The Playwrights’ Arena a new play initiative developed by the American Voices New Play Institute. Centering on a small collaborative group of local playwrights dedicated to the support and development of each other’s work, the Playwrights’ Arena, facilitated by Director of Artistic Programming David Snider at Arena Stage, will meet throughout the year to investigate each other’s work and develop dramaturgical practice as playwrights while creating new work.
In Part 1 of our interviews with the six local playwrights who are members of Arena Stage’s The Playwrights’ Arena, meet Jacqueline E. Lawton.
Joel: What or who first inspired you to become a playwright? And why?
Growing up, I always loved writing plays and poems and short stories. I did so mostly to entertain my little sister, but also to escape poverty and racism. Life was a little less harsh and vastly more entertaining in my imagination. I even wrote a passionate novella when I was eighteen. My sister found it a few years ago amongst some other long ago lost treasures and gave it to me. It’s a good thing she did, because my father no doubt would’ve had it published in the local newspaper by now! But I was inspired to become a playwright, as in earn an MFA and make a profession out it, by my former professors Amparo Garcia Crow, Ruth Margraff, Omi Olono Osun, and Jill Dolan. These women are brilliant scholars, extraordinary artists, and passionate advocates for gender parity, racial equity, and social justice. They believed in me and my voice as a writer, and showed me that I could do great good in this world from my work. As a playwright, I could address issues that mattered to me and also write parts for women and men of color, which were sorely lacking in the cannon of plays being taught.
Now, tell me about your play being featured in Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena Showcase?
Ultimately, Noms de Guerre is a play about war and its impact on the lives of soldiers and their families. I spoke about the play at some length here on Arena Stage’s blog, but here’s the synopsis to further pique your interest: Noms de Guerre is a haunting, lyrical and passionate story of friendship, love and politics. Attorney General Mira Hamilton is a rising star in the Republican Party, whose campaign against women’s reproductive rights puts her at odds with her long-time best friend, Jude, an award-winning, truth-seeking Broadcast Journalist. At home, Mira struggles to run a campaign for Governor and help her war hero husband, Douglas—a former Marine Gunnery Sergeant and member of JSOC, who battles terror-fueled delusions and flashbacks, adjust to civilian life. When Jude discovers that Douglas is linked to a massacre of Afghan civilians, Mira is thrown into a whirlwind of political intrigue and must decide whether to hold on to her career or save her husband.
What do you hope audiences will walk away thinking about after experiencing your work?
With this play, I’m addressing three big ideas in deeply personal and intimate ways: (1.) the ever-changing role of women in society, (2.) the impact of government and military policy on human rights, and (3.) the damaging impact of PTSD on veterans and their family. I hope folks become more aware of these issues and consider how they resonate in their own lives.
How has being a part of Playwrights’ Arena helped you as a playwright?
Having the support of Arena Stage, David Snider, and Jocelyn Clarke has been wonderful. It’s been empowering to be a part of an intimate group of playwrights. Interestingly, being a part of this group reminded me of how much I love working with playwrights and why I love being a dramaturg so much. For the past few years, I’ve shifted my focus away from dramaturgy in order to focus on the growth and development of my own plays. Honestly, I miss it and was so glad to be asked to serve as dramaturg on browsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee, which will receive a world premiere production as part of Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New Plays.
What did you learn about your writing process?
I became more aware that my writing rituals are rooted in discipline. They are as meditative and focus-driven as they are inspirational and process driven. Also, I became even more aware of how important solitude is for me. As lovely and inspiring as it was to meet regularly, I would not have written this play without time away from our meetings. Also, that I rely heavily on my dramaturg for process and can only take a play so far before needing to hear it read aloud with actors. What’s great is that Playwrights Arena allowed for all of this to take place.
What else are you working on now?
I’m working on an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz for Adventure Theatre MTC next season and a ten minute Biblical feminist play about Miriam and Tzipora for Theatre Ariel to be featured at the Women’s Shabbat at Germantown Jewish Center in April and again at Salon Ariel’s 10×8: Food, Family and Philosophy Festival in Mary. I’m also working rewrites of The Hampton Years ahead of a reading in Miami later this year and a new full-length play, Among These Wild Things, which revolves around an interfaith/interracial couple, Nigel and Lee. When Nigel loses his beloved grandfather and learns more about the lengths his family went through to survive the Holocaust, Lee struggles to negotiate the introduction of religion into her life. It’s still in the early dream stages, but I’m so excited to get started on it.
JACQUELINE E. LAWTON received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: the African Roscius; Lions of Industry, Mothers of Invention; Love Brothers Serenade; Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Adventure Theatre-MTC, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre, Theatre Ariel, and Theater J. Her play, Cinder Blocks, was published in Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic: Art, Activism, Academia, and the Austin Project (University of Texas Press). A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center.
‘The Playwright’s Playground Series’: Jacqueline E. Lawton Part 1 by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins on DCMetroTheaterArts.
‘The Playwright’s Playground Series’: Jacqueline E. Lawton Part 2 by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins on DCMetroTheaterArts.
‘The Playwright’s Playground Series’: Jacqueline E. Lawton Part 3 by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Jacqueline E. Lawton’s website.