You are deep into writing the next play for LDTE’s Cycle of Violence Commissioned Series, which is on the topic of Honor Killing. How did you approach the topic?
I first watched A GIRL IN THE RIVER at the behest of the team and was so deeply moved by the story of this young girl. I know the location of the story matters but what really compelled me was to figure out how to make this relevant for people who are not in the Middle East or any other country where this specific act is something that has been traditionally familiar. How do I make someone in the US understand this and feel this? I spent a lot of time on that question while watching so many YouTube stories from women all over the world. It was crushing.
What has been the most impacting thing you’ve learned while developing this play?
That we forget that most of the times these things happen, the control begins when these women are children – early teenagers. Their gender and the politics of their gender begin then to immediately affect their futures in a system of patriarchy and a desperate desire to use tradition to control their fears. And they have no say so in it. It’s really not religion at all. This is more about tradition.
Do you think art can change the world? How about the written word and theater specifically?
I absolutely do think so. You can just look at the recent passing of Queen Toni Morrison to understand the impact. We are all sharing stories about which novel, which lecture, which character affected us on an emotional level which is connected to changing lives.
Theater has the ability to do so for sure. I worry sometimes that the popular pieces that can make an impact are not always readily available for those who need it most. Broadway has great things there now but it’s so expensive. There’s a hunger for those experiences – you can just look at the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park (which has free tickets but is a lottery) to see the desire.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I think I am always restarting as a writer. But I do remember very specifically enjoying grade school writing assignments and having teachers who told me directly that I had a gift. My 8th grade English paper was a character comparison of the novels of the Bronte sisters. My teacher hadn’t even taught that. She told me it was college level. I knew then I guess that I could use my gift for something bigger.
Do you remember the first play that you read or saw? How did it make you feel?
The first play I ever saw was a play in Detroit, where I grew up, that had Adam and Eve as a black couple. And I remember Eve saying, “Adam, do you love me?” And Adam said, “Of course I love you, Eve. You’re my one and only. That’s cause you’re the only one.” I have no idea what play that was but I do remember we were someplace majestic like the Masonic Temple. I think, growing up in Detroit, I was lucky in that, for that experience, I remember seeing people who looked like the people I grew up around. So my initial experience for a live play was not something unfamiliar. I think that guided me to see other experiences because I felt comfortable that there was a place for me there.
What words of advice do you have for writers young and older looking to contribute work to our ever-changing world?
Write all of the time. Be gentle with yourself. You are writing if you are listening, paying attention, thinking, laughing, loving…those are the exercises you do to show up to the page. Those are the things that inform you. And my practical advise, is outline. Learn it and make friends with it.