Artist Interview: Jaclyn Backhaus
Tim Sanford: Talk about how you came to be a playwright. What were the influences from your family and your neighborhood that led you on that path?
Jaclyn Backhaus: I’ve always been very bookish even as a young kid. I always loved reading and I loved seeing plays when I could. I grew up in Arizona, so I didn’t see many of them, but when I did it was always super fun, usually a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber or something. My mom was a botanist and then, when she had me and my brother, a stay-at-home mom. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, she said, “Okay, you’re going to watch your brother. I’m going to go back to school because I’ve always wanted to be a novelist.” So she went back to get her MFA when she was in her forties and I was 10 or 11. I got to watch my mom choose to be an artist at a certain stage in her life, where she was like, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve always felt like I was swayed another way.” So when I started showing an inclination toward artistic expression, she and my dad were both very encouraging of that. When I got to high school I started to do more active work in the theater department there, I just became super hooked on it. And my parents, who had both jumped several hurdles to get to the professions they wanted, and both followed their dreams on their own terms, were very much like, “You can totally do it.”
What was your father’s job?
My dad was also a botanist. My parents met in botany school which is another play that I’m writing right now, the romcom of my parents meeting in botany school.
“The Secret Life of Plants!”
It’s totally “The Secret Life of Plants!” But yeah, he’s a scientist. He now runs an altitude training service for Olympic athletes. He’s also an inventor. He has a very creative mind. He always has his job and then like eight other side projects. He’s a tree doctor, which I referenced in the play. He just has 18 jobs and he always has. I took a literary path similar to my mom, but I’ll be working on eight different projects at a time, like my dad conducts his work.
Were you writing in high school?
I was writing mostly poems. I started writing plays in high school, but up until then it was short stories and poems. I tried to write a novel, but I got really tired after like the third page.
Did you act?
I did. My main entrance into theater for real was acting before I was a writer. Before I wrote a play in high school I was acting in plays, I was on props crew.
Were you good?
I think I had the potential to be good, but I always had a lot of self-doubt. So I definitely was my own worst enemy in a lot of auditions. It wasn’t until my senior year when I really started doing things. I got into college and from there on out I was like, “Well, I’m just gonna try to manifest an element of confidence for myself.” So I faked it till I made it, in a certain sense. I wanted to have this as a career, but I didn’t think that I would be able to, and then now I’m doing it. The high school version of me would be super shocked that I’m even writing plays.
TS: When did the pursuit of playwriting really present itself as the main thing you wanted to do?
JB: I went to the Playwrights Horizons Theater School and I focused on acting while I was there, but all the training I had there was whole-theater based, so even if you wanted to be an actor primarily, you had to take design and directing. I started to seek out more writing-based classes and devising-based classes. But it was all with the intent to foster an appreciation for collaborative arts. When I got here for school, I started to realize that a shift was happening in me. I was interested in uncovering and playing within playworlds, but I was less interested in doing the technical work that an actor has to do: the voice and speech and even memorizing lines. I was finding that less delightful and I was finding all this stuff I was learning about how to create with other people the most delightful. My senior year of college at NYU a friend of mine in my year, Andrew Neisler, asked me if I would write him a play that he could direct as his fourth-year project at Playwrights Theater School. I was writing roles for all my friends and we were workshopping and revising and I liked that. There were a lot of elements to the writing process that were new and fun and a little stressful but still really exciting for me to take part in. It was the last major project I did before I graduated, but it was clear that all of these people who I went to school with were also planning on staying in the city and we all just decided that we might as well keep this going. And so we did continue to work together and I still actually work with a lot of them to this day. It’s a group of directors and designers and performers.
How long a period was it between when you graduated and wrote Men On Boats?
Five years from when I graduated to when I started writing it.
And you were writing other things with your friends?
Oh yeah, I have five or six plays that I wrote with my friends, that I self-produced or produced and developed with peer companies like Theater Reconstruction Ensemble or Fresh Ground Pepper.
