Interview with Myself

On January 18, 2017, Wednesday morning at 9:00, Sandy Moss interviewed me on AZTV's program "Sandy and Friends" about our 2017 Inauguration Day "We're Not Playing" stage readings (http://www.aztv.com/sandyandfriends). I arranged the readings with the help of Frank Malle. In preparation for my interview, I asked myself some questions. The questions and answers go far beyond this one play reading, and so, here is a bit more about how I think.

First Entry, January 11, 2017

Why did I decide to produce the "We're Not Playing" readings?

Once people have a secure home and food is put on the table, most people try to do their best to be good people, most people try to use their skills and talents to make the world, as they see it, a better place—for their families, for their communities, and for those with the opportunity, for the world.

Writers do this through their writings. Playwrights do this through their plays. Actors do this through the skillful use of their bodies and voices. Here in Prescott, I have the opportunity to present my work and the work of other female playwrights—if not as full productions, as readings, and this initiative begun by Little Black Dress, INK, gives me the opportunity to have my voice, my words, and the words and voices of other female playwrights from around the country, heard.

How can writing and presenting plays effect positive change?

Words are all we as playwrights have to work with, but that can be a powerful force. Spiritual leaders throughout history have gotten their message across through stories. We, as writers, may not be spiritual leaders (though some might be inspired by higher teachers), but we get our messages across through stories. It's one thing to talk about such things as the need for good-paying jobs and financial security as politicians do; it's another thing to see how the lack thereof affects individual people. We all know how the photograph of a single man holding a dead child on a beach or a little girl running, her back afire from a bombing, tells more about the horrors of war than nightly news replete with statistics.

The governments we choose in our country can effect good change or bad change. As playwrights and actors, we invite ourselves into the lives of those affected by bad change—bad change such as all new wealth in this country going to the top one-tenth of one percent of Americans.

In these plays, we are invited into the stories of people personally affected by the bad changes we envision on the horizon during the incoming administration—that of the president-elect and those he has chosen or nominated for high positions in his administration.

Frank Malle and I have chosen plays to have actors read on Inauguration Day (and night) that reflect the real experiences and imagined experiences of individual people affected by the current and incoming political and social backdrop.

Second Entry, January 12, 2017

Tell me about Little Black Dress, INK.

Little Black Dress, INK, is an organization begun by Tiffany Antone, who grew up here in Prescott. It developed out of the understanding that female playwrights are under-represented in this country's theatre productions. A year and a half ago, the percentage of plays written by women stood at 22%. And that's an improvement. A few years before, the percentage sat at 17%.

Every summer, LBD produces a collection of short plays by women. The plays are adjudicated by playwrights who submit plays, so these playwrights help to choose the ones that become semi-finalists. Last year 200 plays from playwrights across the country were submitted. Semi-finalists' plays are read at venues around the country, and the finalists are produced in each year in Prescott and occasionally in other cities.

During the run-up to the election, Tiffany took a look at the political and social environment and decided she had to do something more, so she asked playwrights who had worked with her before to submit plays that were politically inspired and socially conscious. After the election of Donald Trump, she put out a call for theatres and individuals across the country to cast and present readings of those plays under the name of "We're Not Playing." As of early December about 20 plays had been submitted and posted on the LBD INK website. It is from those plays that Frank Malle and I selected the ones to be read before our audiences on January 20th at noon and 7:30 p.m.

How did you choose the individual plays to be presented here in Prescott? Can you tell us something about them?

Certainly. We love the plays we chose. There are so many good ones to choose from on the LBD INK website. And, by the way, all of these playwrights have offered their plays royalty-free for these readings. Playwrights, actors, and directors, along with myself and Frank Malle who is producing these plays with me, are all offering their time and talents pro bono. No one is getting paid, and the production is free with donations welcomed.

Whenever you put together an afternoon or evening of short plays, you're going to pick plays that resonate especially with you. All of the plays that have been written for this initiative are wonderful. Frank and I chose the 7 plays that resonated most with us. It wasn't easy. As in any production or reading of short plays, we also chose plays that represented variety in form, theme, and subject matter to make for an interesting afternoon and evening of theatre. We had chosen and began casting the plays in early December, so if plays were added after that, we were unable to consider them. We did have to make a change from one play to another, however, because we couldn't cast one we'd initially decided to include.

Third Entry, January 14, 2017

What are some of the topics?

