gun to shoot a terrified young woman. A puppeteer stepped in between the soldier and his target and made his puppet (also played by a young woman) stare down the barrel of the Nazi’s gun, all while telling jokes. I was on the edge of my seat, not knowing whether to laugh, gasp, or breathe. That is what I want to do to audiences.

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

A:  The standard "Keep writing", but more than that, keep getting your writing out there. It doesn't do anyone any good if it just sits on your computer. The only way you can learn is to hear your words being spoken.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see (and be) Carefully Taught at the Astoria Performing Arts Center from 11/5-11/21! And if you're in Berkeley CA in February, come see Bridges, and if you're in Birmingham AL that same month, swing on by and swing at Tuxedo Junction!

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