My grandmother, the wife of a Kentucky sharecropper, hand stitched quilts in the 1930s and one hangs on my living room wall, a perfect combination of art and craft. My plays are patchwork quilts, pieced together from what I’ve witnessed and experienced and thought about over a lifetime. My influences change as I change and my work is always evolving. Although I’m best known for a realistic front porch trilogy and some large cast historical dramas, my recent scripts return to my playwriting roots and earliest influences, looking at the world through a lens of absurdism, experimentation and theatricality, as I struggle to make sense of the changing times I’m living in. My plays are dark at times but ultimately hopeful, serious with notes of humor, and they always feature women as the major characters.
A quilt is put together in pieces and my plays are written in fragments. I start with an idea, a character, a place, an event. Lines of dialogue play in my head and I write down everything I can think of. I begin piecing scenes together, moving things around, adding and subtracting characters, dialogue and scenes as the story begins to emerge. The first draft is written quickly, the pieces sewn together without batting or backing, and the real craftsmanship comes in the rewrite, where I step back and look at what I have, defining the dramatic question and refining the overall structure. Eventually it all comes together through collaboration as readings and workshops become a sort of quilting bee, when discussions with dramaturgs, directors and actors help me fill in missing pieces. Although I strive for perfection, I never forget that handmaid quality is what makes a work unique.
I’m fascinated by process and always try to meet each student where they are at. Regardless of experience, we are always asking the same questions: How can I think theatrically? What is the dramatic question? How can I raise the stakes? What structure best tells the story? What can Aristotle teach us? Which plays and playwrights inspire us? What stories do we need to tell?
A self-producing playwright for my twenty-five-year career, I consider myself a theatre maker, with a view of all aspects of theatre-making. I’ve premiered my scripts at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and co-produced my plays off-Broadway. I’ve directed off-Broadway and regionally. I began as a professional actress under my birth name, and it was a love of improv that led to playwriting. To support myself during my early years in New York, I worked in theatre management and took jobs as a dresser on Broadway and in film and television, including ten years behind the scenes at “Saturday Night Live.” Once married to a literary agent, I’m savvier than most playwrights about the business and always happy to share my contacts and expertise with other playwrights. Although I never dreamed of being a writer, and call myself “the accidental playwright,” it is a joy and privilege to work as an artist and teacher, following those who led the way and helping exciting new writers discover and explore their own unique voices.