Interviews with Cohesion Playwrights Fellows, Part 1 of 2: Jen Diamond, Playwright of ‘Porn: A Love Story’

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After its award-winning Trans* Voices Workshop Series in Season 2, Cohesion Theatre Company (Cohesion) introduced a Playwrights Fellowship for Season 3. Cohesion’s Playwrights Fellowship aims “to provide comprehensive development opportunities for new and existing local playwrights to create new, full-length works for the stage.” The playwrights who were chosen to participate were each assigned a director to work with them throughout the process. The playwrights submitted drafts, had readings with their casts, and got feedback over the course of the season. At the end of the process, each play had three workshop performances – staged with a full cast, a set, costumes, etc. – after which talkbacks were held. Audiences were encouraged to provide feedback to the director, cast, and playwright.

Cohesion Playwrights Fellow Jen Diamond’s play, Porn: A Love Story, received its public showing the weekend of April 7-9, 2017. Diamond agreed to share her thoughts about the experience with DCMTA.

Cohesion Playwrights Fellow Jen Diamond. Photo courtesy of artist’s FaceBook.

Patricia: Please introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Jen Diamond. I am a Baltimore-based playwright and comedian. I’ve written plays that have mostly been produced around Boston and Baltimore (I used to live in Boston), and I am one-half of the comedy-duo, OLGA. I am the proud owner of a dog named Lola and a cat named Zucchini.

Jen: How was your play brought to Cohesive Theatre’s attention?

This play was developed with the amazing Cohesion Theatre Company as part of their Playwrights’ Fellowship. I applied for the fellowship with a writing sample and a proposal for this play. At the time, Porn was just a few disconnected bits of dialogue and characters. I just knew I wanted to write about content moderation and the way people grow up, suddenly.

When did you first realize you wanted to become a playwright?

I always loved writing. Mostly short stories and poetry, until I had a 10-minute play produced as part of my high school’s “Playwrights’ Festival” in 2010. That play went on to be produced as part of the Boston Theatre Marathon and around then I think I was pretty sold. I studied writing in college – again, mostly fiction and poetry – but realized that nothing replaced the collaborative nature of playwriting. I love that with a play, a writer creates the script, and then directors and actors pick it up and interpret it and bring it to visual realization. It isn’t written, and then read by readers quietly, in the dark of spooky night, all alone. Seeing and making theatre is a communal experience. I also just love theatre generally – as an audience member and performer – so playwriting is a natural hybrid of my interests.

Is this the first full-length play you’ve written?

This is not the first full-length play I’ve written. I have one other full length called Here We Are, which is about an Amelia Earhart-esque character. The Interrobang Theatre will be holding a reading of it in June.

How long did it take you to complete the script (to this point)?

I have been working on this script in earnest since mid-October 2016, a few months after I received the acceptance to the Cohesion Theatre Playwrights’ Fellowship. I’ve been thinking about the idea since late 2014, when an article in Wired came out called The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed. I highly recommend it.

What was the inspiration for writing Porn: A Love Story?

The direct inspiration came from the Wired article called The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed. The whole idea of content moderation fascinated me – the way the job can affect people’s mental health and change the way they interact with the world. It felt like a perfect framing for a coming-of-age story. Content moderation forces people to grow up. The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire talks about using his greatest fears for inspiration when he writes plays. When I started writing this play, I thought about what I am most afraid of: growing up, overwhelming responsibility and decisions, my parents dying, finding myself in over my head. That is what this play is about.

What are some of the themes in Porn: A Love Story?

This is my take on a coming-of-age story. I tried to tie in themes of change – specifically, being forced to change. It’s about loss of innocence: for Alice, when her father dies and she finds out she’s pregnant; Lola as she discovers her own sexuality; Carmen as she realizes she cannot control the world around her; the Boss when the robots take over and he has to face the fact that he is complicit in a destructive system; etc. It’s about the obsession people have with controlling the world around them, and the fact that attempting to create order and manage everything is usually more harmful than helpful.

How has working with Cohesion’s Playwrights Fellowship been? What do you get as a Fellow that is particularly helpful?

The Playwrights’ Fellowship is a season-long experience. I received the fellowship acceptance in the summer of 2016, and my work with Cohesion can continue on through the end of the 2016/2017 season. This has been an amazing experience to have the chance to see the script on its feet while still making edits. Reading my own dialogue out loud to myself is very different from hearing actors say it. They’re much better at it than me. Listening to the actors’ and director’s questions about the characters and script also helped me understand places where the script worked and didn’t work. It’s very rare for a playwright to have such a robust collaborative opportunity during the development process. Also, I tend to be bad at being productive without deadlines. Thank you, Cohesion, for holding me to deadlines.

What has been most fulfilling for you during this process?

Working with Cohesion has been an incredibly fulfilling thing. Having the opportunity to work with these wonderful artists and build relationships within the theatre community of Baltimore is really important to me.

What have been your most challenging moments during the rehearsal process?

The most challenging moment for me was just the super sped up timeline. On the one hand, having this writing process move so quickly allowed me to just write without second and third guessing myself. On the other hand, I would have loved more time to edit once the actors began working with the script. There are a lot of changes I know need to be made, but just didn’t have the time to make them before an audience saw this workshop production.

What have you learned about yourself as a playwright during this process?

I am really excited about collaborative work. I used to act somewhat regularly, and since focusing more on comedy and playwriting, I’ve missed the group dynamic that comes with acting or directing a play. This fellowship embedded the playwriting process into the production timeline, which was wonderful.

What, if any, changes have you make to the script since you started rehearsals?

I’ve cut a few monologues and basically rewrote Elliot’s character. Hearing Utkarsh’s wonderful interpretation of that character helped shape what Elliot ended up becoming. The Person/Internet character also got some major rewrites after hearing Frank read him out loud and realizing the inconsistencies. Frank is a wonderful father-figure in this play, and the character was built around his ability to do that.

What do you hope the actors will learn during this experience?

Mostly, I just hope that the actors had a good time working on this script and that I didn’t drive them crazy with rewrites.

What do you hope the audiences will have taken away after having seen it?

In an ideal world, the audience would see this play and feel a feeling like, “I want to go home, but I am already home.” I feel that sometimes and that is how I experience the sensation of Growing Up.

What’s next for Porn: A Love Story? For you?

I have a lot of rewrites in the works for Porn: A Love Story. A fair amount will get cut down, condensed, and/or rewritten. I think the title may change to better reflect what sort of play the audience is dealing with. I hope to have another (private) reading of the edited script with this cast. For me, I have a reading of my other full length play – Here We Are – coming up at the Interrobang Theatre on Saturday, June 24th. In the meantime, I’ll be writing and working and submitting and hanging out with my dog.

LINK:

Interviews with Cohesion Playwrights Fellows, Part 2 of 2: Utkarsh Rajawat, Playwright of ‘Here Be Dragons’

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