When you would write a play with your friends, were you writing towards their personalities? Or their tastes or interests? Were there common threads in the sorts of things you were developing?
Whether I was looking for texts to work on with directors or an ensemble, it always started with a mutual love and adoration for a particular source material or a particular trope or idea. It was always where the Venn diagram met between our minds and the material that we were thinking about and exploring. And that was certainly true of Men On Boats too. The Venn diagram there was the Powell journals, my youth in Arizona, and then eventually it became about working with Will [Davis] and working with that cast to elevate it, and we all got so excited about the potential to put that on stage. We all fed off of a reciprocal energy of interest. And I think similarly with India Pale Ale, there’s something about the uncovering of past and how past informs present, how history informs present and how mythology informs the present, that I think lives in that play as well. And similarly, as a team, it felt like we were all coming together around a shared excitement to communicate a second-generation American story and share it as an American story. We were really excited to uncover a mythology that is rooted in something a little bit more mystical and superhuman than expected, and let everyone find what we called “our personal pirates.” The pirate backstory in India Pale Ale definitely speaks to Men On Boats, and obviously they’re both set on boats. It can be very personal, but there’s always an element of trying to involve an ensemble in fun.
One of the most delightful aspects of the play is the theatricality with which you tell the story of being on rafts and climbing mountains with basically just actors. And one can feel how the collaboration with the ensemble and Will was integral to bringing it to life. And one of the 3 other great rewards of the piece is the way it sort of effortlessly opens the doors in its casting conception, in race and gender. How integral was that to your discovery of what the vibe of the play was going to be?
For Men On Boats the conceit of the casting in that show was definitely a hypothesis that kind of bubbled over time. I was writing it in the Clubbed Thumb Early Career Writers’ Group, and we were gearing up for a reading series. I had done a small reading of ten minutes of it with a bunch of friends of mine who are women, and it was super fun. But the first time I heard the full draft with gender-open casting, was when Will joined on for the Clubbed Thumb reading and we did a workshop. Before the reading it seemed like there was something to the idea, but we hadn’t quite figured out how it informs the larger story telling. So when we did the Super Lab here, that was a major breakthrough in matching actors to the words. And some of the actors in that reading ended up staying on for the show at Clubbed Thumb and then for the show at Playwrights. It became clear that we were actually not interested in performing drag. It wasn’t a lampoon of men. We wanted to carry the sincerity of real characters. And that’s when we really cracked open a deeper truth about it, to explore the story within its confines, but also create commentary that wasn’t actually embedded in the text.
When you wrote it, it wasn’t explicitly going to be only women.
Well, it wasn’t my intention at the outset. And I think that says so much about the collaborative process that can inform and boost hypotheses to become necessity in the work. So it started to get baked into the text that we were actually holding a very specific light up to the idea of land ownership and manifest destiny. I started with the story, but I was able to find a new and greater truth over the course of the collaborative process.
I used to go to Arizona every year because my grandma lived in Phoenix. It was one of the last states to join the union.
The last state in the Continental 48.
It still had the feeling, when I visited, of how it must have been. There were a lot of different communities that were part of it. The Indigenous communities still felt very present. And there were a lot of Spanish-speaking communities. This was before you were born, but I’m just wondering if that filtered into your experience, like the community your work creates in an indirect way or a direct way.
I mean, maybe. I think of Arizona as being — there are a lot of different cultures and communities that exist within a very large state. I do think that a lot of the communities are very protective of their culture and they’re especially protective because usually the legislators are white Republican men, so it can sometimes feel like it’s infringing on a lot of people’s rights. I think that recently there’s been more of a surge of progressivism than there has been in a while. But there’s always been a lot of tension and intentional division. And I think that there’s a lot of racism. There’s a lot of bigoted people who live very removed from people in the larger cities, but there’s a couple of people like way out in the desert who are, you know, who are pretty scary. To me.
Were you raised in one of the bigger cities?
