Regrettably, I won't be able to attend the production of American Theater Company’s annual 10 x 10 Play Festival. Bright and early tomorrow morning, I'm heading to D.C. for first rehearsal of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz at Adventure Theatre. So, all good and wonderful things, but it's a busy time! I'm excited to hear how it goes and will certainly share anything that I learn. Now, as you know, I've been connecting with the wonderful playwrights being featured and decided to respond as well. In this interview, I talk about a bit what inspired me to get involved in theatre, the relevant themes of my plays, and the role of theatre as a tool for social change. Click here to learn more about the 10 x 10 Festival and I hope you enjoy!
Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
I’ve always loved theatre. I credit both my mother’s love of MGM musicals and a TYA touring production of Jack and the Beanstalk that got me hooked. I wrote plays, poems, short stories, and performed in high school. In college, I was frustrated by the lack of performance opportunities for students of color and decided to focus on playwriting in addition to screenwriting. This way, I could create roles for actors of color. This way, I could creatively channel my frustration and disappoint into action.
Next, tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write in the same place or in different places?
Yes! I find music and images that speak to the world of the play and the characters. I do a lot of research on the socio-economic and geographical politics of the characters. I also study the foodways of each character. Food teaches so much about people. Also, for 8 years, I wrote in the same place. I lived in a lovely basement apartment in D.C. and had a secretary desk. While it had lovely windows, I could make it dark as night. I’d write by candlelight. Now, I live on the 3rd floor. My desk faces a large window, which gets direct sun and moonlight. It’s a new and different energy. I have to learn what works in this new space.
Why was it important for you to be a part of American Theatre Company’s 10 x 10 Festival?
I’ve been following the incidents surrounding Ferguson closely since day one. I read everything I could find and watched the live feeds of the protest. With the Ferguson Moment, I joined the efforts of my colleagues Claudia Alick, Mica Cole, and Megan Sandberg-Zakian to support theatre artists in Ferguson and across the nation in organizing a national artistic response to all that was happening. Of course, understanding that national tragedies raise awareness around local issues, I knew it was important to create a space for dialogue in my new community. Three weeks after moving to Chapel Hill, I worked with Triangle theatre artists Jules Odendahl-James, Monet Marshall, Ana Radulescu, Jeri-Lynn Schulke, Devra Thomas, and Kathryn Hunter Williams to produce the New Black Fest’s Hands Up. In addition to the performance, we are hosting a series of town halls and will be working with members of the community to create a response to issues of social injustice and racial oppression happening right here. However, in the midst of all of this, I hadn’t created my own response until ATC asked me to take part. Through these two 5 minute plays, I was able to focus my anger, fear, and disappointment in a creative way.
Tell me about your plays. What do you hope the audience walks away thinking about after experiencing it?
My plays are called Black Lives, White Chalk and A New Sense, A New Direction. They feature two mothers; one is white and one is black. Neighbors, best friends from college, and mothers to teenaged sons, they are forced to face the harsh realities of racial difference and privilege. I hope that audience walk away encouraged to stay active, engaged and informed of these issues.
What role does theater have in advocacy work?
Theatre is a powerful tool for social justice and change. It’s a space that holds multiple truths and allows us to explore the human condition. By using theatre as a catalyst for discussion, we can create empathy, affirm experiences, raise awareness, hold folks accountable for action and inaction, and offer a way through.
What next for you as a writer? Where can we follow your work?
Well, I'm fortunate to have a few things lined up. My adaptation of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz will receive a world premiere at Adventure Theatre-MTC (April 3 to May 25). A reading of Noms de Guerre will be presented by WAM Theatre on Sunday, June 14th at 3:00pm under the direction of Tony Award nominee Jayne Atkinson. Next season, Virginia Stage Company will produce the area premiere of The Hampton Years. I’m also working on a new play, AMONG THESE WILD THINGS, which explores the intersection of art, science and religion. ou can follow me at jacquelinelawton.com
About the Playwright
JACQUELINE E. LAWTON was named one of 30 of the nation's leading black playwrights by Arena Stage’s American Voices New Play Institute. 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 (2013 semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference); Mad Breed; Noms de Guerre; and Our Man Beverly Snow. Ms. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She is a 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color award recipient, National New Play Network (NNPN) Playwright Alum, and member of Arena Stage's Playwrights' Arena. She is also a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
10 outstanding playwrights tackle race, police brutality, and community in Ferguson, New York City, and around the world. 10 inspired directors bring their work to life.
Join us on March 9 at 7:30pm for a uniquely challenging one-night-only engagement at the American Theater Company, as we are proud to present our annual short plays festival, 10x10.
Tickets are free but seats will fill up fast. To make a reservation, send us an email at ATC10x10@Gmail.com. Due to high demand, we are only able to reserve up to two seats per request.
At the door, we suggest a $10 donation to help us cover the cost of supporting the festival, though we welcome you to pay what you can.
This Year's Playwrights:
Jeff Augustin. Kristiana Rae Colón. Matthew-Lee Erlbach. Jacqueline E Lawton. Bonnie Metzgar. Dominique Morisseau. Lucas Neff. A Rey Pamatmat. Akin Salawu. Aurin Squire.
Kaiser Ahmed. Grace Cannon. Amanda Delheimer Dimond. Matt Dominguez. Azar Kazemi. Reed Motz. Hutch Pimentel. Tlaloc Rivas. Samuel Roberson. Conner Wilson.
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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!