I heard one of the best pieces of advice while I was in grad school. My playwriting professor was discussing the role of the playwright and stated (I'm paraphrasing a little), "While everyone in theatre is an artist, playwrights are the creative artists and our theatrical colleagues are interpretive artists." Let me pause here to clearly state this is not a diss in anyway shape or form to the fellow artistic collaborators who share their talents to create magic on stage. The statement was meant to inspire the playwrights in the room to own their inventive power and acknowledge their creative privilege.
By creative privilege, I mean that we playwrights are in charge of practicing our art. Playwrights are solely responsible for creating their work. Other artistic collaborators like actors and designers must wait until they are provided an opportunity. Once actors, directors, and designers are given a script or an ensemble then they can practice their art by interpreting the work on the page and transforming it on the stage.
Playwrights do not have to wait. The only permission we need is from ourselves to practice our art. As a result, we should use this privilege or freedom to assist our fellow artistic collaborators in flexing their interpretive muscles. After all, without them, our work dies on the page. Actors, designers, directors, dramaturges, stage managers, all of them give our work life. We owe it to them for breathing life into our words. So, we must create.
Easier said than done in 2020, right?
Venues are closed.
Bodies cannot touch.
We must remain at a six foot distance.
And, let's just face it, face masks and shields are the antithesis to voice projection and just look terrible with costumes.
How the fuck does anyone expect me to write and "be creative" when the very act of collaboration could mean putting my fellow collaborators in danger?
The answer: Do it for yourself. So, later we can make magic again.
In fact, as a playwright, you should always START with wanting to write for yourself. That is how you start from a place of truth. My truth during 2020 led me to Murder, We Spoke.
Here are a few things I am NOT:
I am NOT a podcaster.
I am NOT a radio broadcaster.
I am NOT a sound designer or engineer.
BUT...I LOVE this story. I LOVE these characters. And I want to see how far I can go. So, I am not waiting on a theatre company's endorsement or some big name organization's "buy-in" to show I am "worthy" to write this podcast series.
I am a creative artists and I am giving myself permission to write this podcast series
One of the best pieces of advice I can bestow upon new playwrights is to keep creating even if you think no one is watching. A mistake I often hear from playwrights at the beginning of their careers is they stop creating after one or two plays. They then spend years advocating for this one play. They refuse to move on and stop practicing their art until this one play gets published, produced, etc... Please do not do this. Do not push aside new ideas, observations, outlines, scribbles on paper because you MUST cling to this one play. Embrace those thoughts, put pen to paper, open the laptop, and get to writing the NEXT play. Even if no one is watching. Do it for your future collaborators, but must importantly, do it for yourself.
I have no clue how to construct a podcast, let along write a series for it. But, I'm not here to be an expert. I'm here because I have a story.
For more info on Murder, We Spoke and to listen to a rough edit recording of the pilot episode, click here
The story of Tight End smashed into my mind and out of the rubble rose the character of Ashley “Ash Smash” Miller. I suddenly had this image in my head of a woman constantly in motion. She never stops moving. Ash is always pushing her body to its limits as her sweat floods the floor. I wanted to ask Ash, “Why can’t you stop?”
I realized this is the brave truth for all women that we can’t quite vocalize, but we know it exists. If we women stop to rest for even a second, we don’t get the job, we don’t get the promotion, and we lose our spot in line to our male counterparts who, at times, did not work as hard as us and got by on their mediocrity.
This kind of haunting, unspoken truth is best described by the word “mokita” in the Kivila language. Mokita translates to, “The truth we all know, but do not discuss.” All of my plays are motivated by a mokita. In Tight End, I am trying, with the help of my characters, to vocalize one of the many unspoken truths of growing up and becoming a woman. One of the violent, unspoken truths of womanhood I address in Tight End is sexual assault. Even in the 21st century, as a woman grows into her womanhood, she is taught important lessons on how to avoid this violence. Everything from her dress to her curfew is crucial to her survival. It was important to me while writing Tight End to not let the sexual assault be the focus of the play. Instead, I wanted to create a character who is a survivor and breaks out of the constructs of her gender.
Sports have always been a fixture in my life. My parents were athletes, either playing in high school and college or just in their free-time at the local park. ESPN constantly buzzes in the background of my family’s home. I cannot remember one car ride with my father where I am not listening to the radio comment on the Chicago Bears defense, the Blackhawks most recent trade deal, or the Cubs World Series chances. Sports culture is as familiar as my childhood home. Sports culture interests me for its immersive dynamics where, in order to participate, you must adopt a collective mindset. You are no longer an individual, you are apart of a group, and you must do what is best for your team. The team must always come first. How does this effect a person’s identity both on and off the field or court?