Yeah. I was raised in Phoenix, in a very suburban area.
Was it an integrated community or was it more of a white community?
I would say looking back, it felt very white-dominated. Now that I live here, I see what, you know, this city is so much more, there’s just so much more space shared between communities and cultures. You could be an isolationist more easily with all the space in Arizona. And the heat makes you crazy. It’s like road rage.
So tell me about how Wives came to be and how you feel like it came out of your previous work.
Well, I started writing a few of the parts for Wives right after Men On Boats. My first few scenes that I wrote after the first production of Men On Boats were for this play, but I did think that it was a few scenes from one play or a few scenes from another play or a few scenes from another play.
How many of the four parts did you have in that initial writing?
The first three? Yeah, the first three and the fourth part came much later. I think I had written almost all of part one, or at least a few scenes. And then I had written only the Ernest Hemingway monologue for part two — his eulogy. And then I had written a scene for part three that’s no longer in the play where Mr. Patterson trudges through the jungle to find the Maharaja and Roop Rai sequestered on a vacation that no one knew they were taking. And so I was up at SPACE on Ryder Farm and I was working on these three plays and not sure which I was going to run with. And I think what I carried first and foremost from my experience in writing Men On Boats was the value of working from a source material to find morsels of ideas and scenelets or styles that I would enjoy living in for a while. For Men On Boats, it was Powell’s journals. And for these three play ideas I had brought up the Quentin Crewe, The Last Maharaja, which was the story of Madho Singh II and also his heir. And I had brought a bunch of Wikipedia articles about Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers. And then for Ernest Hemingway, I brought A Moveable Feast and I think The Sun Also Rises to get into the vibe of his writing. But I wrote all these scenes and I was unsure of where it would go until a few years later when I read Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own. And I feel like that was when I decided that all these parts live together because they’re all about women trying to live for themselves, but who are unable to because they only exist in our history and in their own minds in relation to the main man in their lives.
What was your way into these stories? How did you know about them?
I learned about Catherine de’ Medici because I visited her castle in the year prior, I was on my honeymoon and we went to Chenonceau in the Loire Valley and they had this whole exhibit about the women of Chenonceau. So I read all these placards about women throughout history who have been stewards of this castle and done amazing things. Like in the 18th century, there was a woman, Louise Dupin, who hosted this big salon that all these great thinkers like Voltaire would attend during the Age of Enlightenment. Then in the early nineteen hundreds it was used as a World War I hospital. And then in World War II, it sat on the line between occupied and unoccupied France and people would escape through the tunnels of the castle where it juts out onto the Loire, and then swim across the river until they escaped the occupied portion. And the first women in this exhibit of the history of Chenonceau are Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici, who are the rival lover and wife of King Henri the Second. Catherine de’ Medici was from the famous Italian family and she was wedded to King Henri II as part of a peace treaty between Italy and France. And Diane was much older than King Henri. First she was his tutor, then she became his lover. So she was part of his life before Catherine arrived. And I was just very fascinated by the dynamic between these two women who were living in this castle and had to maintain good graces publicly.
Did they break the paradigm?
In real life, they didn’t. They kept a friendly face, and I think that Diane did leave with an inheritance. He did die young. He died in a jousting accident. And after he died, Diane left the palace and moved somewhere else and Catherine de’ Medici ended up being the secret ruler when her kids were young.
The play starts with a Cockney cook.
Yes. Yeah, the play starts with a Cockney cook. I think I wrote the cook with a Cockney accent as just kind of a way in. It was more fun for me as a writer to think about this sort of lower class bystander, fly on the wall in this castle that’s full of drama. Over the course of the rehearsal process we did look at it dramaturgically to try to make sense of it. And even considered changing it. But the accent was super delightful and so we’ve just held on to it.
Sometimes it’s wise just to trust the impulse.
