C1 PlayLab: What We’re Reading – Vol. 1

We recently kicked off the newest iteration of C1 PlayLab, and in the coming months, we’ll be using some of our time during our PlayLab Master Classes to discuss big ideas and current issues that are relevant to working playwrights. This month we are exploring the themes of Character and Identity — here are a few pieces of writing that will serve as a springboard for our conversation during this month’s PlayLab session.

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My Parents Were Tiger People: christopher oscar peña chats about writing race with A. Rey Pamatmat via HowlRound

A. Rey Pamatmat is our PlayLab guest this month, and this conversation is a great one to get us thinking about how one’s personal identity and experience can impact a play, as well as what it means to craft characters from a variety of backgrounds:

People need to be okay with labels evolving and redefining themselves. I also wish plays were experienced on their own. The context of the writer’s identity is totally exciting…afterward. Let that add to the conversation, not be it.

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 Artistic Authority Series – Part One and Part Two via Jacqueline Lawton’s blog.

In these two posts, playwrights Kia Corthron, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Kristoffer Diaz, Marcus Gardley, and several others all offer their thoughts on the ethics of writing characters from a different racial or ethnic identity than one’s self.

Are we ethically entitled to write outside of our own ethnicity (however we define any of those loaded terms)? If we do, are there any ground rules? Are we obligated to educate ourselves (even minimally) about a culture before assuming the authority to give voice to characters of that culture? Or is any such suggestion a hindrance to the creative process, at worst tantamount to censorship?

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What is Cultural Appropriation: Revisiting Peter Brook’s Mahabharata via HowlRound

Tlaloc Rivas writes about cultural appropriation in the theatre, and gives some great steps for artists to follow so they can avoid it in their own work.

It’s certainly understandable those of us in the theater, especially those charged with responsibilities for conceiving productions (writers, directors, dramaturgs, producers), grow exhausted swimming against the overwhelming cultural tide that urges those with authority to rest on their ethnic privilege. I don’t consider Mr. Brook, nor directors like Julie Taymor or Mary Zimmerman who freely adapt from and are inspired by third-world stories and techniques, “enemies” by any stretch of the imagination. But directors who make statements like the ones I’ve quoted from Mr. Brook give us pause, since they uncharacteristically represent a movement to disengage with a key question of artistic ethics—are we ready to progress through the twenty-first century with honesty, accountability, diversity and fidelity to the work, or are we simply playing a zero-sum game where my telling of the story is more important than its original cultural source and context?

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Getting It Right: The Unsaid Things in Tribes via HowlRound

Ariel Baker-Gibbs essay explores the play Tribes and the way it handles a character who is deaf.

Playwright Nina Raine intends to explore how people are a part of this world by using different examples, and she does that very well, albeit with a markedly specific perspective. Is it really that the less said about something, the more significant it is? Or the more talk, the less substance? Do these principles apply to her treatment of marginal experiences such as deafness or mental illness? Or is Raine’s point that truly important things aren’t said at all, and should just be assumed?

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I’m not a first generation, Chinese-American lipstick lesbian working at a teen fashion magazine, I just wrote one for this scene via The Playwrights’ Center

A. Rey Pamatmat offers a few tips about how to write outside one’s own experience.

People often ask how I write x kinds of characters so well, where x has equaled everything from women to mathematicians to kids. I have never come up with a satisfying response. They want me to say my gayness gives me a special kinship to girls or I have a degree in fractal geometry or I’m quietly raising two tweens from some past life. But it doesn’t, I don’t, and I’m not.

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Additional Viewing & Reading:

We won’t be discussing these links as specifically in class, but here are a few other resources for anyone who wants to dig in even more around conversations dealing with identity and who has the authority to tell a given story.

Video of ArtsEmerson’s panel Interrogating Whiteness Part II: Controversies and Interventions in the Theatre

The Race and Representation in American Theatre Series on HowlRound

Colorlines video interview with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis about their song White Privilege II

Trans* Artist Writes Open Letter to Public Theater After ‘Southern Comfort’ Cast Announcement