William Edgar Easton came from five generations of human rights activists. His paternal ancestors had served in the American Revolution and his maternal ancestors served in the Haitian Revolution. He had African, European and Native American (Wampanoag) ancestry. His skin color was light enough to pass as white, yet he always identified as African-American.
Much like Angelina Weld Grimké, Easton had some illustrious ancestors and was brought up partially in Massachusetts.
As previously stated, he was the fifth generation in a line of activists – let’s just check in and see who some of those were:
James Easton (1754-1830)
William Edgar’s great-granduncle [great-grandfather’s brother]. Of Wampanoag and African descent.
He fought in American Revolution, worked as a blacksmith, ran his own foundry for over 20 years, opened an academic and vocational school for African-Americans and seemed to have a hobby of using sit-ins to integrate churches. Seriously, throughout his adult life he and his family tried to integrate the segregated congregations to which they belonged.
It seems nearly all of James’ children took up his activist ways, most prominently…
Hosea Easton (1799-1837) was a minister, abolitionist, author and human rights activist.
Next in line is James’ grandson…
Benjamin F. Roberts (1815-1881) who was a printer, publisher, writer and activist. Is greatest claim to fame is pursuing Roberts v. Boston – he sued the city of Boston because of its “seperate but equal” schooling system. Despite the involvement of lawyer (and soon-to-be senator) Charles Sumner and lawyer Robert Morris, Roberts sadly lost the case. The case would be cited in US Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 in which “seperate but equal” was enshrined in law.
Octave Oliviers was an ancestor of Easton’s mother Marie Leggett. I couldn’t find out much about him except he was a general in Haïti’s revolution.
Easton wrote the play Dessalines, a dramatic tale : a single chapter from Haiti’s history for the 1893 Exposition. The play was performed in Chicago, but not exactly at the Haïtian exhibit.
Now we must delve a bit into Haïtian history…
Haïti was a slave colony run raped by the French. The export was sugar cane. Eventually the slaves found a way to rebel and did just that in 1791. Dessalines was one of thousands of soldiers fighting the French. He became a leader, working closely with the famous Haïtian badass Toussaint Louverture. Meanwhile, having its own revolutionary problems, France declared slavery abolished. Then it gets kinda weird. Louverture and Dessalines then joined the French to fight the Spanish and British. Louverture invaded the Spanish side of Hispaniola and freed the slaves there.
But France is tricky and in 1801 Napoleon thought it’d be a grand idea to restore slavery. Louverture was taken prisoner and died in France. Dessalines and his followers defeated the French soldiers and secured Haïtian independence. Oh, and he ordered a massacre of almost all the white people in Haïti (except for the Poles). And he became president and self-proclaimed emperor of Haïti. As such, he reimplemented the plantation ssytem, ostensibly to maintain Haiti’s economy, but the people felt like they had been enslaved again and it wasn’t long before Dessalines was killed, but we’re not quite sure how.
Thus, Dessalines’ legacy is quite mixed. He was a brave patriot and competant leader who led Haïti to victory over the hated French. He also ordered massacres and in a way re-enslaved his people. And proclaimed himself emperor.
This isn’t quite the same guy in the play – let’s take a look!!
Cultural note: in the Haïtian Revolution, the dark-skinned Haitians and the mixed-race Haïtians (mulatres) didn’t get along much.
I’ve noticed this seems to happen when the colonizers create a class that isn’t at the top nor is it at the bottom: they tend to be despised by both sides, warranted or not. A similar thing happened to the mixed-race Indos of Indonesia during their revolution.
So mulatre Flavien is kind of a dick. And Placide is pretty direct about his feelings.
Flavien being a dick to Placide. Dessalines shows up and takes all the slaves.Mulatre General Rigaud thinks about joining, but remains loyal to France. Dessalines becomes captor to Rigaud’s sister, Clarisse. Dessalines wants to punish the soldiers who tricked Clarisse and were going to abuse her. Clarisse begs him to spare them. Rigaud and Lefebre meet – again about France. Dessalines shows up. They don’t fight. Later Rigaud confronts him about honor. Fight. Clarisse saves everyone. Clarisse prays. Dessalines becomes Catholic.
Not a shabby plot, but the play is WAY better than the above. The strongest part is truly the dialogue. Easton had a way with words…Flavien is all butthurt over Placide’s insult – he complains to the slaves…
The published volume has several illustrations – the one featuring Dessalines is earlier. These are the others:
Then, after a period of nearly 20 years, Easton published Christophe; a tragedy in prose of imperial Haiti.
The author actually made his own synopsis of the play:
Now it’s not a bad play, but even the synopsis is where things start to falter. There are some things in the synopsis that aren’t even in the play. Not a good sign.
And we must jump back into Haïtian history a bit…
Much like Dessalines, Henri-Christophe had been a general in the Haitian Revolution. Of interest to Americans, he may have served in the American Revolution as a drummer boy with the French at the failed Siege of Savannah in 1778.
On 6 April 1805, having gathered all his troops, General Christophe took all male prisoners to the local cemetery and proceeded to slit their throats, among them Presbyter Vásquez and 20 more priests.
He was involved in the conspiracy to kill Dessalines and when he proclaimed himself emperor, he went all in:
“Henry, by the grace of God and constitutional law of the state, King of Haiti, Sovereign of Tortuga, Gonâve, and other adjacent islands, Destroyer of tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haitian nation, Creator of her moral, political, and martial institutions, First crowned monarch of the New World, Defender of the faith, Founder of the Royal Military Order of Saint Henry.”
This isn’t quite the Henri-Christophe that appears in the play.
In real-life, Christophe shot himself in the head with a silver bullet [insert werewolf joke here]. In the play he stabs himself with his sword before stabbing someone else.
The play, in my opinion, is quite pedestrian, especially if we compare it to Dessalines. It seems to lack the vigor inherent in plot – it moves forward simply because it has to.
There’s a lot more French used in this play than in Dessalines.
The pseudo-Shakespearean language has been toned down immensely. There’s a part where some Haitians accuse Dessalines of planning to allow white people to live in Haiti:
I found the best bits of dialogue deal with the honorable Dessalines and the traitorous Christophe.
“Puppet of my whims!” <<<< Dessalines pwned Christophe right there.
Sadly, Dessalines dies pretty early in the play. And as previously stated, the play plods… a lot. But the book has illustrations. Let’s check out the Classics Illustrated version:
The most interesting thing about the play is the part played by Henrietta Vinton Davis – that of Valerie, who dresses up like a murdering vengeful priest!!!!
If the entire play had been about a woman dressed as a priest killing people, yeah it would be a classic.
It’s still worth a look and maybe other folks will disagree with my assessment.