Yeah, that’s sort of what happened. Now Hemingway. I love. I’m obsessed with Hemingway. I saw ERS’s The Select [Elevator Repair Service] and I loved that production and I was like, I would love to infuse Hemingway’s presence into a stage work from my own perspective. I didn’t get into Hemingway until I was 19 or 20. When I was younger, my mom was reading him in grad school and she loved him and I would pick it up and be like, “This is so boring.” But after that production I became obsessed with this style. And I was very enamored by his expat life. I moved to Paris right after college and would walk around the streets and try to live a writerly life like he did. A Moveable Feast was super informative to the piece. It was his last work and supposedly the last thing he wanted to say was how sorry he was for being so shitty to all of the women who were in his life. And that always stuck with me. I think, especially as we’re thinking a little bit more out loud as a culture about how to separate the Artist from the Man, and what it means to realize now that all of these kind of “great works” of art were done often at the expense of women. And having read a lot of his books that were very clearly drawing from the women in his life, I just was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they all got in a room together and had the chance to bitch about it?” It’s fun for me to imagine all of the ups and downs of that scenario from their perspective, not having him in the room to counter or correct.
One of the high points of the scene is the section where they mimic his style. Did that just come naturally to you?
I think it’s the amount of time I’ve spent reading him; it’s like osmosis or something. My mom always talked about it growing up, how his sentences were perfect. And I’ve always loved the art of impersonation. So when I was in the world, it was coming very naturally.
How did you come to know about the world of the third part?
I was on a family trip to India. We were in Jaipur. We visited a bunch of different palaces around the city and around the outskirts. And there was this one palace we went to that was super beautiful. It’s on the outside of the city, on a hilltop. The landscape felt very similar to Arizona. Super desert-y, very hilly. And you can see for miles. So we took this little tour of the palace and the guide was saying, “Oh, and over here, this is the Maharaja’s peephole where he could spy into the Zenana to the bathhouse and watch as all of his wives bathed.” I remember thinking that was so weird. Then later, I was looking for books about South Asian history. And I remember finding this book, The Last Maharaja by Quentin Crewe and the end was like the last Maharaja of Jaipur. So I bought this book and then realized after some research that the palaces they were talking about were the ones that I went to. And I was like, “Oh, I’m going to read this book and I’m gonna write about the last Maharaja”. And it was all about the transfer of power in the later stages of colonialism in India. But the beginning of the first chapter of that book is all about his crazy predecessor Madho Sing II who was being possessed by this witch named Roop Rai. I was just like, “Oh my God, this witch! I’m so intrigued.” And the whole beginning of the book is a bunch of letters back and forth about like, “The witch has evaded us yet again.” And I was like, “Who are these people writing these letters? How are their opinions being taken as fact?” There was something really intriguing to me about this paradigm.
What was a witch in that culture? What was the implication?
I think in this particular instance, the implication was that she had more of a hold over the Maharaja than his British council did, which made her a threat on their power. They claimed that she was hypnotizing him to give her money and to give her access to documents and that she was slowly poisoning him. And I was struck while reading this that the biographer, Quentin Crewe who’s like a British historian, works really hard to be an impartial purveyor of the story. But there’s just a slight tinge of condescension, the way that he talks about the people, which led me to a major dramaturgical question: What does it mean for this entire palace, filled with people, to be consistently regulated and monitored by all of these other people who are very seemingly perturbed about the fact that they have to be there? What does it mean that the documentation of them is written with this perspective? Like all of the letters in the book are written by British officers who complain of how much they can’t wait to get out of this palace and go back to England. It just speaks to the larger strangeness of the idea of colonialism. “If you don’t even want it, why are you even trying? Like, why are you doing this to so many people when you don’t actually even want this, you know?” How does the idea of power influence people’s decision-making?
So the colonialists viewed Roop Rai as a witch. How did the Indians view her?
That’s the question. I feel like the history of it is still murky because we don’t have a great account of the other side. There’s no existing account, that I could find, of Roop Rai’s motives and goings on. So in my mind, I’m crafting her to be of great use to the Maharaja in a healing capacity and in a capacity as a support system.
