JL: How long have you lived and worked as a playwright in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
MHS: I first starting writing plays for the Kennedy Center's Theatre for Young Audiences in 1986. (I'm old.) While still living in California in the early 80s, my theatre there had been presented by the Kennedy Center for several seasons and then I had been invited to guest direct/write plays for the Kennedy Center's new series for young audiences. On my "guest" times here, I'd become aware of the growing/vibrant theatre scene (and that was the 80s.) So when looking for an east coast town to relocate to, DC won. I've stayed because of the immense diversity of opportunities for me as a playwright (as well as director/producer/teaching artist).
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?
MHS: Playwright's Forum was extremely valuable to me as a playwright (and director) when I first came to town. It was a wonderful forum for trying out new work as a playwright and for sharpening my skills as a director of new work. Most importantly, I made a group of friends among other writers that gave me a sense of belonging when I first arrived. I would recommend Playwright's Forum for new writers to the area, especially.
JL: In DC, we have the Capital Fringe Festival, the Intersections Festival, the Source Theatre Festival, the Kennedy Center's Page-to-StageFestival, 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?
MHS: Well... I'm the artistic director of INTERSECTIONS: A New America Arts Festival, so I hope other playwrights have positive things to say about it :) I've had work (for several years running) in the Page-to-Stage Festival and found the development opportunity extremely helpful. I've also participated in the First Light Festival at Theatre of the First Amendment and the Kennedy Center's New Visions/New Voices program. Both provided local and national input at important stages of the writing process.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your writing?
MHS: I am thankful that I have always supported myself through the theatre, through a diverse approach of writing, directing, producing and teaching. I do find it hard to keep up the daily writing practice that I love when involved in other aspects of my work. But I choose not to see them as competitions to the writing, but all part of one big approach to how I live and work in the world.
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?
MHS: I had a long and productive relationship with Theatre of the First Amendment, which commissioned me (and my composer/Collaborator) David Maddox to write six musicals that they produced over eight years. This is a playwright's dream, I know. I learned that having an artistic home gave me both the support and the space to realize work that I hold up as some of my best ever. (We won Helen Hayes Awards, produced national-award winning cast albums.) I've also been commissioned by the Round House Theatre to adapt/direct "Alice", an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, by the Folger Theatre to adapt/direct "The Second Shepherd's Play", and by the National Gallery of Art to write/direct two projects inspired by visual art -- Edward Hoppers (in 2007) and Roy Lichtenstein's (in 2012.) I've also written plays produced by Imagination Stage, Adventure Theatre and over 15 plays produced at the Kennedy Center.
JL: If you could be produced at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
MHS: Of course, I would love it if some of the larger institutions (Arena, Shakespeare Theatre Company) took a genuine interest in theatre for families (my speciality). But I am happy with the forums I have, and of course, am always eager for more. I take special delight in working with "non-theatres", like the National Gallery and the National Symphony Orchestra.
JL: DC audiences are ...
MHS: ... adventurous to a point.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ...
MHS: ... among the best I've worked with. I have a twelve year relationship with my set and lighting designer. Nothing better.
JL: DC critics are ...
MHS: ... to be believed when they say you are wonderful and to be ignored when they say you are not.
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?
MHS: With my festival, INTERSECTIONS, I am making big efforts to create equal room at the table. Personally, I've not felt kept out of the pool by being a woman. More for being an artist who creates intergenerational work. But I don't carry that chip on my shoulder. I soldier-on and do the work.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based playwright or a playwright who has just moved to D.C.?
MHS: Join a playwright's group. Go see lots of theatre. Self-produce. Meet people. Write, Write, write.
JL: What's next for you as a playwright? Where can we keep up with your work?
MHS: My latest play, FRAMED!, inspired by the work of Roy Lichtenstein, will open at the National Gallery of Art on Nov 3. My musical, Sing Down the Moon, one of the pieces commissioned by Theatre of the First Amendment, will be produced under my direction at INTERSECTIONS in Feb/March 2013.
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!