The play was produced by Miss Davis at the Lenox Casino in New York City with an opening night of March 21, 1912. Fun fact: in 1912 this “casino” was busted for showing stag films.
This week brings us to the late Neil Simon, the guy who wrote a bunch of plays that seem to exist as scene and monologue material for acting students. This, plus the sheer number of his plays that have been put into film is testament to his influence on American culture, for better or worse.
ANGELA: I made a mistake.
GABE: A big mistake or a small—
ANGELA: Big one.
GABE: Doubt it.
ANGELA: A huge mistake! Ginormous even!
GABE: Now you have to tell me.
ANGELA: (takes a deep breath) I made a deal with the devil and now she’s slowly feeding my soul to a horde of monsters.
Unlike her relatable, yet flawed, characters, Makrenna Sterdan’s plays don’t make many mistakes.
In addition to directing, acting and plawriting, Makrenna is a full-time teacher and is also involved in filmmaking. This post will focus on her plays…
What Would Tina Fey Do? takes its title from a supposed Christian saying that became popular in the 90s and transposing it onto American actress, comedian, writer, producer, and playwright Tina Fey.
Nora is dealing with a difficult actor and turns to her Lord and personal savior, Tina Fey. The play is short enough we can read the whole dang thing:
Aside from the fact Nora has pretty much pegged this dude’s MO: Use a woman’s interest in a project to seduce her. Oh and the “nice guy” thing? It’s not very nice.
In case you didn’t notice, Nora is referencing Fey’s appearence on Saturday Night Live in 2017.
Good for Nora and an interesting treatise on the benefits and dangers of celebrity worship and projecting our lives and problems onto someone who has no vested interest in our lives.
Makrenna’s next short play, Geese, shows us what happens when the bridegroom and the bride’s brother/best man get trapped by a bunch of…geese…at a golf rental store.
The duo strategize…
“Just a little bit.” But Tristan doesn’t want to hurt the poor Canada geese.
And thus we are left with an ambiguous ending. Do Tristan and Ben win? Or do the Canada Geese? Or perhaps the bride?
Makrenna’s next take on society is Doing it for the Fame (the same reason I write this blog).
I like the flexibility Sterdan gives the theatremakers.
In truth the reason could easily be a blend of several.
At the end, the answers are htting the nail on the head. These are commonreasons given by victims of domestic abuse. Don’t believe me? Check out Surviving R. Kelly .
I like that the play/game ends on a positive note.
Our final Sterdan masterpiece is The Iceberg. It’s the play the opening lines of this blog came from. It is also the longest play we’ll go over, clocking in at nearly 50 glorious pages of a coffee shop, some soul-selling and Lilith. And in a kinda postmodern way – there’s more to the story than is apparent.
Gabe goes to a coffee shop that’s full of…monsters. He’s none too happy about this. Oh, and Angela is responsible for said monsters.
Gee, Gabe. Don’t pry.
Meanwhile, the gang run into Lilith who is in charge of the monsters and everything but isn’t really Satan. Angela and Gabe try…
I don’t see that triple-layered dialogue all too often. Interesting conflict here, since Gabe and Angela want opposite sides of what is basically the same deal.
More than meets the eye here.
Hey! It’s the first lines of this blog and also a very common, if successful, trope.
And it all wraps up with Lilith finding peace and Angela finding possible love. Did I not mention this is a romantic comedy? Albeit one with soul-selling, a Babylonian mythological creature and a dude who just wanted some coffee.
She should be a barista. Makrenna was nice enough to answer some questions about herself and her work:
How did you start playwriting?
Although I’ve always had an interest in writing, I transitioned into playwriting naturally during junior high. I took my first drama class in Grade 7, which is when we started writing scenes. I continued writing throughout high school before deciding to pursue playwriting seriously by studying it in University, and producing my first show in 2012.
2. What are your influences?
Hmmmmmm . . . the two main artists who’ve influenced my work are Tom Stoppard and Tina Fey. I love how Tom Stoppard has the amazing ability to integrate philosophy into his plays, along with witty dialogue. I admire Tina Fey for her ability to make comedic stories that deal with serious issues.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
My most memorable production would have to be one I had the honour of directing. The play was “A Case of Anxiety” by Mark Harvey Levine which I directed for Seoul Players’ 2017 Ten Minute Play Festival. I loved directing this show because the script was amazing, and the cast was as well. For a cast of seven who had a fight scene (along with extensive physicality) to choreograph, I felt like we bonded very well and worked very cohesively as a group. During one of the performances, the final fight scene was off. Of course, I was the only one who noticed, because they improvised the scene brilliantly. Whenever I direct a cast, or commit to doing a theatre production with others, I always strive for this level of cohesion. “A Case of Anxiety” really raised to bar for me and showed how great working on a theatre project can be.
4. What is your least memorable production and why?
My least memorable production would have to be my first show. I produced a one woman show for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 2012 called The Death Test. It was my first go at a theatre show, and from a technical standpoint it went well. From an artistic standpoint, I felt a bit empty because I immediately knew the show could have been better. I had written and performed the show by myself, but I knew to make real art I needed a broader community, with more collaboration. After that, I put a greater effort into working with other theatre artists.
5. What’s your funniest theatre story?
Well . . . it was actually during a rehearsal for “A Case of Anxiety”. I was terrified during our fight scene because we had wooden swords and there was a lot of running around. I was worried someone was going to get hurt, so I kept telling everyone to be careful, and I think they might have been a bit annoyed by it. But, of course, when I was filling in for one of the actors who was missing, I was the one to (accidentally) hit my then-boyfriend with one of the wooden swords.
He wasn’t even in the show—he just came to rehearsal to help out.
6. What are your writing habits like?
I am a huge Netflix addict, so often when I write I have a television show on in the background for at least the first hour. Of course, I also need to make time to write, which at times can be difficult. But oftentimes after finishing work, or a volunteer shift, I have a lot of mental stimulation which I then reroute into writing.
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
When you have writer’s block, just keep writing. I often find for myself that writer’s block is just the absence of good ideas, not necessarily ideas. Just get the writing done, and worry if it’s good with the next draft.
8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
There are a couple Canadian playwrights who I would recommend. Norm Foster is an excellent comedy writer, and I immensely enjoyed the opportunity to direct his My Darling Judith. Joanna Glass is also a very interesting writer, who I feel really captures themes prevalent in Canadian literature.
9. What are common themes in your work?
I find feminist themes are something I keep going back to, and usually with humour or satire. I just find some things I read in the news completely nonsensical, and I write work to reflect how nonsensical it is. I also enjoy throwing in a good dash of mythology and magic realism, just to keep things interesting.
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I wished that I had collaborated more with other writers and theatre professionals when I was just starting out. I didn’t know how to reach out to others, though, so I mostly just wrote alone in my room. Theatre got so much better when I started directing and participating in theatre productions in other capacities because it helped me meet other artists.