I don't want to give it away too much, but I can tell you a bit. In Sacred Space by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, two worlds collide when painful details from the Orlando massacre intrude on the sacred space of the “Tahara,” the Jewish cleansing ritual of the dead. Veteran actors, Gail Mangham and Julie Harrington read this surreal piece about the escalating horrors of gun violence and the need to honor the sanctity of all lives. In Boxes Are Magic, read by Julie Cargill and Laurel Calhoun, playwright Allie Costa shines a light, in a fun, creative, compassionate, and constructive way, on climate change and its effect on one very small family, and by extension potentially, on well, any of us. Our one-minute play, Actions Speak Louder, by Beth Kander-Dauphin, presents the problem engendered by a society in which tweeting supplants action in the face of xenophobia.

Are any of your short plays included in the afternoon and evening performances?

Included as one of our seven short plays is my new play Fix It, which gives us a glimpse into one woman's anguish as she faces her impotence in a world that appears to be siphoning the life out of everything she believes in. At noon, Doug Suits will read the part of Gabe, and in the evening the same part will be read by JP (Jonathan) Perpich. The wonderful Julie Harrington will be reading the part of She in both performances.

Fourth Entry, January 15, 2017

Who else will we see onstage on January 20th?

The casts of our 7 plays represent some of the best actors in Prescott. Many in the audience have probably seen Gail Mangham in Red Hot Patriot and Tea with ZaZa at the Elks Opera House or saw her in any number of other lead roles at Sharlot Hall and Prescott Center for the Arts.

Didn't she also perform in one of your plays?

Gail has performed in many of my play readings, and she performed the role of Old Mary in my play Fred and Mary: An Unconventional Romance at the Elks Opera House in 2012. I love working with Gail.

JP (Jonathan) Perpich has performed many lead roles at Prescott Center for the Arts, including including that of the Storyteller in Dancing at Lughnasa. He played Fred Harvey in Fred and Mary, and I worked with him for years when I was on the board of the Arizona Shakespeare Festival here in Prescott. In fact, often when I'm working on a new play, I envision JP as one of the characters, and that makes it easier to create the character and see the arc of the play. I did the same thing with Gail in my play, Discovery, in which I envision her in the role of Severine Hlasak. Gail and JP were also with me for two years, reading the parts of Fred's daughter and son-in-law in Fred and Mary as I developed the script.

Are other theatres presenting readings of the plays?

Yes, three other towns are mounting readings: Los Angeles California; Galesburg, Illinois; and Bainbridge Island, Washington. However, we were the first town to sign on—little old Prescott, Arizona!

Fifth Entry, January 16, 2017

Have you ever presented plays before in response to a presidential election? If not, why now?

This is not a normal election and this is not a normal president. I truly believe that the greatest mistake we can make right now is to consider this normal. The president-elect does not understand the weight of the office he is assuming. I'm not sure he even understands our form of government. Perhaps we do need change, but we don't need the kind of change he is bringing. This is not normal. It does not represent the normal aspirations of this country's history, tradition, form of government, and Constitution; and he does not represent the goodness of the American people.

The American people are better than this. There are some exceptions. Yes. But most citizens of this country do not—on a national stage, mock and make fun of a disabled person. They help them along.

The Constitution of the United States provides for the free exercise of religion. It does not impose one religion on another. As a lifelong (with some lapses in my twenties) Christian, I have to say one more thing. This is small potatoes, but no one who has any real connection with a Christian church would ever make the mistake of referring to "One Corinthians." Believe me, I've had friends in every mainstream Christian denomination there is and in my entire life I've never heard anyone call the book "One Corinthians." That is a complete red flag that the man is not a church-goer and does not study scripture.

But I don't want to use that as my only point, and I certainly don't think a person in our highest office needs to be a Christian. It's just a crimson flag that the man pretends to be something he is not. Jesus's primary message was to care for "the least of these"—the poor, the disadvantaged, the hungry, the imprisoned, the "other." He told us, "as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." (Matthew 15:45) When we see a hungry person, a homeless person, a struggling single mother, a raped adolescent, the wounded, the disabled, the misunderstood, we are looking at Jesus. He told us that. He was inclusive. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that Jesus saw that actions were far more important than religion, societal connection, or cultural heritage. It is one's actions that count—not for whatever we mean by "salvation," for that comes solely by grace, but it is one's actions that show whether a person is acting like a Christian or not. Matthew tells us "by their fruits you shall know them." (Matthew 7:16)

Donald Trump's actions toward the disabled, toward people of Mexican heritage, toward Muslims, toward women—his assumption that his birth as a privileged white male allows him to touch a woman in any way he wishes without permission is abhorrent. His actions have been seen to be despicable and his words to be utter lies.

Forgive the aside. It is just distressing to me to see a block of supposed "Evangelicals" who claim to be followers of Jesus the Christ give their support to this man.

But back to the Constitution. (to be continued)

© All text copyright 2018 by Micki Shelton