HEATHER J. VIOLANTI is a dramaturg and playwright. She currently works in Dramaturgy and Development for the Mint Theater, an Off-Broadway Theater devoted to bringing new life to lost plays. At the Mint, Heather has dramaturged productions of Love Goes to Press, Temporal Powers, A Little Journey (nominated for a Drama Desk for Outstanding Revival) and Susan and God. As a new play development dramaturg, Heather has worked with playwrights Leslie Kramer, Ethan Sandler, Pia Wilson, Beverly Andrews, and Maureen McManus. As a playwright, Heather’s work has been developed by New Perspectives Theatre Company, terraNova Collective and MusicalFare Theatre. She has an MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from Yale School of Drama.
Also, I had the opportunity to speak with Heather about working with the History Matters/Back to the Future Steering Committee and their efforts to bring this great event to DC. Enjoy!
Interview with History Matters/Back to the Future Dramaturg: Heather Violante
Heather Violanti: Contemporary artists and audiences can be inspired by each of these plays and their authors—each play tells a compelling story and packs a powerful message. Angelina Weld Grimké responded to the bigotry of Birth of a Nation by writing Rachel, a powerful anti-lynching play that was performed by schools and little theatres across the country. Each playwright overcame incredible odds to write plays and have them produced. When Broadway producers turned down Trouble in Mind, Alice Chidress’s piquant comedy about an African-American actress cast in a “progressive” play that turns out to be anything but progressive—Chidress had it produced Off-Broadway at the Greenwich Mews Theatre. Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress uses satiric humor to tackle racism in American theatre in a way that predicts Meet Vera Stark by Lynn Nottage…it would be great to see these plays in rep today.
JL: The selected scenes are really wonderful and from a body of plays that are rich, diverse, and compelling. Really, these women are exceptional writers! If you had to pick a favorite which would it be and why?
HV: It’s hard to pick a favorite—I love them all! My favorite is Trouble in Mind because it’s so heartbreaking and devastatingly funny all at once—I wish I had seen the recent D.C. production.
JL: Why is important to have as many plays studied, commissioned and produced by women as there are by men?
HV: Women are over half the world’s population—if you don’t have plays by women, you miss half the world’s story—that’s something pointed out by Melody Brooks, Artistic Director at New Perspectives Theatre, where I am a member of the Women’s Work Lab. We don’t get the whole picture without women—and women’s plays can offer a distinct point of view that might get overlooked. Take Plumes by Georgia Douglas Johnson—it begins with two women in a kitchen, sewing—a domestic scene rife with precise details that bring home the despair and poverty of the characters—and their smalltalk quickly reveals the life and death struggle at stake.
JL: Why do you think gender parity remains such a struggle in this country?
HV: I think it’s hard to break the centuries old “old boys’ network”—and to break the mistaken perception that plays by women just aren’t as good or interesting.
JL: What advice do you have for young feminist artists?
HV: Be assertive in making your art, put yourself and your work forward, and don’t be afraid. Don’t compromise your artistic vision—if you have a big, bold idea, go for it!
Then, after teaching at the Smithsonian Associates summer camp, I'll be heading over to Dupont for a dinner and drinks with few fabulous DC women and then we're cabbing it over to Georgetown! It really doesn't get much better than this!