11. How does your experience as a theatre director inform your writing?
Theatre, film, and art in general is a collaborative process. When I work as a director, I use my playwriting experience to interpret the script. When I write a script, I use my directing experience to inform the writing. Since I know what a director is looking for, and how certain things might be interpreted, I try as much as possible to put those sorts of things into the scripts I write. Another thing directing has taught me is how to let the script go. Putting your script into the hands of a director can be one of the most difficult parts of playwriting—but it’s necessary. Theatre is collaborative. Having directed, I know what aspects of a script are my responsibility to write, and what aspects I need to let the director handle. Directing has opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of theatre, and how the story isn’t the sole responsibility of the playwright—directors, actors, stage managers, lighting designers, costume designers, everybody contributes to the art in a performance. Working with others is what makes art beautiful. Stressful at times. But beautiful and worth doing in the long run.
12. You’re the second playwright on this blog who has mentioned Lilith in a play. What does Lilith bring to the table?
Lilith appears in “The Iceberg”, where throughout you’re not sure if she’s actually the devil or not. Lilith was the perfect name because, depending on the legend, she’s either a demon of the night, or in others she’s just someone who refused to be subservient to a man. She plays different roles depending on whether you look at religion, mythology, literature, etc. For the practicality of the play, I chose the name Lilith to be misleading. She’s definitely one of the most interesting mythological characters.
13. Iceberg started as a short and is now a longer one act. What advice would you give playwrights who want to expand short pieces?
The main thing is to think about why you’re expanding it. Some stories are only meant to be five minutes, others are meant to be two acts. Similarly, some stories are meant to be plays, some are meant to be novels or movies, and flipping between mediums and lengths requires understanding what the new form will bring to the table. For example, a shorter form is great to deliver a message, while a longer form gives a chance to look at characters in depth. If you want to expand a piece, then there should be something more to explore.
14. Where did you get the idea for a game show about domestic violence?
I wrote “Doing It for the Fame”, the game show piece in question, for a specific opportunity. It was for the 2016 Cabaret of Monologues by Sarasvati Productions. The prompt was “Stolen Sisters”, and they were looking for pieces on violence against women. At the time, in Canada, the big news was the Jian Ghomeshi trial that was going to happen in 2016. He was charged with sexually assaulting several women. There was a large group of people who strongly stated that they believed the women. Then, there was also a large group pushing back and saying the women were just “doing it for the fame.” So, I knew I wanted to address the issue women face with believability when they go to trial. I didn’t know which angle to take, though. Some time passed, and I was just listening to music when Lady Gaga’s “Doing It for the Fame” came on. I was inspired. The chorus sounded like an opening theme to a game show! And the perfect title for the monologue. So that was the long process that culminated in a satirical game show that addresses domestic violence, and several of the issues I noticed especially with the lead up to Jian Ghomeshi’s trial.
15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
What’s the next project you’re working on?
Red Lips Productions will have a show in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. For this show, I’ll be writing a comedic zombie one-act. If you’re in Winnipeg, stay tuned for more details!
A summary of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus – his most bloody revenge tragedy.
The brothers Saturninus and Bassianus are in contention for the Roman emperorship.
Titus Andronicus, Rome’s most honoured general, returns from wars against the Goths with their queen, Tamora, her sons and her lover, Aaron the Moor, as captives. Her eldest son is sacrificed by Titus; she vows revenge.
A NEW EMPEROR
Titus is nominated emperor by his brother Marcus, one of Rome’s tribunes. This Titus declines, instead nominating Saturninus.
To seal the bond of friendship, the new emperor, Saturnius, offers to marry Titus’s daughter Lavinia. She, however, is already pledged to Bassianus.
Saturninus, by now infatuated with Tamora, makes her empress instead.
Manipulated by Aaron, Tamora’s sons, Chiron and Demetrius, avenge their mother by raping and mutilating Lavinia, and killing Bassianus. Aaron falsely implicates two of Titus’s sons in this murder.
In his turn Titus vows revenge and sends his surviving son Lucius to the Goths to raise an army. Titus achieves his revenge by killing Tamora’s sons and serving them up to her at a banquet, and then killing her.
He himself is killed by Saturninus and his death avenged by Lucius, who is made emperor.
Pleasant stuff there. I remember my jerkface English teacher in high school telling us how much Titus Andronicus sucked and how we shouldn’t even bother reading it.
And ask much of a jerkface as my English teacher was, the character of Aaron is a straight up dick.
And, in typical Shakespearean fashion, he’s bad simply because he’s bad. Though one could argue he’s bad because he’s the victim of racist abuse for…like ever.
I found some videos on Youtube of actors doing Aaron’s confession. Aaron is an interesting character for any actor because on one hand he absorbs all sorts of racism and actually kills someone on account of her racial slurs:
“Zounds, ye whore! Is black so base a hue?”
Yet at the same time seems to think having dark skin makes it OK for him to run around killing everyone:
“Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace; Aaron will have his soul black like his face.”
Here is the monologue:
Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.
There are multiple versions of Aaron’s confession monologue on Youtube. Let’s take a look:
Angelina Weld Grimké was a very unique and interesting writer whose literary output consisted mostly of poetry and a few short stories. She also wrote two full-length plays, one of which was performed and published.
Angelina Weld Grimké wrote from a very personal place, and that personal place was incredibly unique. As another blog described it:
“Her family, within the three preceding generations, included slaveholders and slaves, free black people and white abolitionists.”
Awkward family reunion jokes aside, that’s one interesting way to start life (we don’t really have any choice as to which family we’re born into – thanks Mom and Dad) and Angelina Weld Grimké continued to live her life in a singular way.
Her uncle was a celebrated pastor and civil rights leader. He co-founded the NAACP. Her father was a lawyer, journalist, diplomat and civil rights leader. On the other hand, her half-uncle was a vicious slave owner who owned and beat her father.
Her mother was a leading lecturer and author on the occult.
Her great-aunts were celebrated abolitionists and feminists.
Her life is more worthy of a book than a blog post.
I thought perhaps a timeline version of her life might suit our purposes. Still, one can see cause and effect…
1752-1819: Judge John Faucheraud Grimké lives in Charleston, South Carolina and owns hundreds of slaves. He’s of mixed Alsatian and Huguenot descent (the surname was Grimk until an ancestor changed it). He is our playwright hero’s great-grandfather.
1792 and 1805: His daughters, the “Grimké Sisters” are born (Sarah and Angelina). They are two of 14 children. They are our playwright’s great-aunts.
1820s: The Grimke sisters hate slavery. Both move north and become famous abolitionists and feminists. Angelina marries into the Boston Brahmin Weld family, also abolitionists.
