Jacqueline Lawton: How long have you lived and worked as a playwright in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
Kristy Simmons: I’ve worked as a playwright in DC for three years. I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and came back in 1994 after graduating from UC-Santa Cruz. When I landed a job painting trade show sets for BET and MTV, I decided to stay because it was a well paying job in my (also) visual arts field. Over the years, I’ve found the arts communities in DC to be overflowing with rich talent from dedicated, savvy individuals. They are no strangers to what’s going on in the world at large. In both theatre and visual/performance art, DC is teeming with talent showcased by projects that stand on par with art conversations happening across the world.
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?
KS: I have been a member of several writing groups. Ernie Joselovitz’s Playwright’s Forum has been indispensable, and Marc Lapadula’s Screenwriter’s Group -- not for the faint of heart -- critiques stage plays as well. Both provide quality, professional feedback, and I recommend them frequently.
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?
KS: I’ve participated in the 2012 Source Theatre Festival. As part of the Artist Blind Date Series, I worked with artists Jimmy Garver and Sarah Ewing on FILTER, a multimedia project that combined street theatre, dance, and a voyeuristic experience. My experience was fantastic. Jenny McConnell Frederick and Patrick Magill (Producers) and the staff at Source were terrific, supportive forces of our work.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your writing?
KS: I pay the bills with a day job, which happily is copyediting and graphic art. I balance this with writing by prioritizing daily goals. If there’s a deadline, I’ll write during lunch, and, while it may look funny, will scribble on paper while working out on the treadmill. I have no time for the small annoyances of life, and any setbacks in terms of overwhelm can’t happen because my dreams are at stake. Late in the evening I’ll work on visual art as a balance to the writing. I should write a book like that best seller DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF and call it: DO SUCH BIG STUFF THAT YOU SIMPLY DON’T HAVE TIME TO SWEAT ANYTHING.
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?
KS: As an emerging playwright, my production history so far has been with Source. I’ve considered self-producing and would like to. I’ve talked with members of NAKED LADIES LUNCH, a professional networking organization of women artists in the Washington metro area, about producing member’s plays.
JL: If you could be produced at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
KS: This town is full of great theatres. As one who’s a budding playwright in the spectrum, I’d be psyched to work with Theatre J, Forum, or Spooky Action.
JL: DC audiences are ...
KS: AMAZING. Their engagement astonishes. As a playwright, I relish the opportunity to talk to them. As an usher for Theatre J, Studio Theatre, and the Folger, I talk to many of them in the lobby. They will drop your jaw with knowledge of local productions, the history of theatre, and what’s going on in New York. Each should be handed an honorary degree, pronto. FOOTLIGHTS DC is a Yahoo group of theatregoers who meet for dinner after performances to discuss plays with playwrights. Recently they invited Rachel Grossman to talk about her devised play BEERTOWN. If that’s not an engaged, artist-supportive audience, I don’t know what is!
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ..
KS: THE COOLEST PEOPLE I’VE EVER MET. They are immensely talented. IMMENSELY. Underscore. And also authentic, honest, and will engage with you. Several of DC’s actors and directors gave me indelible support in my early development. Jessica Leftow (Director and Actor), Richard Washer (Playwright and Director), Rick Foucheux (Actor), Catherine Aselford (Director and Organizer of DC SWAN Day), and Richard Heinrich (Artistic Director) all gave their amazing feedback and encouragement, and several gave me opportunities to direct or assistant direct their readings or productions.
JL: DC critics are ...
KS: DC critics are supportive of local talent. Peter Mark’s recent article “Fringe Births Talent; Now D.C. Theaters Have to Help Raise It” is good evidence. Here is the link. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/fringe-births-talent-now-dcs-theaters-have-to-help-raise-it/2012/07/29/gJQA5XWOJX_story.html He talks about how DC theatres have no mechanism for accommodating local talent, yet notes a few of the theatres that have produced them. DC Theatre Scene, an online journal, features informed criticism as well.
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?
KS: In terms of race and gender parity, Forum Theatre’s panel this year addressed the disparity nationwide between the production of men and women playwrights. Here is the link about it. http://artsamerica.org/blog/uncategorized/dcs-forum-theatre-tackles-the-question-of-gender-bias/
Theatre J explores this issue as part of their current production of Annie Baker’s BODY AWARENESS. On their Facebook page, they feature a call for submissions to answer the question: Why are women’s voices important in art? Here is the link to participate. http://washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/theater-j/on-stage/12-13-season/body-awareness/body-awareness-women.html.
Also, Strand Theatre Company and Pinky Swear Productions have missions to include more female voices, artists, and strong, engaging roles.
Another important player for gender parity is Catherine Aselford. She’s the producer of DC SWAN Day. This is part of a national event called Support Women in the Arts Day (SWAN Day). DC SWAN Day is now in its sixth year and last year Catherine raised funds and awareness with a successful Kickstarter campaign. This event featured 13 women playwrights as well as women-authored performance art at several venues. In an event at The National Museum for Women in the Arts, I was fortunate to lead a panel featuring Eleanor Holdridge (Director), Jenny McConnell Frederick (Artistic Director), and Mary Resing (Artistic Director and Playwright).
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based playwright or a playwright who has just moved to D.C.?
KS: My advice is to join the DC Playwrights Facebook group. Here you’ll find calls for submissions, online articles, and camaraderie with some really awesome writers. I’d also recommend acquainting yourself with the aesthetics of local theatres to get a feel for the ones that are best suited to your work. The best part of being a playwright here is that our vibrant community embraces the committed playwright at any level of writing ability.
JL: What's next for you as a playwright? Where can we keep up with your work?
KS: What’s next for me is to polish my current outlines and then get ready for what I often refer to as “the fall writing season”. I'll also be assistant directing Spooky Action Theatre's production of RECKLESS, come out and see it! You can keep up with me at www.kristysimmonsart.com.
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!