Interview with playwright
by Artistic Associate KITTSON O'NEILL
What spurred you to write MARCUS/EMMA?
I met Akeem Davis in 2012 and he quickly became one of those friends who opens your mind and changes your way of thinking. He liked to quote Garvey in arguments; I liked to associate him with Garvey. I had played Emma Goldman onstage before and many of my beliefs already aligned with Goldman's philosophies on the inherent violence of capitalism, the necessity of Free Love as path toward liberation from capital, etc. My discussions with Akeem started to become dialogues between Goldman and Garvey in my imagination. Garvey has always been Akeem, for me.
What has changed most as you have worked on this play?
The world has changed a great deal while I worked on the play. The night the first draft was read at Theatre Exile in 2015 was the day that riots broke out in Baltimore over the murder of Freddy Gray. Dramaturg Heather Helinsky, who had been at the reading, texted me: "Marcus and Emma's lovechild in Baltimore tonight." Though police brutality and danger to the black body have long been a reality, it has recently entered the public discourse in an urgent new way. This context definitely effects how Marcus Garvey's words echo in the audience's ears. Now, with a plutocratic arch-misogynist entering the highest office in America, other parts of the play jump out to me, particularly a lot of Emma's speeches.
You started your career as an actress. What lead you to playwrighting?
I used to write plays in college, but moved away from it when I got more work as an actor. It seemed to me one couldn't earn a living writing plays the way one could as a performer. The plays I wrote back then were more concerned with being clever, however; I think I came back to playwriting because suddenly I actually had something to say.
What is the piece of theater you are most proud of having made?
Through our company, Applied Mechanics, I have had the privilege of making a lot of work with Becky Wright and Maria Shaplin, the director and lighting designer of Marcus/Emma. In 2014 we made a show called We Are Bandits, which holds a very special place in my heart. It was inspired by the trial of Pussy Riot and it managed to articulate, clarify and solidify our perspective as 21st century feminists. We listened to a lot of Riot Grrl music that Maria curated, made some silly dances, wrote songs about radical liberation, and got as serious about our politics as we were about art-making.
What's on your theater bucket list and how many things have you crossed off so far?
Writing a part for a 50 year old actress that is raw sexy. This play crosses that right off the list. Also writing a play in which Akeem Davis gets to act as heroic as he actually is in real life. Other things on the bucket list are having a children's choir sing onstage (that will happen in Orbiter 3's production of Peaceable Kingdom in May) and making people wear animal costumes (ditto).
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the theater what would you change?
I would make it free to the public, state-subsidized and well attended. It would be great if the theatre were an essential part of the way America talked about itself -- as much a part of public discourse as a town meeting, or social media.
What is the most important thing we should all be doing to prepare for the coming revolution?
Divesting in big banks, reading a lot and talking to each other about the world we want to see. Carpooling to protests. Organizing with groups that stand up for those among us who are vulnerable. Trying to love each other better. Being open to new ideas.
-- AN ADDITIONAL VIDEO OF MARY TALKING ABOUT THE IMPETUS BEHIND THIS PLAY: