Jacqueline Lawton: How long have you lived and worked as a playwright in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
Carmen Wong: I arrived 8 years ago almost to the day and founded banished? productions shortly after. It was after the summer I graduated: I got an internship in DC for the fall and it certainly helped that my best friend already lived here working as a fellow at ArenaStage. DC has grown with (not on) me. Just as soon as I was ready to flee (about 3 years in), a new wave of energy came through and made my job as play-maker (I shy from the term ‘playwright’ since I feel you lot do such a marvelously different job!) a lot more stimulating.
JL: Have you ever been a member of a DC area playwrights writing group? If so, did you find it useful? Would you recommend that other playwrights join them?
CW: No, I've never been a part of a writing group.
JL: In DC, we have the Capital Fringe Festival, the Intersections Festival, the Source Theatre Festival, the Kennedy Center's Page-to-Stage Festival, the Black Theater Festival, and the Hip Hop Theatre Festival. We also have the Mead Lab at Flashpoint Theater Lab Program. Have you participated in any of these? If so, can you speak about your experience?
CW: I directed a Page-2-Stage reading back in 2005, much of which details I have forgotten. Banished? has participated in the Fringe since its inception in 2006. I’ve written a blog post for HowlRound called, Figuring the Fringe, which gives you an idea of the experience.
I must say that as an artist, I never felt more supported than in my involvement with CulturalDC. Last year they accepted two of my works for their Mead Theatre Lab and Flashpoint Gallery programs (“Into the Dollhouse” and “Tactile Dinner Car” respectively) and that was a vindicating moment to have our work acknowledged as relevant and truly boundary-crossing. Both programs have a great mentorship element and work closely with artists to prep them for public speaking, something quite helpful for me since my nature is to stay behind the limelight. That same year I was asked to direct a 10-minute play by Juanita Rockwell as the Source Festival as well, and we’ve been happily collaborating since!
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your writing?
CW: I just started part-time work with a mediation and conflict resolution non-profit and I sometimes still work with the farmers’ market, which I’d been working with (as an EBT coordinator, interfacing with food stamp users at market) for the last 3 seasons. These jobs actually keep me sane, grounded, and nourished. They sometimes even provide content for some of the pieces I do, as well as urge me to talk about my work to a wide audience of people not from an arts or theatre background. Also, I’m the sort of person that needs many plates spinning in order to work well and effectively, so this helps with the balance.
JL: How many plays have you had produced in the DC area? Were any of these plays self-produced? If so, where and what did you learn from that experience?
CW: Most all our dozen full works in DC have been self-produced, and many of our small projects are either commissioned or collaboratively created. The exceptions are the pieces with CulturalDC, which were co-produced in the fullest sense, and two or three were collaboratively created and produced with local theatre artists and companies (Happenstance Theatre for one).
In Helsinki (where I’m writing this now and currently working on a piece), I am working with an amazing team of both professionals and semi-professionals that task-forces all the work. So I am able to create in a very singularly-focused manner. The projects created there usually only get a one-day showing (with multiple performances) but are really strong pieces that I learn so much from. My process has been strengthened, and my ideas have expanded in terms of project-conceptualization (which requires honing of instinct and intuition) and producing (in a way that can be very fun/creative, and less obsessive on my part).
JL: If you could be produced at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
CW: I find this question intensely difficult as I have more my eye on spaces/sites than the production element of having my piece open to the public. I would say I have my eye on making a piece on the ArenaStage terrace, and another piece in random parts within the common areas of Woolly Mammoth.
JL: DC audiences are ...
CW: The best challenge and resource I have.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ...
CW: I have worked so much outside the zone (working with non-actors, dancers, and designers/artists) that I only have recently got to know the insider DC theatre scene a little better and as in any place, a little clique-ish but just lovely.
JL: DC critics are ...
CW: Getting to know us and we, them
JL: How do you feel the DC theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity ? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to get your work produced on the main stages?
CW: This is a pretty loaded potato. Perhaps because banished? has just forged its own path, I can be quite blind to some of these issues and how/whether it has impacted me. I think there could be more inter-everything collaboration and I’m definitely interested in trying to work it out in some of the decisions I make for the company.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based playwright or a playwright who has just moved to D.C.?
CW: Keep working, keep your eyes open to possibilities and never be afraid to take risks. Go to lots of things, free museums, weird events, see it all.
JL: What's next for you as a playwright? Where can we keep up with your work?
CW: I am currently producing a modest piece in Helsinki called “Dinner for the Forgotten”, it is about eating to remember the people we have left behind or to leave the past be. That will open this Saturday, working with the same amazing team that co-created last year’s “Tactile Taste of Helsinki”.
Then its back to DC and hitting the ground running with the Dupont Circle version of “The Circle” by Juanita Rockwell, which launches Wed, Sept 26 (with a Happy Hour event at Dolcezza gelato from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, please join us!) and has shows on: Sat 9/29, Sat 10/6 and Sun 10/7 at 6:00pm and 7:00pm each day.
Next up we have a piece with CulturalDC on installation at (e)merge art fair at the Skyline Hotel. The piece will be on view:
Thu 10/4 @7:00pm – 9:00pm
Fri 10/5 @12:00pm – 7:00pm
Sat 10/6 @12:00pm – 7:00pm
Sun 10/7 @12:00pm – 5:00pm
Then we will stage Into the Dollhouse at a secret location in November before Thanksgiving, so look out for that!
We also have a lot of little events and social gatherings where we celebrate the people who volunteer or work with us, and we’re planning a fundraising Holiday party with a twist (when do we not twist?). All are welcome! Get details from our FB page!
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!