They are still so famous that American high school students are forced to make videos pretending to be them:
I guess they lost their Charleston accents…
1840-1850s: Following the death of his wife, their brother Henry Grimké has three children with one of his slaves, Nancy Weston. Henry and Nancy are our playwright’s grandparents.
1852: Henry dies and wills his children to his son Montague, with the provision that they be treated as part of the family. For a few years Nancy lives on her own with the boys.
1857: Montague doesn’t respect his father’s wishes and takes the boys into his house as slaves. He and his wife beat them severely and often. In fact he even takes Archibald to the local police to have them whip him. Montague viewed Archie as a “surly, callow, ungracious, and insulting servant.” Never mind that they were half-brothers. Archie is our playwright’s father.
1868: Angelina Grimké reads an article about Archibald Grimké being such a great student. She visits him and learns about their family connection. She welcomes the boys into her home. The sisters help them as much as possible. Archibald will graduate from Harvard Law School and his brother Francis will graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary.
1879: Archibald Grimke marries Sarah Stanley, a white woman from a prominent abolitionist family. Her family opposes the marriage. Information about her isn’t as scarce as Wikipedia pretends.
1880: Their only child, our playwright hero Angelina Weld Grimké is born, named after her great-aunt.
Spring 1882: Sarah takes Angelina to Michigan for a visit to her family. This “visit” turns into her keeping Angelina from the child’s father. Archibald writes a bunch of letters begging her to return.
Fall 1882: She returns briefly after Archibald secures an apartment for her in Boston, but quickly leaves again. She probably suffered from mental illness.
1882-1887: Angelina is raised by Sarah and her white grandparents in Michigan. Archibald continues to beg her to return to Boston. Even as late as 1886, he is asking her to take their wedding vows seriously.
Sarah embarks on a career writing and lecturing about astrology, the occult and metaphysical solutions of illness. Often, while travelling, she brings Angelina with her, including to California.
Archibald was also a writer. He worked as a columnist for the Boston Herald and eventually founded his own newspaper, The Guardian.
1887: Sarah Grimké puts her seven year-old daughter Angelina on a train from California to Boston. All by herself.
She’ll sporadically write letters to her daughter, but will never see her again. The letters have a case of the weirds.
Fall 1887: Now living with her father, Angelina begins attending the mostly white Fairmount School in Hyde Park. She may have attended school in California at some point.
February 1891: Angelina writes her first known poem. It is about death.
May 1893: Angelina publishes a poem in the local newspaper, The Grave in the Corner, about a Union veteran’s grave.
Her published poetry tended to be about nature, elegies, love in general and later about racial themes and civil rights.
Her unpublished poetry seemed to dwell on death and lesbian love.
1894: Following her father’s move to Washington, DC she attends the all-black M Street School for a school year.
Early 1894: Archbald is appointed American Consul to the Dominican Republic. He leaves Angelina with his brother Francis and sister-in-law in DC. Angelina is rebellious and they fight often.
At this time, 14 year-old Angelina took several photos in costumes her father had sent her. She then mailed them to her father.
While at Carleton, she receives letters from former classmate and future playwright Mary Burrill from Washington, DC hinting at a relationship.
Also, she writes a love letter to a “Mamie” – probably a white classmate but also possibly Burrill back in DC. It includes these lines:
I know you are too young now to become my wife, but I hope, darling, that in a few years you will come to me and be my love, my wife! How my brain whirls how my pulse leaps with joy and madness when I think of these two words, ‘my wife’
Later, Mary Burrill and Angelina would be coworkers at the same school, ironically educating future playwrights!
1897: Attends Cushing Academy in Massachsuetts. Writes a love poem “Rosabel” about one of her teachers.
Leaves, that whisper, whisper ever,
Listen, listen, pray;
Birds, that twitter, twitter softly,
Do not say me nay;
Winds, that breathe about, upon her,
(Since I do not dare)
Whisper, twitter, breathe unto her
That I find her fair.
Rose whose soul unfolds white petaled
Touch her soul rose-white;
Rose whose thoughts unfold gold petaled
Blossom in her sight;
Rose whose heart unfolds red petaled
Quick her slow heart’s stir;
Tell her white, gold, red my love is;
And for her, — for her
Early 1898: Her father returns from the Dominican Republic.
1902: Begins teaching Physical Education at all-black Armstrong Vocational Training School in Washington, DC. She does not get along with the principal and receives poor evaluations. Her father intervenes several times. She switches to teaching English.
Writes Give Me Your Eyes. It isn’t published in her lifetime.
Give me your eyes.
I do not ask to touch
The hands of you, the mouth of you,
Soft and sweet and fragrant though they be.
No, lift your eyes to mine;
Give me but one last look
Before I step forth forever;
Even though within that moment’s crashing space,
I shall know all of life and death heaven and hell
She also writes Naughty Nan, which may be about herself [Her nickname was Nana]
If you can
Tell me how your frowns and smiles,
Sudden tears, and naive wiles,
Linked into a glittering band
Follow swiftly hand in hand?
Tell me wayward April-born,
Child of smiles and tears forlorn,
Have you ever felt the smart
Of a lacerated heart?
Are you but a sprite of moods?
Heartless, that fore’er deludes
Tell me naughty Nan?
If you can
Tell me why you have such eyes
Gleaming when not drooped in sighs
Or when veiled by falling rain?
Haughty oft but never vain
Sometime wistful orbs of brown,
Sometimes blazing in fierce scorn
But eyes that are never free
From some glance of witchery.
Tell me why you have such lips
Tempting me to stolen sips
Tender, drooping, luring, sad,
Laughing, mocking, madly glad,
Tell me naughty Nan?
If you can
Tell me why you play with me,
Take my heart so prettily
In your dainty, slender, hands,
Bruise its tender, loving, bands?
Tell me why your eyes are brown
Mock and glitter when I frown?
Flitting, luring, little, sprite
In a garb of moods bedight,
Dancing here, and dancing there,
Changeling strange, but ever fair
You have caught me in your snare, —
1903: Angelina starts writing a diary in response to being rejected by [probably] a white man. In it, she talks of suicide. He was a professional American singer based in London. In her diary she mentions that when he sang “My Rosary” for her she made him stop because it caused too much pain.
*I know several scholars think this was a lesbian affair, but she uses masculine pronouns in the diaries, calls him a man and in a diary entry many years later mentions his name. And she discussed it with her father, who flipped his lid.
This also provides an impetus to her writing and her devotion to her father as the following diary entries indicate:
I am very tired of living. There is nothing to look forward to, only a year of school with a vacation at the end […] There is writing, but the great emptiness of many years before [me] with nothing to look forward to at the end. When people talk about what they are going to do in the future all I think to to myself is ‘What does it all amount to?’ At the end there is only the grave. There is no cure for this everlasting heartache. It never lets up […] I have given up my girlhood. I can never be a girl again. That is gone, and I am an old woman at heart.
