Utility will have its Midwest premiere this month with Interrobang Theatre Project.
Amber has two jobs, three kids and an 8 year old's birthday party to plan. Her on again-off again husband, Chris, is back on and determined to help out the best he can. Sometimes that's good enough. As Amber struggles with a tiny avalanche of day-to-day setbacks, she finds this life has made her a stranger to the person she once was and the person she thought she would be. Utility presents a slice of life that reflects the underbelly of American capitalism.
Happily, I will be in town for a talkback after the evening performance on April 20th. Because I will only have seen the show for the first time that day, the scope of the discussion will focus less on this particular production and more on my own career trajectory and the origins of Utility.
This is my third production in Chicago, a town that I'm starting to consider one of my theater homes. I am thrilled to return, and I am equally thrilled to share Amber's story with the Midwest.
Interrobang Theatre Project at Rivendell Theatre
April 5 - May 4
Directed by Georgette Verdin
Featuring Brynne Barnard, Kevin D'Ambrosio, Barbara Figgins, Patrick TJ Kelly
The library in Truchas, NM, where silent retreat daily gatherings were held.
In July of 2013, I spent ten days, deep in the heart of Texas, I spent ten days with a dozen other playwrights and none of us spoke a single word. Today, I returned from a snowy mountain in New Mexico, where I spent a week with another set of playwrights, in silence again. We had all gathered from disparate corners of America to be together and write, but never to interact.
These silent writing retreats are led by Erik Ehn, who will lead hour-long workshops or offer prompts and exercises from time-to-time during the week. This is the only voice we hear, and it's the only time we have to pay attention to anyone we are sharing space with. At these retreats, silence includes refraining from any acknowledgement of those around you. If someone takes a plate you just set on the table, you just get another. If someone sneezes, you don't say bless you. If you pass someone in the hallway, you don't make eye contact.
I love these retreats because they require writers to begin a process without an agenda or an end in sight. Erik often says he wants us to complete a project in this time, but he doesn't mean that we come in with a script or an idea in mind and then execute it. The first few days are full of reflection, generation of ideas, and discovery. There is no pressure to do anything a certain way. Sometimes silence can speak volumes.
More information about these retreats:
An American Theatre Magazine article describing the workings of the silent writing retreats in Texas
The Stillwright website for applying to future silent writing retreats (now in California, too!)
Studio Theatre in Washington DC has commissioned a new play about an alternate present-day Virginia, where the creep of fascism affects two friends as they try to figure out their place in the world. (And, as our government continues to slip into unconstitutionality, perhaps the present day here is not so alternate.)
The play is a reflection on an ability I see and experience these days to feel horror one moment and then to slide back into the comfort of routine and domestic banter the next. There is real engagement fatigue as our nation slides towards patriarchal fascism. I know that it is possible to be engaged and disengaged in a single breath, that there is a pronounced effect of endless fear-mongering, and that people with the luxury to do so will still fret about dating, petty work dramas, and family, while atrocities continue to happen in the world.
I want to explore all of this in a nonjudgmental way by amplifying the creep of fascism while reflecting on the sometimes slight and sometimes enormous impact that the government can have on daily life. Sometimes, a death in the family or a breakup will shake you more than news of a horrifying new piece of legislature.
We live, after all, in a micro-world within a larger macro-world, and I'm curious about how we navigate that as a society.
UPDATE 01/20/19: An article on BroadwayWorld.com describes the 2018-2019 commissioned playwrights and directors who will develop new work at the Studio R&D incubator.
Utility is a deeply Texan play. In fact, the last show I worked on in England was also a deeply Texan play. These scripts seem to appeal to the British, but not, as I feared, because their Southern settings are curiosities, but because the Brits have been able to find common threads and relatable stories. After all, I've always believed that meticulously detailing the world of a play makes it somehow more accessible, even to an audience of outsiders. Specificity allows for universality.
In America, my last two productions were set in the South: suburban Texas and rural Virginia. Both occasionally inspired comments like "Why did she set the play in rural Virginia if it doesn't have to be?" or "Did she choose a red state drawl to bait the liberal elites who will see the show?" The answers to these questions, of course, are always rooted in the unimaginative fact that these are the places where my family still lives and these are the places where I return to negotiate my own worldview.
But beyond this easy answer, these questions point to a larger issue: Why, especially in New York, do we assume plays set in the South must either speak for the South or serve as a foil for the rest of America?
Perhaps London is so removed from these places, and its audiences have less of the stereotypes and baggage about the South, that Southern accents and small-town details can exist on their own terms. It's my experience that the British view America with more of a broad stroke anyway, and the chasm between Texas and New York, say, doesn't loom as large.
Just some odds and ends, from time to time