You also portray her as a bad-ass.
Yes, it takes a leap, either way. It feels like it’s a visionary practice to try and craft a story from that side that we haven’t heard from.
Well, and that becomes the end of that scene, where you say that these stories have been lost to us and are subsumed within the walls that surround us.
Yeah. So it’s been really fun and challenging to try to imagine these stories.
So you had these three scenelets, hanging around in your drawer, looking for a frame. Talk about the aha moment when you said, “Okay, there’ll be a magical scene that will bring them all together.” Yeah. If I remember correctly, the first time I read it, that scene was still pretty inchoate.
Yeah. I wrote the first few scenes after Men On Boats, but then I worked on some other plays and had a kid and I wanted to return to this and it’s always a question for me of navigating time and deadlines. And so I had been offered this residency at Brooklyn College where they were like, “You can go write in a room for a week or two and use our library.” And so I was like, “Oh my gosh!”
And then the Maharaja will peek through the peephole at you writing.
Yeah. It really came down to like, “Okay, I have this week, I’m going to try and tie this up somehow.” From my point of view - I wanted to have the opportunity to present my open-ended hypothesis.
There is an assumption that at some point you looked at those scenes and decided these are not their own plays.
Somewhere in that two or three year span I did. I thought they belonged together. There is something in them all about women trying to break free of their man-based identities to form their own identities. And I had started to flush out the rest of the scenes of all those three playlets. So then I had this week at Brooklyn College where I was like, “I’m just going to try and reach the end of the play. That’s my goal. I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I have all of the books, my bag, and I’m going to take them.” It takes like an hour and a half to get there from my house so I was reading all the books both ways, like really trying to put all the tools in my toolbox to be inspired to find that ultimate connection. And it was the Virginia Woolf book, A Room of One’s Own that was the keystone in that because that book is a sort of fictional/autobiographical hybrid set in Oxbridge University where she discusses writing as a woman, how women have only recently been afforded opportunities to work on their work while men have been allowed to walk these grounds and allowed to attend this college for centuries. And that creates a natural disadvantage for women who, even in her lifetime, were still not allowed on the lawn and were not thought to be independent thinkers. And she talks about how hard it is to manifest a writing that felt truthful to her when she has not even been afforded the ability to study and practice. So there was something really interesting to me about the notion of these women in the earlier acts of the play are trying and failing and not really bumping up against what it means to actually convey their true selves. They’re just angry at themselves for failing. And what Virginia Woolf is saying is, “Of course we’re going to fail. We’re gonna fail for like hundreds more years, but we have to be afforded the opportunity to try. We have to be given the space and the time to practice, to try and fail and make mistakes. She says in that quote that I’ve put at the beginning of the play, “and in a hundred years, she will leave out half that she now puts in she will write a better book, one of these days.” So in that early draft, it was super nebulous how the different parts connected, but I think what we found is that you have to be able to recognize all the women who came before you and use them as strengths in order to try even harder for yourself in this moment. And it’s been a process of drafting, drafting. That fourth part has been a total exercise in stream of consciousness and using feeling and emotion as an arc that is different than a normal, what I always call, a well-made play arc.
Let’s probe this question of the connection between the parts a bit. You have so much fun in the first three parts in breaking down the paradigms and leaving no stone unturned and it feels like a pretty bitchin’ take down of form. So to start off part four with a character who’s uncertain and not confident, it takes a minute to let the dust settle to think, “Where has she been in this play up tiil now? Where do we find that sense of the constraints on her as a writer?”
Yeah. I think that the constraints feel personal to that character because of the evidence mounted around her that in the wealth of human history, as Virginia Woolf says, she does not exist. She has not existed as a fully thinking, feeling, voting person until recently. And so I think that especially for that character who is definitely a younger version of me - all that external dismissing manifests as a self-confidence issue, an identity issue. It’s totally stemming in some way from what history has taught her. If everyone tells me I don’t exist, maybe I don’t. But then being able to have the information to realize that these people came before you and you can recognize yourselves in them. The personal constraints can feel as strong as the literal constraints in some cases.
