I don’t know how many opportunities ask for this mundane announcement of why I write plays, as if I’ve ever had any doubts about why I do what I do. Most of the time I just want to answer in all caps: I WRITE PLAYS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I LOVE TO DO AND IT GIVES ME GREAT SATISFACTION. IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, PLEASE READ MY WORK. IT LITERALLY SPEAKS FOR ITSELF. 'CAUSE IT'S A PLAY. GET IT? THANK YOU. AND HAVE A NICE DAY.
But wait! There's more! Because often the company wants to know some other vague qualifying information, like, “How do you consider yourself an under-represented voice?”
Of course, my “type” is not under-represented. White males are far, far too often showcased. We’ve literally, and unfairly, dominated playwriting since Oedipus was hooking up with his mom. But here's the one caveat: None of those other white dudes were from West Virginia. And almost all of them are dead. So I am an under-represented voice. Somewhat.
And sometimes... I get spicy in my Artistic Statements, and I write something like this:
There are only five Dramatists Guild members in all of West Virginia, the state where I was born and raised, and where I still reside. That means there are only five playwrights (maybe ten non-members) writing plays on behalf of a million and a half residents. Coincidentally, there are about as many people living in the city of Pittsburgh and its outlying suburbs as there are in West Virginia. But Pittsburgh, which is only a medium-sized city, has well over a hundred Dramatists Guild members. That’s twenty times the amount of representation for a much smaller, less geographically diverse region. As such, it’s not hard to imagine why Appalachians aren’t heard. Our stories are not getting told outside of our hollows and hills.
Unless, of course, a writer or playwright from a major city deigns one of our plights – like the recent heroin epidemic -- worthy of their time. Then, he or she travels to our beautiful state, (bravely!) interviews a few locals in the most remote or deplorable town possible, and quickly returns back to his or her safe world to write a lucrative commission, which was inevitably given to write a play about people who are “marginalized.”
What this really amounts to, though, is extraction. Just like the coal in our hills has been stolen by barons and multi-national corporations, our stories are taken and sold to the highest bidder. And those of us who live here, who grew up here, and who will die here, won’t ever be heard. No, despite having the cachet of depression and addiction and poverty, we natives aren’t given the credibility to voice our own internal despair.
Still, I keep writing plays, hoping that at some point, companies and theaters will learn that we Appalachians can speak for ourselves – and we’re pretty damn good at it too.
In other news, I’ll be at the Tamarack Center tomorrow, November 4th, teaching a playwriting class at the WV Writers Fall Conference – and I’m very, very, very excited about it.
I’ll also be at the Our Town Theatre in Oakland, MD the next day, on Sunday, reading some poetry as part of the Garrett Arts Council’s Page-to-Stage event.
Then I’ll probably go back to writing artistic statements. Maybe with a little less spice. Or maybe more.