One of the things I’ve LOVED about our first Heal the Divide residency is how unique each of our playwright’s voices have been. Including their beautiful, powerful, moving, short plays has been an honor! We are gearing up for our second Residency, and I’m seriously excited about each of our new playwrights! But before I tell you all about them, I’d like to share this final group interview I conducted with Mikki, Diana, Jen, Taijee, and David.
Q- What was surprising to you about writing for (or reading) Heal the Divide?
David — I came in with just one idea, but of course knew I’d be writing three plays. So what’s surprising is the wealth of things to respond to; it’s alarming to live in the time we live in, but it does provide a lot of stuff to draw from.
Jen — I am surprised at how optimistic and hopeful the project has made me feel. Also, how joyful both writing plays and reading the other plays has been.
Mikki — How each playwright is speaking from their local perspective in some fashion, and the national implications are so evident.
Diana — I am surprised at how easily the work came, and how much all the writers are responding to. There is so much material to work with. Our society seems to be at a tipping point.
Taijee — I was so happy when reviewing my work to see how much I observed in just watching people! I loved hearing all of the different voices in the writings of everyone involved! It was very worthwhile!
Q- Have you found yourself reading more local news or eavesdropping on neighbors in a deeper way?
Taijee — I definitely find myself eavesdropping a lot more. I find that whenever I travel, someone and/or something that someone has said, always catches my ear.
David — So, a thing about living where I live (NYC) and taking the transportation I do (the subway) is that I am constantly bombarded by the close proximity of other voices. I don’t know that I’m listening MORE, but I am definitely hearing.
Mikki — I love eavesdropping on my neighbors! But only to the extent that I can hear them from my porch. I live in an area densely populated by retirees, and they have a lot of opinions—and a lot of time to opine! My favorite thing is listening to one person argue why Hillary should go to jail and the other piping up about pussy-grabbing. To each other. As if this is how we find common ground. This is what our discourse has devolved into. No high powered anyone is going to jail, and pussies are for grabbing. In case you hadn’t heard.
Jen — I am also a total eavesdropper. I always have been. I’ve noticed folks have become very reactive these days. Also, I think folks are listening closely now.
Diana — I have listened to a lot. In my building there have been marriages and friendships that have broken up due to the current situation. As a matter of fact, my DACA play came from a situation I overheard. People are talking about these issues, out loud. Americans are both comfortable with, and repelled by confessional conversations and it seems like we are hearing a lot of it.
Q- Where have you been looking for inspiration?
Taijee — I think about some of the people I grew up with and some of the stories that stuck with me involving them. It helps me draw from that dark place inside of me that still needs healing. Writing helps me to do that.
David — Oh, God, I love and bless Wonkette. They take NO PRISONERS, whereas I tend–at least in my writing–to want to explore all sides of character. Twitter and the NY Times are constantly throwing divisions that need healing in my face.
Mikki — I try to look to everyday people for inspiration. When a news story crosses my path, it’s often something I found on Fark or Reddit (and then proceed to try and suss out the veracity of the story). I like those types of places to mine for “news” because of the collective consciousness it seems to be born of. If it’s lies and subterfuge, the readership poke holes in it pretty fast. NPR is my usual go-to for news when I’m looking for substance.
Jen — It’s not about me. Inspiration finds me, and I get out of the way. Usually, at some point, there’s one thing that makes the whole piece cohesive.
Diana — It’s pouring out of me. I’m a political junkie, and the drugs have been so bad lately.
Q- What would you like to see happen as a result of your Heal the Divide residency?
Taijee — If I could just touch one person and inspire them to do what they love by overcoming the divide, that would be good enough.
David — I would loooooove to see these plays, all 15 of them, combined in a reading series or something. That would be so exciting, to see our wildly different voices bumping up against each other and soaring together. Because so far the plays feel harmonious and utterly distinct. Really exciting.
Mikki — I hope it encourages more people to blaze an art-filled path towards a better world.
Jen — I want to second what Taijee, David, and Mikki said. I’m awful at being result-oriented. Right now, I’m focused on process.
Diana — I hope it encourages people to write their way out, to quote Hamilton. To use their brains to find solutions to the pain instead of violence.