Three days later she had this to say:
I have entirely two reasons for living, my dear father and my writing. they must fill my life absolutely. I can never expect to love again. This shall be the beginning, the real beginning of my effort to crush it out forever. […] It almost hurts me to see that my love for you [the man who disappointed her] is nearly as great as that for my father. It hurts me also to see that he has a rival for I do, I do love him so much.
This marked a focus on making her dad happy and writing.
1907: She transfers to the all-black M Street School and teaches English there. She does well there.
Twilight—and you Quiet—the stars; Snare of the shine of your teeth, Your provocative laughter, The gloom of your hair; Lure of you, eye and lip; Yearning, yearning, Languor, surrender; Your mouth, And madness, madness, Tremulous, breathless, flaming, The space of a sigh; Then awakening—remembrance, Pain, regret—your sobbing; And again, quiet—the stars, Twilight—and you.
1911: She suffers a broken back in a train wreck in Connecticut. 14 people died, including a lady in Grimké’s car. She must recuperate for months at a home with her father, uncle and his wife. She will suffer chronic health problems after this.
Still are there wonders of the dark and day; The muted shrilling of shy things at night, So small beneath the stars and moon; The peace, dream-frail, but perfect while the light Lies softly on the leaves at noon. These are, and these will be Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.
Each dawn, while yet the east is veil’d grey, The birds about her window wake and sing; And far away, each day, some lark I know is singing where the grasses swing; Some robin calls and calls at dark. These are, and these will be Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.
The wild flowers that she loved down green ways stray; Her roses lift their wistful buds at dawn, But not for eyes that loved them best; Only her little pansies are all gone, Some lying softly on her breast. And flowers will bud and be Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.
Where has she gone? And who is there to say? But this we know: her gentle spirit moves And is where beauty never wanes, Perchance by other streams, ‘mid other groves: And to us here, ah! she remains A lovely memory Until eternity;
She came, she loved, and then she went away.
1916: Grimké begins teaching at Dunbar High School, where future playwright May Miller is her student and former [probably] girlfriend Mary Burrill.
Also 1916: She writes an anti-lynching play, Rachel, that is produced and published. We’ll talk about this soon.
1926: She retires from teaching to take care of her sick father.
1927: Publishes much poetry, including:
An Epitaph on a Living Woman
There were tiny flames in her eyes,
Her mouth was a flame,
And her flesh. . . . . . .
Now she is ashes.
1930: Her father dies. Angelina quickly leaves the DC house for New York City and never publishes any new writing again. Scholars have pointed out that the death of her father seemed to rob her of the will to write as well as to live.
1958: Angelina Weld Grimké passes away, having spent nearly 30 years as a recluse.
Like I said, a blog post won’t do her justice.
Now, on to Rachel.
The plot concerns the humble Loving family. They live up North and consist of Ma Loving, her teenaged daughter Rachel and teenaged son Tom. Through incidents in the plot we discover what happened to their father and brother ten years before.
In the course of the story the family adopts a neighbor boy. A young man courtsharasses comes on strong to Rachel.
There is much discussion about race and racism and American society. Rachel gets snubbed by a supposed friend who is white. The young boy they take in gets called the n-word and harassed and Rachel comes to a dread realization at the end.
The absolute most impressive, yet painfully sad, aspect of the play is that despite being written in 1916, it may as well be set in 2019 America.
As the son Tom observes:
For those unaware of voter supression in the US, start here.
Or as Tom’s older buddy Strong remarks:
And as Rachel points out…
She’s talking about the prospect of lynching here, which still exists in America, albeit in an even more nefarious form.
One common criticism of Rachel is that the language is stilted or speechy,
“Her conversation with her mother […] feels stilted, the anecdotes they share rarely of much note.”
But these reviews seem to forget we’re dealing with the author of some badass and powerfully vivid poetry….true, the play may be “speechy” – but the good type of speechy.
Rachel begins the play loaded with optimism. She totally wants to be a mother and loves children.
Interesting thread from the Biblical story of Mary to 1916 Rachel (who, incidentally has a a Biblical name).
She particularly loves “black and brown babies”:
Compare this to how Rachel evolves:
Remember, Grimké herself made a similar vow albeit in different circumstances.
Going from Rachel’s point A to Point B constitutes much of the plot. We’ll explore this in a minute…but first, another reason to commend this play:
Rachel is such a willful, strong and yet conflicted character. It would be a great role for any actress.
She works well with children, plus the kids are awfully sweet:
She provides counseling to a mother whose child has become withdrawn due to racism at her school.
The mother enquires about the school Rachel attended and explains her daughter’s situation:
Rachel does indeed brag up the school – Grimké herself usually attended mostly white schools.
Those plot points I mentioned? Pretty much all of them have to do with Rachel seeing the effects of racism on her family in particular and African-Americans in general.
Rachel learns what happened to her father and brother:
Father and brother dying on the same day does sound a little..
Damn. And by Christians, too. But then the mom gives the reason:
The father had been a newspaper editor (just like Grimké’s own father) and had been threatened, simply because he printed the truth (about the first murder) and then he and his son were killed. Remember how I mentioned this may as well be 2019? There’s a reason Time magazine picked journalists as “People of the Year” (Hint: being good journalists can be lethal)
Remember that child Rachel adopted after his parents passed away? She got to have this conversation with them:
Several critics have looked for autobiographical elements in the play – and they seem to be there. Rachel is “brown” (i.e. lighter complected), she and her family are highly educated. The father was a journalist who fought bigotry. She had a failed romance. The mother suffers from rheumatism, as did Grimké’s. And she foreswore any chance of having children.
Here’s a talented actress using some lines from Rachel as a monologue on Youtube.
Another aspect that appears obvious is mental illness. In fact Grimké herself refers to Rachel as a “highly-strung girl” in a piece defending the play.
Given Grimké’s unique family history – the unusually close relationship with her father, the remarks from others that she seemed unhappy often, her mother’s suicide and claims from others that she was paranoid – it makes sense that the hero of the tale is, well, highly strung.
Killing as a kindness.
Earlier, her mother had found her unconscious after having apparently violently attacked the flowers John Strong had given her.
Rachel goes on…
In all fairness, being called “little girl” when you’re 22 might be a trigger.
So Rachel breaks down cursing God, hearing her children in her sleep and laughing uncontrollably. Yeah.
NOW, on the other hand…she recently learned her father and brother were victims of nice white Christians – and now nice white Christians are harassing her adopted child. And others. WHO could hold it together???
Rachel shares an interesting story with young Jimmy. This would make for a great monologue.
