We interviewed Audrey Cefaly, playwright of Maytag Virgin. Read her interview below, and be sure to get your tickets to Maytag Virgin now before they sell out!
Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind Maytag Virgin? Were there any specific influences?
The idea first came to me during Washington D.C.’s annual Intersections Festival back in 2012. The show’s curator, Gwydion Suilebhan, asked me to join a group of local playwrights to collectively answer a prompt for pieces “exploring a collision of people of different ages, races, cultures, classes, or sexual identities.” I chose to write a short solo piece about a Southern protestant woman and the tension that arises when a Catholic man moves in next door.
While the finished piece wasn’t exactly a firestarter in a city hungry for political theatre, it did feel authentically southern and 100% on brand for me. In the end, it was very well-received in its short form. I adapted it into a full-length a few years later for the inaugural Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. It is perhaps the most autobiographical of all of my plays.
What is your writing process like?
In my work, I start with the audience in mind. The pieces that I create (often “two-handers”) are structured specifically to effect a sort of communal release. I am also an outspoken proponent of stillness in story-telling; the silence in my plays is not incidental. On the contrary, it operates as another character in the narrative. It is my experience that a text stripped to its essence returns the gift of tension. Indeed, much of the story that would otherwise be inaudible reveals itself in these quiet moments. I love a cut almost as much as a great sentence. Almost.
Nothing in my writing is sacrosanct. I believe the best writers understand that the script doesn’t care about your feelings, it just wants to work. And that’s a very freeing idea. It means anything (no matter how good it is) can be demoted, truncated or cut entirely to make the piece work as a whole. There’s sort of this myth that we, as writers, are in control of our narratives, but the truth is each story is in the process of carving its own riverbed and it will “go like it goes” regardless of what you have in mind. For writers that work this way, there’s not a lot of room for preconception.
You identify yourself as a “Southern Playwright.” What is it about the south that continues to inspire your work?
The southern dialect has a musicality to it that pairs well with my love of lyricism; I traffic in Williams and Faulkner and Henley and McCullers. I love it all; it’s so rich and distilled. Alabama will always be a part of me. And these stories help me learn more about who I am. There is a sort of unapologetic simplicity to the southern way of life. That’s not to say that it isn’t without complication and it’s certainly very colorful, but the rules are simpler, I think. We’re in the Bible belt, after all; quandaries often involve one’s relationship with Jesus. Around the time of writing Maytag, I was watching a Stephen Fry documentary. He’d been doing some travelling across America and found himself at an Alabama parole board hearing (think of it!). It was fascinating to me how the parole officer kept invoking God as the path to rehabilitation. And that’s a scenario not uniquely endemic to the south, but an absolute principal for living: get God: get better. This theme permeates all of my southern pieces.
Besides being set in the south, are there common themes across your work? What is it about those themes that interest you?
Ever heard that old children’s song, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket (Dear Liza, Dear Liza)?” That’s my territory. I’ve always been interested in ache stories. I come from teachers and therapists and so I have a natural inclination to embrace those around me who are suffering; my writing is an outcrop of that tendency.There are a lot of people in the world like Jack and Lizzy who are adrift, unmoored, and looking around for something that feels like home. Maytag says yeah, and you know what, that’s kinda beautiful. It’s beautiful because we often find ourselves at the bottom—at our worst—at the very moment we are doing our damndest to love someone or to love someone through the hell of life. Those noble efforts, that drudgery…that’s what love is. And too often, in those “moments” we forget to love ourselves, we forget to ask for the love we need, we forget to breathe. We convince ourselves it will always be this way…that we are unlovable or that we have run out of chances. The rejection of this fallacy is really at the core of every single love story ever told. It is why we cry at movies and why we watch our favorite romances over and over again, pausing at those tender moments…the ones that speak to us. We are—all of us—longing to feel alive and loved…and to connect.
Does Maytag Virgin resonate with you differently given the times that we’re living in compared to when you wrote it originally?
These days, human touch is a fantasy. I used to characterize Maytag Virgin as a love story, and it is. But more specifically, it’s about being “seen.” Truly seen. And I think Jack does that for Lizzy. He’s the friend she so desperately needs. And though they live right next door to each other, they just can’t quite get to each other. So I think it’s that “so close and yet so far” vibe that’s really resonating with me right now.
Ultimately, what do you hope the audience will take away from Maytag Virgin?