This identity question becomes more prevalent when we begin discussing gender. Sports is a heavily male dominated arena. It does not take a degree to notice that male sports team get far more coverage and airtime than their female counterparts. While there is the WNBA, WPS, and NPF, what about the female athletes who dare to call football their dream? Football, a sport that forces bodies against bodies and whose own mokita is to cause enough pain to your opponent so you may dominant them. And, yes, there is the WFA, but, let’s face it, it’s not quite the NFL. In Tight End, I ask the questions, “What would a female athlete have to do to prove she belongs on a male dominated field?” “What if the female athlete completely embraced the culture of the team comes first mentality, but it was her male opponents who continued to view her as just a girl?” “Does being perceived as a girl make it too dangerous?” “Why does it take so much strength to be a woman?” “What ‘is’ a woman?” “At what point should she stop?” “How do you push away from your opponents’ perceptions and define yourself?”
Some plays you have to wrestle to the ground in order to get a firm grip on the story. The characters run amuck and cause chaos jumping in and out of goals. They never truly reveal what they want until the seventh, tenth, twentieth draft. Carving out a plot is like taking a dull spoon to a concrete slab. And as for inciting incidents, conflict, resolution…please, you can barely get two characters to speak to each other.
This was not the case for Rev.
Rev cruised out of me like an early Sunday morning drive on Lake Shore.
I knew these roads.
I knew the stops.
I knew where the potholes were located.
When to slow for those extreme curves.
And when to speed up to beat that red light.
I guess that is what happens when you write a play about your hometown. I grew up with these characters. I’ve known them since grade school. I graduated high school with them. I watched them get married, have children. I knew all their hopes and dreams before I even wrote their character descriptions.
Rev is a play I wrote when I was in pain and needed to do a little self-healing. I just finished rewriting one of my plays that discusses sexual assault for a production. In addition, I was coming off writing a play about toxic masculinity and how it contributes to violence against women for a workshop. Finally, to top it all off, I just wrote the ever glorious phrase, “end of play” on a new full-length that explores objectification and the viciousness of the male gaze in the adult film industry….I needed to take a breath.
Let me make one thing clear: these types of stories are necessary and must be written about and explored.
But they don’t have to be the ONLY stories.
I reminded myself of one of the core elements of my mission as a playwright: to explore the many facets of womanhood.
To be a woman means pain
But it can also mean strength
I feel that often women writers are influenced or pressured into believing that their stories only matter when their characters endure some kind of extreme trauma. That trauma is usually translated into a rape, assault, harassment, or putting her literal life on the line. I wrote Rev to prove that is not true.
I do not need to inflict violence on a women’s body to assert the importance of her life and goal.
There is value in stories about women living paycheck to paycheck trying to raise a family
women going for a promotion
women and female friendships
women falling in and out of love
women fucking up and learning (or not) from their mistakes.
women finding themselves in the pages of their family history
There is value in a woman’s smile (not just her tears) as she looks at her accomplishments, flaws, and this thing she calls life.
Men have been writing stories like this since before Shakespeare. And well, I would like it to be my turn now and help create a new cannon that truly explores EVERY facet of womanhood.
A middle class story about what makes you call a piece of land, home. Camaro Gibson loves only three things in this life: strawberry glazed donuts, her daddy, and Route 66. Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago in her daddy’s car repair shop, Camaro dreams of hitting the road. Taking historic Route 66 all the way to where the water meets the land and she’s not talking about Lake Michigan. Start in Chicago, south to Springfield, then St. Louis, cut through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and in ten days, there you are… the West Coast with the ocean at her feet. Camaro has never seen the ocean before, only in her daddy’s stories. She is determined to break out of the Southside and take him back to his home.
Camaro keeps her daddy’s heart in the repair shop: a 1967 Chevy Camaro engine. For the last ten years, since her daddy passed away, she has been trying to get that baby to rev. Today might be the day, if it wasn’t for the customers still coming in and a lot full of cars that need a lot of work. Something keeps her showing up everyday. Whether it’s the motor oil, diesel fuel, or rusty carbonators, she keeps plunging her hands in the grease because it feels like home.