Grimké takes her poet’s pen to even the description. Who here is sick of seeing submission requirements that look like this?
Nobody told Grimké about all this minimalism, or if they did, she ignored it to death – so we get some beautiful descriptions such as:
Pictured above: Grimké’s middle finger to 21st century theatrical minimalism.
If you haven’t noticed, their house has some famous paintings. Let’s take a look:
I like that the play uses real paintings. The second act presents us with different paintings.
Let’s talk about Watts’ Hope, or rather what Wikipedia has to say about it:
“As cheap reproductions of Hope, and from 1908 high-quality prints, began to circulate in large quantities, it became a widely popular image. President Theodore Roosevelt displayed a copy at his Sagamore Hill home in New York; reproductions circulated worldwide; and a 1922 film depicted Watts’s creation of the painting and an imagined story behind it.”
You probably noticed Ethelbert Nevin‘s name pop up a couple of times. It seems Grimké was a bit of a fangirl, as you may recall:
I’m guessing she meant The Rosary by Nevin. This singer was the guy Grimké had fallen in love with. And wow…he could do some damage with just a song. In fact, this song:
“taken a knife and run it all around and, in and out an old unhealed wound.”
Although it seems minor in biographies and such, it’s obvious that Grimké dug Nevin’s music or was at least fond enough of it to have some guy sing it to her and two put two songs in the play.
Another interesting aspect of the play is that it depicts the world of children well:
Finally, we should see how the play ends…
The play had a couple of performances in 1916…
The play was published in 1920 and that’s when it gained wider exposure.
Reviews were generally favorable, the main criticisms being that the character of Rachel is a bit extreme and also that the play appears to be promoting “race suicide” since Rachel seems to have given up on black and brown babies.
“Since it has been understood that ‘Rachel’ preaches race suicide, I would emphasize that that was not my intention. To the contrary, the appeal is not primarily to the colored people, but to the whites.”
She claimed her main purpose was to appeal to white women‘s sense of motherhood and that as mothers, these women would be sympathetic to the play.
Her subsidiary motive was to show white people the “best type of colored people.”
As for the story and characterization in the play, her argument is that Rachel learns or realizes the harsh truth facing African-Americans and has a breakdown “in mind and soul.”
He wrote the play was “a most moving one that has stirred me profoundly.”
Grimké wrote a second play, Mara, which only exists in manuscript form. It has been reviewed extensively by writers who’ve gone through the Grimké papers at Howard University. I haven’t, so I can’t rightly analyze it. It is set in the South, maintains the theme of lynching but also has a very close daughter-father relationship. Some readers have said it is better than Rachel.
Since Hull’s rediscovery of Grimké’s works about 40 years ago, there has been much scholarship as well as several productions of Rachel.
Grimké’s reputation and renown rest mostly on her incredible poetry, which I encourage you to seek out. It really is good. Here’s one of her more famous ones:
There is a tree, by day,
That, at night,
Has a shadow,
A hand huge and black,
With fingers long and black.
All through the dark,
Against the white man’s house,
In the little wind,
The black hand plucks and plucks
At the bricks.
The bricks are the color of blood and very small.
Is it a black hand,
Or is it a shadow?
We’ll see what we can cover in the link dump after this student video based on one of her poems:
Ah yes, that time when you’re almost 16 and you use the “I don’t have a driver’s license or I would totally have a date for prom” excuse. Or not. Sure, it’s the DMV’s fault for my your social awkwardness and lack of self-esteem.
This monologue, focusing on a young lady about to turn 16, seems eternally popular on the Youtubes.
It was written by the prolific Gabriel Davis. We featured another monologue from him earlier, about a serial killer/dater. For more about him, check out his bio. Here is the full monologue below:
A young actress auditioning for her school requested a monologue for a 15 year old. With that broad request, I decided to make the piece about being not quite old enough to drive. Enjoy!
Dad, you will let me take the car myself. I’m going to be 16 in two weeks. Yeah, technically my learner’s permit requires you in the car with me … technically I have to wait two weeks to get my license ….
But you know I can drive, you told me I’m better than mom. I can three point turn, parallel park, and I observe the traffic laws like a religion. So it’s not like irresponsible to let me drive, because you know I’m awesome at it.
GOD! This is so unfair. I hate you! You’re going to ruin me socially.
The coolest girls in freshman year, the one’s whose parents are all probably making huge donations at mom’s gala tonight, who live in the massive houses on the hill and won’t talk to me. They started talking to me. Because, they needed a ride to the dance. And I’m like, I can take you. And they’re like, “you’re 16?” and I’m all “yeah.” And then they said, “cool.” And I’ve been eating lunch with them everyday this week, and they’re all so excited.
It was well thought out. You and mom were supposed to be at her benefit gala thing tonight … you weren’t supposed to have a stupid fever and be stuck at home. If I let them down… If I don’t get in that car right now and go pick them up and take them to the dance … I’m dead or I might as well be. They will make it their life’s work to ruin me. I will be marked, mocked, and probably shunned. My entire high school experience will become hell.
I’m not being dramatic. I’m being accurate, dad. This is how things go.
So I’m begging you … just …. Just go to sleep. You have a fever you know. You need your rest. Just, go to sleep now and I’ll… I’ll still be here when you wake up in exactly 3 hours. Right before mom gets back.
Please dad. My life depends on it.
And please check out Monologue genie for this and more of Davis’ monologues. Now let’s see which performers need the car the most:
This week we’re profiling DC-based playwright John Bavoso!!!
In John’s normal life he is (according to his website) a “marketing professional and social media specialist, John has experience in the advertising, e-commerce, and professional services marketing industries. He’s also a copywriter, blogger, and book and theatre reviewer whose work has appeared on websites like Jezebel.com, Lambda Literary Review, and DC Theatre Scene and in magazines such as the Diplomatic Courier, the G8 Summit Magazine, and Metro Weekly.”
It’s a fulfilling life. But as we all know, there is no career more thrilling nor more rewarding than that of playwright, and that’s what we get to talk about today!
We’ll look at two short plays and the draft of a full-length play he has.
The first play is called The Morning After the Fall and concerns a young man (Adam) who, after tasting the forbidden fruit (Eve), decides to vacate Eden forever – but first he’s gotta let his boyfriend Steve know.
This play has a lot going for it.
First, of course, is the Biblical allegory. One can never have enough Biblical allegory in LGBTQ-themed plays.
Second, the plot. Bavoso takes a well-known story (the Garden of Eden and “Fall of man” ) and spins it in an entirely new direction.
Welcome to the world of the fig leaf.
This makes an interesting, yet obvious point about all relationships: either it’ll last or it won’t. And obviously Steve had this in the back of his mind. And with good foresight.