One of the biggest themes in the play is guilt. We are witnessing a woman in the throes of grief and shame surrounding the untimely death of her husband and a man desperately trying to outrun the torment of ghosts from a not-so-distant tragedy of his own. But guilt is like dancing with the devil. It can take you under if you’re not careful. It can steal everything worth living for. It stands defiantly in the middle of the road, blocking all forward movement. The only way around…is through.
Grief, then — paradoxically — is the remedy. When we are reeling from tragic loss, the last thing on our minds is, “but at least I’m taking a good hard look at myself.”
Indeed, there is a certain sleight of hand in the revelatory nature of grief. It is perhaps the greatest form of self-love we are afforded as humans. It has the power to bring us face to face with ourselves. To question our own identity. And ultimately to love ourselves in some very important ways.
There’s a water motif that runs throughout the play. If the audience is open to look for those moments, I do think they will come away with a deeper understanding. Hopefully they will feel the uplift that I feel when I experience Jack and Lizzy. It’s an endearing relationship, and there’s certainly room for laughter and release. On a deeper level, I hope they will see themselves in the characters.
Read the full interview from the Gulfshore Playhouse here.
Created by 26 artist-collaborators, Swell weaves together ten original, new music compositions by ten composers.
Playwright, lyricist, and librettist Melisa Tien is the creator and producer of the upcoming live, online song cycle Swell, presented by HERE from March 17-21, 2021. This contemporary work about immigrants and children of immigrants, written by immigrants and children of immigrants, is directed by Elena Araoz with music direction by Tian Hui Ng.
“Right now, the U.S. feels like it’s on the brink of so many things – politically, economically, socially. Immigrant stories, especially ones that humanize the people they’re about, help highlight those who are often left behind when, for example, a medical disaster happens. Swell reminds us these are real people, simply trying to make their way, like everyone else,” Melisa said of the piece’s subject and timeliness.
Swell features the work of composers and lyricists Joshua Cerdenia, Carolyn Chen, Justine F. Chen, Or Matias, Tamar Muskal, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Leyna Marika Papach, Izzi Ramkisson, Kamala Sankaram, Jorge Sosa, Stavit Allweis, Konstantin Soukhovetski, and Melisa Tien, who draw from their personal histories and cultures. Hailing from Mexico, India, Israel, Japan, Trinidad, the Philippines, Russia, and Taiwan, the composers’ unique, surprising, and deeply human stories are expressed through voice, piano, cello, and violin.
Performers include mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, soprano Mimi Hilaire, tenor Alok Kumar, and baritone Ricardo Rivera. Instrumentalists include members of the Victory Players Nathan Ben-Yehuda, Clare Monfredo, and Elly Toyoda. Additional collaborators are Video Designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Audio Engineer Jon Robertson, Video Engineer Kris Kirkwood, Production Stage Manager Neelam Vaswani, and Assistant Stage Manager Alyssa K. Howard.
As an online presentation, Swell is building upon the wealth of knowledge that has accumulated over the past year in live, online productions. It will feature singers singing together remotely, and aims to incorporate accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, through captioning, an interpreter, and a new application that conveys music in a dynamic visual format.
Melisa summarizes the origins of the piece: “The seed for Swell started when I attended a new music festival a few years ago and was struck by a piece of Nathalie Joachim’s. It was tied to her home country of Haiti and I recall being so moved by it, partly because it put me in mind of Taiwan, where my own family is from. I started to wonder where the other U.S.-based new music writers were, who came from outside the U.S. I couldn’t think of any, yet I was convinced there had to be new music writers out there who identified as immigrants, or children of immigrants, who had stories to tell, and I wanted to hear them.”
Half of the program will be presented on Wednesday, March 17 at 8pm ET, and the second half will be presented on Thursday, March 18 at 8pm ET. The full program will stream on Friday and Saturday, March 19-20, at 8pm ET, and on Sunday, March 21 at 6pm ET. Audiences can purchase a sliding-scale ticket ($5-50) and will receive details for a password-protected video on HERE’s website.
Melisa Tien is a playwright, lyricist, librettist, producer, and educator. She is the author of the plays Untitled Landscape, Best Life, The Boyd Show, Yellow Card Red Card, and Familium Vulgare, co-author of the music-theater works Swell, Daylight Saving, and Mary, and co-producer of the audio experience/podcast Active Listening. A New Dramatists resident playwright, Melisa is a recipient of a grant from the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music, and Theatre, a commissionee of the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Project, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Playwriting/Screenwriting. She teaches experimental theatrical writing at Sarah Lawrence College. BA, UCLA; MFA, Columbia University. www.melisatien.com.
Read the full article from Broadway World here.