This theme of invisibility doesn’t just extend to women in this play. In the third part we talked about how the stories of the colonized characters are lost. And you continue that thread in the fourth part when you introduce the grandparents into the scene. Talk about that and how they entered the play.
The grandparents in the play are my real maternal grandparents, Swarn and Swarn Takher. They both died in the year before I was born, so I never met them. There’s something very aspirational, at least there was for me, in the act of trying to write them. In a way it felt like I was trying to meet them, and speak to them, and find out more about them, and thus, about me. Even in their lives, they were notoriously private. They kept their feelings very much inside, and there’s a lot about them that I don’t think even my mother knows. My family doesn’t talk about them in a way that it feels like they were open with each other about how they felt about their lives. In a way, I’ve always felt that silence, or that secrecy, was somehow passed on to me. Growing up, I felt very afraid to own myself and all of the feelings I felt in a way that was empowering and positive and progressive. And so, bringing them into this play in a moment when a woman is trying to express herself truthfully for no one but herself - it felt like in meeting them and talking to them and watching them feel their feelings, she recognizes herself in them. And realizing what has transcended and what has been passed to her allows her to cross a bridge to knowing herself a little bit more fully.
In the character breakdown for the play, you specify that two of the women and the one man should be performed by South Asian actors. This directive pays off in the third part when the characters are South Asian as well. And it also pays off in part four because it determines the grandparents are played as South Asian. But the content of their story does not necessarily point to their heritage. How much did you think about this overlap between the quest for self-identity for women and for POCs?
I think the overlap exists because it is my identity, and it always feels strange to quantify it, because it feels like an experience in which I am required to justify my existence. Here’s the thing: I think that the first and second parts are as much able to be owned by South Asian actors as well as parts 3 and 4. When I talk about identity, and who I resonate with, and who is a part of my personal constellation of inspirations, so many of them are white - because those are the narratives that survive the lineages of history - at least in the Western historical upbringing I was educated in as an American born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. I think that when people talk about “diversity” in casting - so many historical roles go to white people as a baseline and it is considered radical and cool when we cast POCs in “historically white” roles. But guess what? I am here and ready for a world where there is no radicality in this choice. I am ready for a world where this kind of casting is a part of the natural fabric of creating a play. In my world, Ernest Hemingway is a brown man. In my world, I tell an immigration story that resonates universally, while preserving my perspective, the same way any playwright would tell of their own history. And in my world - these actors are my trusted fave collaborators, and there is no one I would rather cast. I ensure that South Asian folks are cast in this play in the casting note, because I am afraid of a world where I leave that casting note out and people in Idaho cast according to the existing paradigm - white actors as baseline - because it’s easier for them to justify their patterns of behavior. I worry that future programmatic folks won’t see the connections and progression as plainly I do. So while I don’t point to heritage as much in the script, I think it important to preserve this casting in future productions.
The script does not specify the ethnicity of the fourth character, Wife 2. We’ve cast a white actor which seems helpful in Part Three especially, but is also interesting for Part Four. As the witch character she seems to set the action in motion. But when Wife 3 enters, it starts to feel like “Who’s leading whom?”
I do feel that Wife 3, who plays Swarn, who has the breakthrough at the end, is the one leading the action in the end — and I do think that the Witch clears some space for her to do take charge in the end. I think, in the ensemble, Wife 3 is the lead character in my eyes — the one who’s making this leap and having this breakthrough - and that there are wives around her who play her family members. And then there are certain wives who are witnesses and supporters and allies. And I think in this instance, at least in our play, I feel like the witch character in Part Four is facilitating and allowing space and is sort of ceding the floor when it’s time. And I think that there are a couple of instances throughout the play of people deciding to cede and give space. I think of the witch when she yields her space. I think of the Man when he asks, “How can I be more like her?” And when the grandfather says, “You lead, I’ll follow,” to his wife, giving her space to lead the conversation about their shared life and experience, as opposed to jumping in with his own story. He’s like, it’s your story first. And I will amplify and support and connect, but there are instances of that space-making. And I feel like Wife 2 could be South Asian in any production of this. And I’m interested in seeing that, but it does feel like that character is doing more of the support work.