I also hate people who keep saying they’re sorry. This injects some reality into a modern-day “Biblical” story – one character sees things as completely clear and the other is well, quite clueless.
The plot thickens:
Ah, yes. The siren call of heterosexuality has reached Adam. And Steve puts Adam on the spot:
And like grown men everywhere, they solve their problems with violence.
This IS a serious play about a breakup, but also seriously funny.
BTW “wildebeest” comes from the Afrikaans wildebees (wild ox or cow). But yeah, Afrikaans is probably the most masc language around. So there.
So Steve has the duffel bag all ready and….
I bet Adam is confused right now.
The sentimentality!!! It’s there, but not overwrought.
She’ll never see Patrick again, because she never did to begin with. But Tiffany suspects she has amnesia. How very wrong she is.
Jazz hands right here:
Tiffany refuses to accept reality. It turns out Rupert was in a similar situation…
“Similar situation” = subject of a punchline. Rupert offers Tiffany an option, she can needlepoint till the cows come home OR she can be part of an elite strike force of Canadian girlfriends who wreak havoc on the heterocentric world:
Like any good heroine faced with two options, Tiffany makes her own third choice:
Good for Tiffany!!! Someone else forced her into existence and now she must make her life her own, just like everyone else on this planet. The play has a twist ending that I don’t want to give away, but it’s good.
Now we come to Bavoso’s magnum opus – MLM is for Murder (Or, Your Side Hustle is Killing Us).
The plot concerns Minerva Ross:
Did ANYONE fit in in their small, Utah hometown? She works and suffers in DC where she lives with her wife.
And there’s an antagonist:
Full disclosure: I grew up knowing a couple of people who could serve as inspirations for MINERVA and about 1,000 people who could pass as FELICITY.
Now how do Felicity and Minerva become involved in MLM and serial-killing?
So Minerva has a job she hates…with coworkers who belittle podcasting dreams.
Minerva finds herself through starting a podcast about female serial killers. More on that in a minute. Just in case the audience is curious as to why Minerva is so angry, she explains this to Sienna, her wife.
Yes, the pain and suffering of growing up as an outsider in Utah was too much for Minerva to even put into words. I’d like to point out that Minerva grew up a Mormon (Latter-day Saint) but quit the church long ago. Minerva’s trauma/hesitancy to speak are understandable given the church’s complicateddifficult super-mega-racist history.
Let’s see what Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) church had to say:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.”
This wasn’t some fluke, there’s plenty more where that came from.
The Church operates a lay priesthood for all “worthy” males. From the time of Brigham Young until 1978, the Church enacted a ban on black people holding the priesthood.
The problem with changing dogma is that it really doesn’t change the culture. Despite the current Latter-day Saint (Mormon) leadership’s statements, old (racist) habits die hard and in Utah, they die very hard.
I could write a year’s worth of blog posts on the Church’s square dance with racism, so let’s move on….
Just kidding. Because Minerva is also lesbian (woohoo!), we need to factor in Utah/the Church’s complicateddifficultpsychotically homophobic relationship with dudes who like other dudes and chicks who like other chicks.
This empirical study reached a conclusion that “there are no other factors that reliably predict increases in youth suicide rates during that same time period [2009–2014] except for the percentage of Mormons in a given state.”
Teen suicides have doubled in Utah since 2011 without a significant increase nationally. However, not all of these will be LGBTQ-related, but it is worth further study.
From a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune: “A policy unveiled in November 2015 declares same-sex LDS couples “apostates” and bars their children from Mormon rituals until they are 18 or older.”
That article’s headline is actually Why does Utah have a high suicide rate? I know why: people cannot live up to impossible ideals, but I guess they need a study to tell them that or something.
I know some Latter-day Saints will read this and say “We’re not all like this” or “Not me” and this is true. Some of my most open-minded friends (especially in the theatre community) are Latter-day Saints. You know who you are and you are deeply appreciated.
Now back to the story, for reals. Minerva gets hit up by Felicity, who is trying to become an MLM queen, but is like a brain-damaged drone instead. She hits up Minerva on Facebook. They attended high school together like a zillion years ago.
Sadly, like many victims, Minerva has a much better memory of the past than Felicity, specifically this one:
Little does Felicity know that Minerva messes with MLM groups for fun.
So of course she’s happy to “help” this old (not really a) friend back in Utah. She has also discovered the world of murder podcasts:
This gets Minerva going on her MLM kick. However, Felicity struggles to move product, probably because she’s bugging everyone from her old high school, her church and basically anyone she knows to buy the same crappy clothes.
Her marriage to Jason suffers:
Felicity needs to push product (and fulfill her husband’s needs) pronto. She visits her MLM idol, Amber, who has a popular Youtube channel and makes barrells of money.
Not only is Amber rude, condescending and not Mormon, but Felicity learns that the game is rigged. In anger she steals some of Amber’s product…
Meanwhile Minerva is learning the murder podcast game…as she explains to Bianca, Sienna’s coworker:
Some of you may have wondered about the connection between Mormons (Latter-day Saints) and multilevel marketing.
Bavoso lets Minerva break it down for us in a slide show:
If any readers disagree with Minerva’s assessment, feel free to comment.
Minerva wraps up the presentation, though I’d like to add that trust is a big factor in the LDS Church, too. When you have a position or “calling” people will automatically trust you and hucksters and con artists will take advantage of that. As the US Attorney for Utah said:
“We form relationships of trust and when someone starts speaking like we speak or they act like we act, there’s almost an instant trust that is extended to them. And, so, in Utah we see this affinity fraud—people who exploit their relationships with others to take advantage of them. We see that in Utah. And in Utah it may be because of the predominant religion that allows people to have an instant trust extended to them that then they take advantage of and exploit,”
After Felicity’s dust-up with Amber, Utah’s Dixie gets littered with the bodies of MLM dealers…which Minerva kinda notices…
Felicity wants to not only be the top of the pyramid scheme, but also top of the murder podcasts, which dovetails nicely into Minerva’s hobby career.
It comes around!!!
I won’t give away the ending, but it ends kinda how you’d imagine a show about a Mormon serial killer boasting a podcast should end.
Seriously, the play is brilliant.
Now, of course, John has written a bunch of other stuff, stuff that has been produced (and posted on Youtube!)
BLIGHT asks the question “Can a home be haunted by the actions of its owners?” It has received stellar reviews.
His short Happy Hour is relevant to the #MeToo movement:
Adam and Steve is about two strangers meeting in an underground bunker while escaping the world.
Olizzia is about two young women who share a vacation to Rio de Janeiro and find love…with one another.
John contributed to Over Her Dead Body, a bluegrass musical based on traditional murder ballads (HELL YEAH!). Other writers were Seth Alcorn, Karen Lange, Kenny Neal, and Brittany Alyse Willis.
