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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Dec 23, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1020: Vivian Barnes

Vivian Barnes

Hometown: Stafford, Virginia

Current Town: La Jolla, California

Q:  Tell me about your Clubbed Thumb commission.

A:  It’s reallllly early in the process but the idea was inspired by my weird hometown and the absurdity of the suburbs and some biblical stuff.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m in my first year of grad school at UC San Diego so quite a few things! A one act for our new play festival in the spring about two duchesses (sort of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle-esque); a new full length I’m hoping to get started next quarter about a group of young women on a dance line at an HBCU; a rewrite of a play about a group of black girls at a predominantly white Christian boarding school.

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 didn’t see a ton of theatre growing up but both of my parents are ministers so I spent a ton of time at church for the first 18 years of my life which informed a lot of my theatrical sensibilities (something I’ve only recently started to realize). This was the jumping and shouting, speaking in tongues, banging on the pulpit kind of church. People felt those sermons in their bones. I have a complicated relationship to church now but I think that’s always stayed with me: wanting to impact people on an inexplicable cellular, full body, in-their-bones level. Being really interested in incorporating movement/the body. And music/aural landscapes. I got all that from church.

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

A:  Get rid of unpaid internships. I cannot wrap my head around theatres that tout how invested they are in the next generation of theatre artists to their audiences and donors while they aren’t paying their interns. Y’all can find the money for the craziest stuff—pay your interns.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Lynn Nottage and Ntozake Shange changed my entire trajectory in the theatre. They broke open my whole understanding of what stories could be told and put the seed in my head that I could maybe be a writer. 

Also: Lorraine Hansberry, Pearl Cleage, Dael Orlandersmith, Will Eno, Caryl Churchill, George C. Wolfe, and Dominique Morisseau.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Okay, this is not specific at all and very “I know it when I see it” but, I’m always always always in my head. When I see something that grips me so hard that I’m no longer thinking about a million other things, that really excites me. Theatre that makes people who don’t usually feel welcome in the theatre feel like they belong there too. Theatre that doesn’t let you get ahead of it.

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

A:  I am a playwright just starting out so I feel a little unqualified to answer this. But for anyone who might be like me and not have taken a bunch of formal playwriting classes in school/is learning by doing: READ! My undergrad didn’t offer playwriting classes while I was there so what I lacked in formal writing classes I tried to make up for by reading everything I could get my hands on and creating a writing independent study for myself. Read everything.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you find yourself in Southern California, The Wagner New Play Festival at UC San Diego May 7-18! There will be some incredible work by all of the playwrights in my program: Ava Geyer, Steph Del Rosso, Ali Viterbi, Mara Nelson-Greenberg, and Dave Harris!

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