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 7-29) presents three themed full-length plays (Mortality, Revenge, Quests), three experimental Artistic Blind Dates of created original work, and three short programs with six 10-Minute theme related plays to enjoy.
Selected from more than 500 nationwide submissions, Marine Gassier’s The Reluctant Genie of Niamey is one of the six ten-minute plays featured under the Quests theme in this year’s Source Festival 2014.
Recently moving to Washington, D.C. from France, Gassier’s play The Reluctant Genie of Niamey is not only a world premier for the production, it is also the first time the French playwright has ever written a play in English.
Why do you write, and more specifically why do you write plays?
I don’t have a single big reason, but I can tell you about a few decisive moments. When I was about 15, I went to see Antigone by Anouilh, with my grand-parents (Anouilh is a great French playwright from the first half of the 20th century – and I am French too and lived there for most of my life). It was the best thing I had ever seen. At the time I was convinced this play would change the way I was going to live my life. It is a play about not settling for anything. I think that it is also at that time that I decided I want to write plays.
The best thing about writing plays is that I get to see on stage something that was once just in my imagination. The Genie at Source Festival was the first time this was happening for me, and it felt kind of magical.
When did you consider yourself a professional playwright, or do you?
I don’t see myself as a professional playwright (or a professional anything.) I am an aspiring playwright, in the sense that I have a lot more to learn, and there are few things I want more than to figure out how to write plays that work on stage. One thing I really liked during the festival was that I got the chance to work with professionals, and to learn from them. I felt that the director working on my play (Orion Jones), as well as the actors (Jack Novak and Rasik Ohal), did an extremely good job and made the play into a lot more than it was on paper.
How disciplined are you with your writing process, and what type of music do you listen to when you write?
I write at least a short paragraph every day. That said, short paragraphs do not get me very far. Thankfully, there are periods during which I manage to be a lot more productive, and I believe that these are rewards for writing a short paragraphed daily (although believing that might be a bit superstitious). When I write, I listen to a lot of acoustic music. Making inspiring playlists is one of my favorite procrastination methods.
Source Festival Play
Describe the plot and themes of your play, The Reluctant Genie of Niamey, in this year’s Source Festival 2014.
In this play, Simon, an aging man, travels back to Niger, where he spent his youth. He is looking for a Genie he met there during his youth, as he needs a last wish. This is a play about a man struggling with the idea that he is mortal, and then struggling with the idea of immortality. It is also a play about liberation. Simon finds the Genie again, and the timing of this meeting is important, as it occurs just after West African countries gained their independence.
How did the idea and themes for this play originate? What has been your biggest challenge with this script?
I have many people around me who are constantly questioning whether they are making what they ought to of their life, and I am prone to this line of thinking too. So that is a theme I have always been interested in. The general time and place in which the story takes place is in part inspired by Romain Gary’s novel: “The Roots of Heaven.” And the idea of a Genie – I don’t know how I daydreamed it.
The biggest challenge has been coming with a satisfying ending, and I am not sure I am there yet. I mean I think that now the ending is there, but I would like to create a better build up to it.
What has been your participation with the production we will see? Are you still rewriting?
I have been able to sit in during a couple of rehearsals, which has been a great learning experience for me. Having seen the rehearsals also helped me a lot when I needed to revise the text. I wrote two drafts before submitting the play, and made more revisions during the rehearsal period. I am still rewriting the last part. It is not clear in my mind yet.
What do you like most about this script?
The play leaves a number of doors open. I wanted that because I wanted to put into it a bit of the unanswered questions we all carry with ourselves. I hope the audience can feel that a little bit. Creating characters struggling with difficult questions is a way for writers to struggle with these questions themselves. Both writing and watching plays is a way to address big nagging problems (like the question of what to do with one’s life) in a way that feels very real.
Do you have a history with the Source Festival, if so what? What do you hope the participation in this Festival will do for your career?
Two years ago I was able to catch a couple of shows at the Source festival, and I thought they were great. The Source Festival produces shows which such wonderful unpredictable stories. That is one of the reasons why I was really, really happy that my play could be in the festival this year. It has motivated me to write more, and to try and submit other pieces of writing. Seeing the other shows in the festival has also expanded my horizons and how I think about what is possible on a stage.
A Deeper Look & Inspirations
How do you feel about the disproportionate number of female playwrights consistently being programmed by theatre companies?
Any bias leads to a waste of talent. I don’t feel I am in a position to make useful suggestions regarding the gender imbalance in current programming. However, my experience in writing is that finishing a play requires overcoming a strong feeling of not being legitimate. It requires tapping into this feeling that we have as children and teenagers that anything is possible. For this reason encouraging girls and young women is very important.
What has been your biggest struggle as a writer of getting your work read and performed?
I feel I am still very much at the bottom of the learning curve, and still looking for what sounds like me (among many other things I am looking for).
This festival was the first time any of my work was professionally developed and performed. It was also one of the first times I was writing in English. I have written a number of other texts in French, and it is taking me time to consider them polished enough to submit them.
Do you have an all-time favorite play or have you seen a play recently that has captured your attention?
There are a lot of very different plays I love. I am sorry I keep listing French plays, but my move to the US is relatively recent. Le Repas des Fauves was written in the 1960s by Vahé Katcha, but recently produced in Paris, and it is has been a great inspiration. In DC, I have recently seen two great plays written by women at the Studio Theatre. Water by Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes, which has of course gotten a lot of recognition, and it is a truly wonderful poignant play. The second is Tribes, by Nina Raine, which was the best play about family I had ever seen.
What inspires you to continue to write and who are your playwriting inspirations?
I think through a lot of stories in my head and now that I know it is possible for me to figure out how to tell them on a stage, I want to keep trying to do it. For now, what seems to work for me is to use distant settings (distant in terms of time or space) to explore questions and emotions I am familiar.
I am trying to make progress in a play looking the transformation of the French police in the 1920s, just after the Great War. I am very interested in historical plays when they dive deep enough into a period to consider the alternate paths that could have been taken. That is what I want to strive to do with this play.
The Reluctant Genie of Niamey is performed as a part of the Source Festival – QUESTS: Six 10-Min Plays, which is playing on June 21, 2014 at 1:00P M , June 21, 2014 at 8:00PM, and June 25, 2014 at 6:00 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.
LINKS: The Playwright’s Playground: SOURCE Festival 2014 – Interview with Playwright A.K. Forbes on Her Play: ‘Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences.’
The Playwright’s Playground: SOURCE Festival 2014 – Interview With CJ Ehrlich on Her Play ‘Picnic on the Lake’
The Playwright’s Playground: SOURCE Festival 2014 – Interview with Playwright Susan Goodell on Her Play: ‘After Unlocking the Universe.
The Playwright’s Playground: SOURCE Festival 2014 – Interview with Playwright Elizabeth Archer on Her Play: ‘Old Gray Devil’.