Playwrighting

Breathing Spaces

I recently reread one of my favorite plays, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. I had first read it in my 20’s where it had a profound effect on me. I grew up in mostly-white California suburbia, so Hansberry’s play opened a door into a new and foreign world that grabbed me round the throat and knocked the air out of me. 

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This time, after a span of 20 years, the effect was no less profound and much closer to home. I felt the playwright deftly described my own world and painfully laid bare its ambivalence and contradictions. Somehow the play was not only about the deferred dreams of black families, but also about the suffocating nature of being squished down to fit into a space that is defined by others who don't resonate with your truths; others, who at times attack, ridicule or even bleed the life out of the truth that burns inside of you.

I saw myself and others close to me mashed up and mixed into every page. Where are the spaces where it’s hard for you to breathe? Is there a relationship where a distorted image of you is constantly reflected? Are there times as a woman or minority when you hit up against walls of preconceived limitations? Are the very gifts that define you dismissed and devalued? Chances are, if you work in the arts, you have come to know these spaces very well.

I felt that suffocation as I read, and wondered - what's a person to do? We still need to live and choose to live in some of these spaces. We may feel it's our path to stay and learn from a difficult situation. We may have an end goal that is too important to abandon. Unless we want to be hermits, we all operate as members of different communities. But that leaves us with difficult questions:

Where do we fight and where do we compromise? Where do we speak out and where are we silent? Where do we integrate and where do we separate? These questions hit very deep for me with the ultimate one being how do I operate in this space while retaining integrity to my truths?

I have very few answers for any of this, but what the play reminded me of was the absolute necessity of holding on to those dreams and truths. All I know is when Walter was going to sell his home to that squirrelly little man - it felt like death. For me, I have to keep hope that my truths can define my spaces, even if it's only for me - to do otherwise is death. And lastly, I have to allow everyone their own journey, even if I don't agree with their truths. Where can I show compassion and patience for their truths so their spaces don't become defined by mine? 

One other thing I know: This is why I write - it’s one of those spaces where I breathe best.

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Safe Places

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If you were asked what’s the most important aesthetic about creating Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), what would your answer be? A week ago I pondered that during a group discussion at the Write Now Conference led by Jason Loewith, former director of the National New Play Network. The room was filled with TYA playwrights, directors, artistic directors and professors from across the nation. I heard a lot of great answers:  theatre should challenge ideas, inspire conversations, illuminate diverse voices, and provide hope. I listened for a long time, until my own answer synthesized...

I believe that theatre for young audiences should provide a safe place to explore a scary world.

It’s not a be-all, end-all answer, but it was the one that resonated with me the deepest. I’ve decided the same holds true for all story and it’s one of the reasons I love story so much. It creates a space for us to rattle around in someone else’s skin, try new ideas on for size and risk making mistakes - all from the safe distance of our comfortable chairs. 

That doesn’t mean that story can’t be uncomfortable or painful even. El Gallo’s line from the play The Fantastiks illuminates part of a playwright or storyteller’s job: 

“Who understands why spring is born out of winter's laboring pain? 

Or why we all must die a bit before we grow again? 

I do not know the answer, I merely know it's true  

I hurt them for that reason. And myself a little bit, too.

But no matter where the journey leads, the story always leads us home again. I hope this blog will also provide a similar safe place, where story and the human experience can be explored in all its complexity.