Before the end part of the scene, the stream-of-consciousness part, there’s a spell that’s cast. Just tell it like in your own words what happens.
Yeah. I think that in the fourth part, there is a pair of young women, one of whom is initiating another into a club and the way you join the club is you participate in a spell in which you align yourself with people who strengthen you or embolden you and the people that the main character aligns herself with are people we’ve met in earlier parts of the play. But that I think what that alludes to is the fact that she feels unmoored not knowing much about her real lineage. So she has crafted a lineage for herself. And over the course of this spell she starts to realize more and more about herself and how it is informed by not only the ancestors who she’s chosen, but her actual ancestors. And she starts to realize that everything about her is right and that she can choose to see herself in a way that is pleasing to her and in a way that is untethered to the way that the rest of the women in the play are seen. And the language she’s using is very poetic and somewhat elusive.
Do you think of that language as the language of the spell or the language of a writing project or, or something else?
I think of it as a little bit of a movement score. I think of it as a manifesto. I think of it as a poem. And I think of it as a sort of thesis, but a thesis of emotion rather than of fact. I think of it as something that is charting and different. I think if it is something that is charted in a nonhierarchical way that’s something that is always emerging and evolving. And that if she had kept talking, it would have started to take some different form, you know where the play ends is when she realizes that everything about her is right and that now she can continue to live in a fuller way than she has. But I think if the play had continued, she would have continued to evolve and change based on how she was using her new fullness to interact with the world. And I think about this book I’ve been reading pretty consistently over the last year called Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown, some of which is about basing systems in your life and in your community around systems found in nature. And I think about how a lot of times even thinking about structure and storytelling, how there’s sort of a narrative arc that we sort of pressured to follow. It is modeled after patriarchal systems. And as Brown discusses in Emergent Strategy, those systems actually operate in opposition to natural rhythms and evolution - they are not sustainable. These patriarchal modes are outdated - and not just in playmaking, but in economics, in government. And so this book is about uncovering new ways to strategize and build nonhierarchical organizational models that can help us build a better society — we can be the support system for each other as we explore these practices. We can help each other by living in each other’s constellation. The book goes into a lot of exercises and best practices that exist right now, but the writer acknowledges that we are constantly building and creating new models that we can share with each other, that we can continue to expand upon. It implies that soon, we will outgrow even the most radical of ideas, the most radical challenges of form, the most radical modes of existence. But small actions beget larger actions. I can write a spell in my play that helps a character find herself when she’s lost- and my untethering of patriarchal form can mean a lot to a budding 17-year-old writer who will grow into a better idea on this thought experiment than I have right now. There’s an openness and an idea of evolution, to model even the writing system after something that is constantly growing and changing. And so, so yeah, it’s certainly a writing project, but I think it’s also a little bit of an existence project. You know, it feels like something that I will continue to think about; if everything about me is right now, now what? What about me is becoming more right, and what about me is something I need to think more on and dig deeper to work on? How can I continually uncover a better way to be, as myself?
And when she says it’s so nice to be seen, is she speaking as character or is it meta? Is that she talking to the audience? Is that a metatheatrical moment or a combination of things?
I think it’s a character-based moment, but I think it is metatheatrical and that she’s talking to the audience and she’s saying it’s so nice to see me as they are seeing her, but where they see her and where she sees herself are aligning in a new way at that moment. It’s a callback to something that her grandparents say, too. So she tried and tried and tried to see herself until she believed that what she was seeing was actually herself. And then by the end she gets there with the grandparents. It is so nice to see you. And she has seen them and she sees them seeing her. And sees herself.