The Playwright’s Playground: SOURCE Festival 2014 – Interview with Playwright A.K. Forbes on Her Play: ‘Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences’

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The Playwright’s Playground is a monthly in-depth conversation with a local female playwright in the D.C. theatre community. Female theatre artists make up more than 50 percent of those involved in the theatre, yet the number of female playwrights being produced is dramatically lower. In this continuing Series, I will interview and introduce DCMTA readers to the many talented playwrights in the DMV area to learn about their writing process, their inspirations, and their motivations and struggles to write and produce their art.

In this special edition, I am overjoyed to feature the ten female playwrights of Source Festival 2014.  Led by the Artistic Direction of Jenny McConnell Frederick, Source Festival 2014 is a three-week performing arts project of CulturalDC that cultivates new work in a nurturing environment and spotlights the witty, incisive, and thought-provoking writing from today’s emerging American playwrights.  Building the path for the next generation of outstanding performing artists, The Source Theatre Festival (June 7th-29th) presents three themed full-length plays (Mortality, Revenge, Quests), three experimental Artistic Blind Dates of created original work, and three thematically grouped programs with six 10-Minute related plays to enjoy.

A.K. (Angela) Forbes

 Angela (A.K.) Forbes.
Angela (A.K.) Forbes.

Selected from more than 500 nationwide submissions, A.K. Forbes’ play Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequencesis one of the six ten-minute plays featured under the Revenge theme in this year’s Source Festival 2014.

A.K. Forbes writes and designs promotional material for the University of Cincinnati and in her spare time writes plays “because it’s cheaper than therapy.” The Source Festival is the staged premiere for Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences.

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Sydney-Chanele:  Why do you write, and more specifically why do you write plays?

A.K.: I have always been a writer. When I was a young girl, I spent a lot of time writing stories instead of paying attention in math class. Maybe that’s ‘why’ I still can’t balance my checking account. I evolved to writing plays fairly recently, although in hindsight it seems predestined. I’ve been a community theatre actor for many years, so I’ve read and studied many plays. In a very general sense, I’m attracted to the idea of entertaining -when I wasn’t writing stories in math class I was sticking pencils up my nose (Because it’s funny!)  Perhaps the ‘why’ of playwriting centers around my limitations. I’m not very good at writing descriptions. With a play you can get away with “a living room represented by a sofa” and let the rest be the director’s or set designer’s problem.

Do you have a writing process?  How disciplined are you about writing every day?

I work 40 hours per week for “real money.” Part of my job is to write promotional material. In other words, I write junk mail. So that’s my excuse for not writing plays every day.  When I do write it’s often during my lunch hour, sitting in the corner of some pretentious vegan café. (Because that’s the law.)

Source Festival Play

What is the plot of your play in the Source Festival? Introduce the characters.

My play is called Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences.  It’s set in an alternative reality in which aliens have taken over the world. The characters are Karma, a woman scorned, and Bill, an eternal optimist. The action takes place in the waiting room of the aliens’ reproductive experiments laboratory where Bill discovers that Karma has strapped a suicide bomb to her chest. You know that old chestnut. The primary theme is revenge but there are underlying themes of mortality, courage and hover boards.

What was your biggest challenge with this script?  How did you come up with the idea for it?

The biggest challenge was to make the character of Bill less whiney. I wanted to punch him in the face a couple of times. In a 10-minute script I think that’s the recurring challenge. How do you make characters three-dimensional without losing focus?

The idea for Collateral Damage was typical of how I generally begin a piece. I had some vague thought about an imagined situation and I just wrote. My process is informed by the best advice I ever got – “Don’t think. Just write.” It frees me to let the characters live and do what they want to do. The time for thinking comes later, in the editing and rewriting. The best advice I ever got about editing actually came from an art teacher — “Don’t let any segment become sacred.” He was talking about a segment of the canvas, but it works for writing as well. If sections of dialogue or a character or a plot point aren’t working, it doesn’t matter how much you love it or thought it would work. You’ve got to have the courage to “paint over it.”

How many drafts went into what we will see on stage, and are you still rewriting?

This one went through many drafts. I estimate at least 10, but probably only two or three were significant revisions. At one point there were four characters, including a preppy couple with a miniature dog in tow. Obviously, I had to kill them. With some plays, I know when I’m finished. This one feels close but I won’t rule out another rewrite.

Nadia Mohebban and Erik Harrison in 'Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences.' Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Nadia Mohebban and Erik Harrison in ‘Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

What do you like most about this script and has it ever been performed on stage before?

What appeals to me most in this script is what appeals to me in plays generally – a quick turn from comedy to a dramatic moment and back again.  Definitely an acting challenge.  Even more so in a 10-minute piece. (Good luck with that one!)

It’s never been performed.  When I see the production, it will be for the first time.  It’s very exciting

A Deeper Look & Inspirations

How do you feel about the disproportionate number of female playwrights consistently being programmed by theatre companies?

I’m not sure what to think. Is it subconscious bias or systemic exclusion? At this point, I’ve got a long way to go to even reach the glass ceiling, much less break it. I made the decision to adopt “A. K.” as a writing pseudonym in part to make my gender a non issue (and in part so that my parents wouldn’t be mortified by my play about a glow-in-the-dark dildo). I suppose on some level I anticipate a degree of unfairness, but I hope that I’ll be proven wrong.

What has been the biggest struggle for you as a writer getting your work read and performed?  How have you been able to get your work produced?

Theaters and artistic directors are understandably reluctant to take risks on new works. Since my work isn’t published (yet), I’ve been able to get some of my plays produced by offering them for very low royalty payments. And opportunities like Source Festival are invaluable. I’m extremely grateful.

What is your all-time favorite play?  Who is your favorite living female playwright that you’d recommend to others, or would like to see performed in the DC area?

I can’t even pick a favorite color!  If I can name a few, the list would include musicals (even though I can’t write one). I absolutely love Next to Normal and Parade. And I almost never miss a chance to see Little Shop of Horrors. Also, August: Osage County, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Hamlet and Over the Tavern. If I have to name a favorite living female playwright it would be Beth Henley and I’d recommend Miss Firecracker Contest as one that’s not produced as often as Crimes of the Heart.

What inspires you to continue, and who are your playwriting inspirations?

I idolize Tina Fey. But who doesn’t? At the risk of providing a very un-hip and perhaps un-cerebral answer, I very much admire the work of Neil Simon. I’m particularly attracted to comedies with poignant or tragic elements, as well as plays that are deceptively accessible. I think a play at its heart should entertain. It’s wonderful to make an audience think, feel or reflect. But if it feels like work to them I think you’ve failed to make a very good play. You may have created a beautiful piece of literature, but that doesn’t always translate to a good play.

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Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences is performed as a part of the Source Festival – REVENGE: Six 10-Min Plays, which is playing on June 20, 2014 at 4:00 PM and June 28, 2014 at 4:00 PM, at THE SOURCE THEATRE FESTIVAL 2014  (June 7-June 29, 2014) at Source– 1835 14th Street. NW, in Washington, D.C.  For tickets, call OvationTix customer service toll-free: 866-811-4111, or purchase them online. Source is located 2 Blocks from U Street/Cardozo Metro Station on the Yellow & Green Lines.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]