John was kind enough to answer some questions for us.
1. How did you start playwriting?
I started out reviewing Fringe Festival productions for a local theatre website. After spending several summers watching a wide range of plays with varying levels of quality, I decided to just dive in and write and self-produce my own in 2014. I had, at that point, never studied or worked in theatre at all, let alone playwriting, so I think my ignorance at just what I was undertaking helped me to do it. That production ended up being a blast and getting pretty decent reviews, so I decided to keep working at it—and the rest is history!
2. What are your influences?
Because I’ve never formally studied theatre, I think most of my influences come from pop culture. Most of my favorite TV shows—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, bits of Ryan Murphy’s oeuvre—feature strong women and queer characters and campy, snarky one-liners, and I think that has translated into a lot of what I write.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
This year, the theatre company I’m a member of in DC, Pinky Swear Productions, did a production of my full-length play, BLIGHT. The director, Ryan Maxwell, and producer, Karen Lange, had been with the play since 2016 when Ryan directed the first workshop, and have helped to develop and champion it ever since. The team for the production was incredible and full of friends (including two actors who had been in the original workshop reading) and it was performed in the same theater the workshop had taken place in, so it felt like it had come full circle. Because it was local, I was able to be there for every rehearsal and so many friends and loved ones had the chance to finally see it for the first time. It will definitely stick with me as one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theatre.
4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
I guess the 10-minute play that was produced on another continent that I didn’t know was happening until the day it opened, and I never got photos or video from the production… I really only have the director’s word that it even happened in the first place!
5. What is your funniest theatre story?
I prefer to stay comfortably backstage, but shortly after I had joined Pinky Swear, we did a “pop-up” performance as a fundraiser. One of our members had written a monologue for a closeted gay guy home from his freshman year of college for Christmas break. For that particular show, we only had straight dudes in the cast and it apparently wasn’t working for this monologue, so I was called upon to perform. After the show, I was mingling with members of the audience, and one woman said, “I was so worried when you walked on stage because you were shaking and your voice was cracking, but then I realized it was all part of your character!” You can probably guess, dear readers, that that was not in fact an acting choice, but a lucky coincidence. Luckily, that was also the last time I was asked to be on stage!
6. What are your writing habits like?
Not great, haha. I have a full-time job and long commute, so I usually don’t manage to write much during the workweek unless I’m really excited about something. In general, the writing comes in bursts—I’ve written entire 10-minute plays and scenes for full-lengths in notebooks and the notes app on my phone on the Metro to or from the office. I’ve started getting up early on Saturday mornings and going to a coffee shop for a few hours to force myself to write, or submit scripts to opportunities, or answer questions for a blog post…
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be afraid to ask other theatre people questions and for advice. In my experience, this is a pretty generous community, and the benefit of just asking the question far outweighs the fear of sounding dumb.
8. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?
Other than the delightful Bryan Stubbles, of course, I’m going to rep a couple of my best DC playwright friends: Britt A Willis and Natalie Piegari are creating really unique, innovative theatre and everyone should seek out their work. Also, Steven Hayet is a fellow College of William & Mary alum who I’ll get to meet in person at a festival in March—definitely read his writing as well!
9. What are common themes in your work?
When people ask what kind of plays I write or what my writing style is, I usually jokingly say things like, “lesbians with relationship issues” and “plays about serious topics with lots of jokes in them.” But, really, those descriptions are pretty much totally accurate!
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
A string of half-completed, abandoned scripts has taught me that I really do need to start a full-length play with a solid outline—I find that knowing where I’m heading makes writing much easier and fun for me.
11. What was the genesis of After the Fall?
I see what you did there! The inspiration for the piece was the homophobic taunt, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The first 10-minute play I ever wrote was entitled Adam & Steve, but wasn’t actually about the Eden story. Then, a few years later, I saw a call for 10-minute plays on the theme “The Morning After…” with a queer bent, and I figured what morning after was more impactful than the one following the fall of mankind?! It wasn’t chosen for that festival, but is now finding its own small success (it will be produced in the US and Australia [for the second time!] this coming year), which is neat. It’s actually inspired me to work on a whole collection of queered/reimagined Old Testament stories—we’ll see if I actually follow through with that!
12. How does starting with a quote enhance or add to the play or story you’re telling?
I’m a huge quote nerd—I have several journals filled with hand-written quotes and once, during a period of unemployment, I transcribed them all into a Google spreadsheet to make them searchable by keyword. I get immense (possibly-OCD-related) satisfaction from pairing the perfect quote with a script—I was that student who included one at the beginning of every paper I wrote in college and grad school. On a practical level, I think having the right quote at the beginning of a script helps me stay focused on a succinct distillation of the play’s core themes as I’m writing it.
13. What compelled you to write a play about serial killing, Mormons and multi-level marketing?
This play is really the mashing together of two Internet/pop cultural rabbit holes that I’ve fallen down during the past few years. The first being the insanely popular podcast My Favorite Murder; I wouldn’t consider myself much of a true crime buff, but I got really into this podcast and the online community it spawned. The second is watching the rise and (in progress) fall of the leggings company LuLaRoe—I’ve randomly spent an obscene amount of time watching videos and reading Facebook posts by disgruntled former sellers and customers and this led me to discovering the wider anti-MLM movement, which is how I learned about the connection between Mormons and MLMs. As I was thinking about these two very different topics, it occurred to me that both communities are heavily dominated by women and that mashing these seemingly unrelated obsessions into one play could maybe end up spawning some interesting conversations about feminism, capitalism, and exploitation, so I decided to go for it. I guess we’ll have to see if it resonates with a wider audience of it’s just two niche things that combine to form an entirely-too-niche piece of theatre!
14. MLM is for Murder makes extensive use of emojis. I’ve seen other playwrights use these, too. What has the reception been for your emoji-laden plays vs. your non-emoji plays? What advice do you have about using emojis in a play and/or script? 😂
This is the first play I’ve ever written that includes emoji, so I’ll have to wait and see what the reception is! I showed a good friend an early draft of the script, and his feedback on that scene was, “if you are being honest with yourself, you know that you need many, many, many more emoji represented in these stage directions,” which was totally correct. I’m hoping having an actor speaking the formal names of the emoji will both annoy the audience and make them laugh, which is what seeing them used so aggressively and unironically in real life does to me.
15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Do you create excessively long and aggressively themed Spotify playlists for all your plays? Why, yes I do, thanks for asking! I started the playlist for BLIGHT in 2016 and have added to it as recently as this week—it’s now up to almost 7 hours’ worth of songs, some of which have been used as scene transition and pre-curtain/intermission music in both the play’s two productions.
Thanks to John for answering our questions. I hope everyone had fun learning about John and his incredible plays.