Q- One of the goals of this project is to bring disparate communities together by exposing them to plays inspired by each playwright’s community. How do you see theatre affecting/interacting with audiences to affect change?
Taijee — TIP Harris, a rapper, answered a similar question that involved his and other artists lyrics and their effect on the communities that listen to it. His response was, “If you want to change the message of the song, change the environment of its origin.” I believe the theatre can do the same thing. Instead, we change the environment by letting people know what the message is upfront and exposing them to the truths in which they, and by they I do mean all of us, choose to want to hide.
Mikki — I think the compelling thing about theater is it goes unchanged in how it can reach right into an audience member-or actor for that matter-no matter the era. If an issue is playing out in front of someone, just absorbing the story gives them space to feel it from a different perspective. It’s literally the incarnation of “I never really thought of it that way.”
Jen — When I think about work that has affected me and changed my perspective, I doubt very highly that the writer set out with the intention of rocking Jen’s world. However, I think those works contain a lot of truth and commitment to that truth.
Diana — I hope theatres can get past the radicalization of Spanish, and embrace this new majority minority. I hope they can be brave and learn to hear new words without feeling excluded and thereby excluding in the process.
David — The great goal for me is to see great diversity on stage but also in the audience. And then to encourage continued interaction after the play is over — to urge people to discuss what they’ve seen, what they feel. So it’s as much about the extratheatrical experience as the theatrical one from lights up to lights down.
Did you have a favorite play in this series? If so, what about the play made it stand out to you?
Diana — The play I wrote after Charlottesville (Rally), started out with anger towards the young white woman, and every rewrite I was filled with more and more compassion for her situation. It forced me into her shoes, and I learned about her. That was powerful. To get past initial impressions and move towards compassion.
David — Mikki’s Joe Arpaio play (The Reality) really killed me, in the very best way. Just gutting. So, so powerful.
Taijee — I was very surprised how far, Between Love and Hate, went for me. To see students and faculty interested in my work was very moving for me. I look forward to the years to come.
Jen — I don’t have one favorite play either written by me or one of the other writers. For me, the joy of the project was its variety. I also enjoyed reading the new plays every week and being impressed by everyone’s range and creativity.
Mikki — Let me break the rules. There were a few plays that stood out-and by stood out, I mean they had me up at night thinking. They were: Boxes by Jen Huszcza-the way she used movement to speak was so powerful. Rally by Diana Burbano-the image of a child in a klans robe just tied me up in knots. Swing Low by Taijee Bunch was a trip into the first terror some of us ever know in life. And Meanings Of Love by David Hilder catches you completely off-guard with the line ‘don’t assume’…whew. Powerhouses. I enjoyed reading all of the resident’s works, but those really stood out to me.
Q- Now that the first residency is over, do you have any advice for other playwrights who want to write plays from/about their own communities but maybe aren’t sure how to start?
Diana — Write! Scraps of conversations, monologues, devise pieces with community. The stories are there, they just need to be given permission to be born.
David — YES, what Diana said. Consecrate words to page. Build. Make.
Taijee — Definitely agree with Diana! Write your heart out! Be honestly sincere! Don’t be afraid to live in the uncomfortable!
Jen — Don’t be afraid (like Taijee said) of writing something imperfect. Also, maybe as a starting point, think about what the word, Community, means to you.
Mikki — Poking around the local theater and library are good starting places where like minds can be found. Collaborate. This is something we can all take part in. Write. Go get it.
Q- Any parting words you’d like to share with Heal the Divide fans?
Diana — May we all find the joy we need and see hope in the cracks.
David — Thank you. I hope we all find ways to honor each other’s inherent humanity.
Taijee — Thank you to everyone who took the time out to read our plays! It means so much! Keep striving hard and seek a life useful to create harmony among all peoples.
Jen — There are fans? Hello, I wish you ease.
Mikki — Thank you for reading our work and for showing interest in the project. Three cheers for peace and goodness!
Thank you again to our FABULOUS playwrights! Thanks for your support and engagement with this project. We look forward to sharing more socially conscious new works with you, beginning in November!