Proving that a theater can be groundbreaking even when its grounds are closed, Arena Stage is launching a virtual spring season that includes a film about Indigenous North Americans and their relationship to the land — entirely written, directed and acted by Native people.
“Indigenous Earth Voices” will premiere in May, the fourth in a series of pandemic-era films that Arena Cultural Director Molly Smith has produced since the start of the outbreak that shuttered theaters around the world. Following the template of the other docudramas, which included “May 22, 2020” and “The 51st State,” “Indigenous Earth Voices” features the verbatim words of Native American and First Nation subjects from the United States and Canada as fashioned into monologues by Indigenous playwrights and actors.
“It’s a ‘heart’ project for me,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I just realized that more than half my life I’ve spent with Indigenous people, whether being in Alaska or being married to a Yankton Sioux.” Before coming to Arena in 1998, Smith spent 18 years at the Juneau company she founded, Perseverance Theatre, and her wife, Suzanne Blue Star Boy, is an artistic adviser on the film.AD
The movie is a key ingredient in a wholly reimagined 2021 for Arena. In a plan announced last July, its in-person performance season was to have started up again last month, with the world premiere of Eduardo Machado’s “Celia and Fidel.” Now that play, which was forced to close last March, and four other productions will be presented later, and subscribers have been offered refunds or exchanges.
The digital roster replacing them will also include a free streaming series called “Arena Riffs”: three original filmed musicals, each 20 to 30 minutes and debuting in March and April. Actor-director Psalmayene 24 will unveil his “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents,” a “pandemic-era hip-hop musical,” to be joined by as yet untitled projects by the indie-folk duo Shaun and Abigail Bengson and composer Rona Siddiqui.
“These are fully conceived and created for the virtual form,” Smith said, adding that the short versions may be developed into longer productions, possibly even for live stagings. “The artists in all three have said they have a hunger to continue to build on these projects, so we shall see.”
Psalmayene 24 was shooting “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents” in the District’s Rock Creek Park on Sunday, with four other actors: Louis Davis, Shannon Dorsey, Gary L. Perkins III and Justin Weaks.AD
“It’s the story of a cadre of hip-hop theater artists who are meeting to rehearse in Rock Creek Park,” said Psalmayene 24, who wrote three songs for the piece, with choreography by Tony Thomas and music direction by Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez.
“It explores issues like violent versus nonviolent protest, love and mental health,” he added. “And these artists are grappling with the inability to do what they love doing the most, which is live theater.”
Washington theaters have been increasingly active in creating content online, even if the monetary returns are meager. Arena has been particularly active in filmmaking. As Psalmayene 24 noted: “That’s one of the positive things that have come out of the pandemic. It’s forcing us to be creative. That’s what we need as artists: We need to be locked in a box to figure out how to break out.”
Arena will again offer digital classes with actors, playwrights and others, including such artists as Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Nehal Joshi and Machado. But perhaps the most noteworthy offering is “Indigenous Earth Voices,” by virtue of the unusual fact that a major American theater company is providing a breadth of opportunity to Native artists who struggle for national recognition.
Read the full article by Peter Marks for the Washington Post here.
SHOW DATES: 3/1/21 – 3/31/2021
In collaboration with The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre and Winding Road Theater Ensemble, ATC is producing RomeroFest, a month-long celebration of the diverse, thoughtful and impactful works of ATC Playwright-in-Residence Elaine Romero with digital performances by theatre companies across the U.S. and in Mexico in March.
Among the theatre companies presenting Romero’s work virtually, either live or by video, are ATC, The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre; Winding Road Theatre Ensemble; Foro Shakespeare; Artists Repertory Theatre; Seven Devils Playwrights Conference; Colorado College; The Justice Theater Project; The School of Theatre, Film and Television, University of Arizona; Teatro Milagro; InterAct Theatre Company; and Theatre Ariel. A full list of plays and when they will be available will be announced in mid-February.
The Festival opens March 1 at 5 p.m. with a digital “Scholar Kickoff” featuring a town hall-type panel discussion about Elaine’s work and its impact.
Opening event panelists include Dr. Anne Garcia-Romero, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame; Dr. David Crespy, Professor of Playwriting, Acting, Dramatic Literature and Theatre History at the University of Missouri, Columbia; and Dr. Jimmy Noriega, Associate Professor in the Theatre and Dance Department at Wooster College. The panel will be moderated by Tanya Palmer, Associate Professor, Head, MFA in Dramaturgy at Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama & Contemporary Dance.
Learn more here.