Sunday, December 7, 2014

On the Play of My Heart and its Journey to Production

I was supposed to be at Live Girls! Theater’s annual fundraiser tonight, talking about what their work on new plays by women has meant to me. I’m stuck at home w/this crud I can’t shake, but here’s what I was planning to say.

 Artistic Director Meghan Arnette probably doesn’t remember this, but my first encounter with Live Girls was an audition. It was my first audition in Seattle, in fact. I was twenty-five, newly transplanted, and I remember arriving at the Pioneer Square building and climbing stairs of dubious structural integrity, thrilled by the fringe-iness of it all. I auditioned for Quickies and was not cast – but now this theater that did all new plays by women was on my radar.

But let me back up even a few more years to my sophomore year at Northwestern University, where I had a brilliant playwriting professor. I ended up winning the school’s playwriting award and getting a full production of the first full length play I ever wrote. I knew it would be hard work, but life as a widely known, frequently produced playwright seemed spread out before me.

A few years out of college and just before I moved to Seattle, I wrote a play about Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, which I called Blood/Water/Paint. I sent it to my professor, who had remained my mentor, and he raved. This play was going to be my break-out and make me a name, he said.

This was 2001.

But getting full productions of Blood/Water/Paint or any of my other full-length plays proved much harder than getting that first production had. Still, I kept sending things out. And after that Live Girls audition, I sent Blood/Water/Paint to Meghan at Live Girls.

She wasn’t ready to fully produce it yet, but something in the play spoke to her and she asked if Live Girls could use excerpts from the play in Notorious Women—LG’s collection of vignettes about, well, notorious women. That was the first of many times Live Girls put my work on their stage. My work was in countless Quickies, reading series, Notorious Women, and Holiday XXX. In 2007, Meghan said she wanted to do one of my full lengths plays in a season slot and I was thrilled.

I had continued sending my plays out all over the country and trying to connect with other Seattle area theaters. I had around 400 rejections to my name.  Blood/Water/Paint had had a workshop in FringeACT, many other plays had had readings and workshops around town and other places, but I had not had another full length production since the one in college in 1997.

I was kind of surprised that Meghan wanted to produce my play Mud Angel, and not Blood/Water/Paint, which I thought was stronger, but I was still thrilled. Live Girls had moved to Ballard, and while the space did not give me the near-death thrill of stairs that could collapse at any moment, it was absolutely overwhelming to see all the artists coming together in service of my play.

Any hopes I had that the Mud Angel production would lead to more Seattle area full productions were unfounded, though. While I continued to get readings and workshops and pieces in short play festivals, those rejections for productions kept rolling in.

Over the last five years, I’ve basically stopped writing plays. I didn’t stop writing – my focus is largely children’s fiction now – but for as much as I love theater, fifteen years is a long time to bang one’s head on the stage door. And yet, though I wasn’t writing new plays anymore, on a regular basis, Meghan would come to me and say, “Hey…what are you working on? Do you have something for Quickies? Do you have something for a reading series?” She refused to let me stop being a playwright completely.

So when I got an email from Meghan about a year ago, I wasn’t surprised – until I read it. She said she wanted to do a reading of Blood/Water/Paint. At first I was a little annoyed. Readings can be really useful at certain stages, but they almost never lead to production. And though I had pulled Blood/Water/Paint out several times since FringeAct and overhauled it, each time it had been met with scores of rejections. It is the play of my heart, and I honestly didn’t want to dredge it up if it was just going to get another reading.

But Meghan said no, she really wanted to consider it for a full production. And then she connected me with director Amy Poisson. Amy, if you guys don’t know, is a FORCE. She is going to completely take over Seattle theater, if not the entire world, and she is putting that energy behind my play right now. The play of my heart, which I was completely convinced would never find an audience. This play is my self-portrait; it says the most important things I have to say in the world, and for more than a dozen years, people have been telling me, “No. We don’t want it on our stage.”

But no longer. Because Live Girls is producing my play, opening February 20th at Theater Off Jackson. I cannot believe my good luck in having been partnered with Amy, except I have to remind myself that it wasn’t luck at all. It was Meghan and Live Girls remembering my play, remembering me, dragging me out of my hermit cave, giving me a place, and being the only company anywhere willing to put my heart on stage.

Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Meghan. Thank you, Live Girls. And thank you, everyone who supports new plays by women.

You can donate to support LG Theater HERE.