By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Well, the lesbian story is really the only story that hasn’t been told [onstage]. That hasn’t changed in the years since People in Troublewas published. There are lesbian characters in plenty of plays but to actually have an authentic lesbian protagonist on the American stage — it doesn’t exist. [Works by Jane Chambers and Anne Bogart notwithstanding] it’s still a forbidden life. Never being represented is an example of everyday trauma; it has a cumulative effect on an individual. Now I’m on a quest to break this glass ceiling in the American theater; it has been broken in literature. But there is a blatant bigotry against lesbians in the American theater. [Theater producers] tell me to my face why they won’t let these characters on their stage.
[Note: On its main stage, the Mark Taper Forum just completed the extended run of a commissioned work by Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash, and will next be presenting a new play by our pre-eminent African-American dramatist, August Wilson. The current second-stage Taper, Too season has been entirely devoted to Latino and African-American playwrights. Meanwhile the Pasadena Playhouse’s artistic director is an African-American, and his ethnicity is constantly represented on that stage. Also, South Coast Repertory has playwriting programs dedicated to Pacific Rim and Latino viewpoints.]
The thing is, when you show something from somebody else’s point of view, [the powers that be] have to face the horrifying reality that actually they are subjective. That’s a shift that they don’t want to make in their own self-image of being objective and value-free. I mean, they will tell you that they’re not interested in content and yet their entire season is about white men.
The final dirty trick is when they try to say that I’m a bad writer. Because when you have a point of view that people don’t want to see, that’s what they’ll say, “Oh, [you’re] no good.” That’s been used against everybody who is not part of the dominant culture. Fortunately, I’ve been around long enough now that I know what they’re doing.
Speaking of the dominant culture, do you think there’s any real interest in a diversity of voices or realities in the worlds of media and art — theater in particular?
Do you? Based on your own experiences?
Even when tokens of color are used, it’s to reaffirm someone else’s perspective or primacy. That central narrative cannot be fucked with or you’re out of work.
Right. There’s absolutely no interest in diversity at all in the theater world. I have noticed that people who the system works for will always tell you that you’re wrong and bad because you want change. But change occurs because you don’t listen to them. Eventually these things will change. Eventually, lesbian life will become part of American letters and arts.
Can you explain the Page to Stage program and why it’s such an important working model in American theater?
Well, Page to Stage is the most extensive workshop development program for a play in the United States, as far as I know. You have excellent actors, three and a half weeks of rehearsal, and then three and a half weeks of performance in front of an audience, in which you can change it every day. There are no reviews. You actually have the chance to grow your play in a sane, safe environment. Then, at the end, you’re ready to have a full production and have your world premiere. In most productions, you have three weeks of rehearsal, then you have your three to six weeks of performance, at which time you get savaged by the press. By the end of the run [is when] you’re actually ready to open. But in Europe, you’ll have twice as much rehearsal time because it’s government subsidized. It’s really an investment of resources by the La Jolla Playhouse to allow me to make the play everything it can be.
In the last few years, so much attention has been given to theater revivals that it raises the question: How do you honor and keep alive theater classics while simultaneously fostering new works and new talents?
I’m not sure. Because the fact that you’re doing new plays doesn’t mean you’re doing new ideas and new voices.
Sometimes people argue that there isn’t enough money for the arts. I’m not sure that’s really the problem. I think it’s that the resources are going to the same people. If that money went to different kinds of people, the theater would look completely different from what it does today, with the resources that we currently have. There are plenty of people who are spending money on movies and CDs who would come to the theater if it spoke to them.
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