When I was doing my Radcliffe fellowship, it wasn't surprising to me that my most frequent tablemates at Harvard lunches were the artists and the scientists. Science and playwriting—or any kind of fiction writing, or maybe any kind of art?—share so many commonalities, it's funny that some people think of these fields as polar opposites. Scientists are some of the most creative and nuanced thinkers I've met, and writers are often disciplined creators with real technical skill.
As a science communications professional and playwright, I trade in both worlds. Scientific communications is a career I pursue in parallel to my playwriting career, but unlike the survival jobs and day jobs of my 20s, there's less tension between them, and much less competition for time, believe it or not. I've written better plays about witches while also creating one-pagers about CRISPR. I've added feedback sessions to our lab meetings, and I've brought a more objective and clinical eye to the script notes I send to fellow writers.
When scientists discuss their research, they often talk about reducing noise, or data that are outliers, false determinants, or meaningless information. Drawing conclusions often requires much iteration to unearth the true signals of experimental results, repeating experiments until the noise is decreased. Noise can't just be discounted, but considered, worked through, resolved.
What an elegant metaphor for the writing process as well. Writing is iterating, experimenting, drawing the clear thread of communication from the noise.
A friend of mine who runs a theater program at a university here in Cambridge talked to me once about a class she thought I could teach: Dramaturgy and the Scientific Method. A dream class. Open to both dramatists and scientists, the class would discuss how one process can inform the other, where creativity sits alongside structure, what methodology looks like in theater. I'd love to see the work that would come out of that class, and the unlikely collaborations that might endure.
Yes, I would like to teach that class someday, but I also wish I could go back in time and take it myself.
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.
Just some odds and ends, from time to time