Jacqueline Lawton: How long have you lived and worked as a playwright in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
Nicole Jost: I’m a DC native. I grew up in Tenleytown, went to DC public schools, and came back to live here after going away for college. I love this city. It has everything that New York has, but less of it. I’ll gladly take fewer restaurants, theaters and museums for less trash, noise and over-crowding. (Plus, more trees!) I’ve haven’t been focused on writing plays for that long though, maybe five or six years. I consider myself an early career playwright.
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?
NJ: I belong to the DC-Area Playwrights group on Facebook, but I’ve never joined a group that meets face to face. Like a lot of others, I find the Facebook group very helpful. I prefer a loose association of virtual colleagues to something more formal, for now. I would strongly recommend that any DC-based playwright join the group.
JL: In DC, we have the Capital Fringe Festival, the Intersections Festival, the Source 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?
NJ: I have never participated in any of those festivals as an individual playwright. I did serve as a “scripterer” in an ensemble-created performance with dog & pony dc called Bare Breasted Women Sword Fighting, which was part of Fringe in 2009. I also participated in the DC Queer Theatre Festival in May. It was great to be featured alongside other local writers, and to be exposed to their work. I met some fantastic artists that I might not have run into otherwise, which is so important.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your writing?
NJ: I’m one of the lucky theater artists whose “day job” is actually in the field of theater. I’m the Associate Artistic Director of Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT). We use playwriting as a tool to help students improve their literacy skills and self-confidence. It’s very rewarding work. It’s important to me to dedicate my time to making a positive impact in the community, and even better that I get to use my art to do that. The nature of my work helps keep my writing muscles in shape. Creating curricula, working with a student on her play, reading a pile of scripts, these are all things that stimulate my creativity. It feeds my writing.
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?
NJ: I have never enjoyed a full production of one of my plays. In addition to my experience with the DC Queer Theatre Festival (which was a reading), I also participated in The Inkwell’s “Evening of Inklings” this spring. I learned a lot from The Inkwell’s process. They’re a company that I really admire. We had a very limited amount of rehearsal time, but they still gave space for each playwright to talk about their work and for each dramaturge to ask questions of the playwright. That’s so important for a new play, and I love that they understand that.
JL: If you could be produced at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
NJ: That’s a tough question! There are so many amazing people and companies I’d love to work with – Rorschach and Forum come to mind for sure. But if I had to pick only one theater, I’d pick Woolly. I’ve been an audience member since I was a teenager, and I’ve come to associate their productions with the kind of risk-taking that I strive for in my writing. Plus, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Kimberly Gilbert groupie, and she’s a company member…
JL: DC audiences are ...
NJ: I don’t know if I can generalize! There are so many different kinds of theater to see here, I feel like each style has its own group of devotees, which is pretty cool.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ..
NJ: Dedicated. Adventurous.
JL: DC critics are ...
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?
NJ: I know a lot of very intelligent artists have put a lot of time and effort into this issue. I do see progress when you compare what’s onstage these days versus a few years ago. I can’t really think about this issue without thinking about who gets to be in the audience. Access to the work is so important. Theater-going shouldn’t be a privilege reserved only for the elite. I think what’s onstage and who’s watching are two issues that feed into one another, because both issues have to do with what communities are being represented (and who’s left out). In terms of my own work, I see the underrepresentation of the LGBT community onstage as a big challenge. The protagonist of my play The Terror Fantastic is a butch lesbian, and it has been difficult to find an actress who understands the nuance of butch gender expression. There’s a preference for femme women onstage that needs to be confronted.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based playwright or a playwright who has just moved to D.C.?
NJ: Participate in local theater in whatever way you can. I can’t tell you how many awesome people I met volunteering, directing, doing outreach. Find a company you like and ask how you can help. And see a lot of shows.
JL: What's next for you as a playwright? Where can we keep up with your work?
NJ: I’m building a play using memories from the dream world. I have a site set up where anyone can submit a dream to me. It’s been truly amazing what people have shared, which I’m sure is due in part to the anonymity of the internet. You can learn more and Donate a Dream as well! I’m on Facebook and Twitter (walkunafraiddc). You can learn more about Young Playwrights' Theater’s work (we have an awesome season of always-free shows this year!) at www.yptdc.org.
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!