It’s time to get to know the playwrights of IT’S HER SAY, the collection of short plays where females take the lead! Stage Partners was able to get some time to talk with a few of these busy teachers. Find out what inspires these teachers/playwrights, learn a bit more about the scripts, and what these writers hope young performers will take away from working on these short plays.
Stage Partners: What about your experience of being a female-identifying drama teacher inspired you to write this play?
Rachel Bublitz (I Said Run): A lot of what I write, and the characters I write, comes from a lack of female-identifying character choices I see. When I'm teaching I'm typically in a room made up of 75% or more of young women, and the choices they have in plays are often skewed in the opposite direction. It's so hard to find engaging, complex, and fun roles for these actors to dig into, and so I want to use my time as a playwright to do just that.
Eugenie Carabatsos (Talk to Me About Home): My relationships with my female friends have significantly influenced my life, but in most of the plays and movies that I experienced growing up, these relationships weren’t portrayed. Traditionally these art forms don’t take the time to explore female friendships beyond how it affects their relationship to and with men. There’s so much more to mine, so much that’s unique to female relationships (unfortunately for the guys out there. Toxic masculinity hurts us all folks!) and those stories need to be placed on stage. This is happening more and more in theater and beyond now, which is fantastic. I just want to be one of the many voices telling female centered stories.
Diana Burbano (Beauty Kweenz): I often have very talented girls and not a lot of fun roles for them to do. I also wanted to talk about beauty and expectations, especially since I specialize in 5-6th grade, an age when girls really begin to shift the way they perceive themselves because of the changes in their bodies.
SP: How do you find the time to write plays and meet the demands of teaching theatre?
Stephanie Buckley (The Women’s Land Army): Teaching theater is what inspired me to start writing plays. When I could not find a play that suited the number of students in my class and their unique talents, I wrote custom plays that gave my students appropriate performance opportunities. However, through trying to serve my students’ needs, I discovered a passion and talent for writing plays.
Emily McClain (The Un-Help Desk): The only real answer I have to this is that I make it a priority. Writing is a necessary means of creative expression. It feeds my artistic soul like nothing else, so I find the time for it. Sometimes it's just five minutes in the morning before I get my kids up for school, but it's still five minutes. I do a lot of planning and plotting out scenes and dialogue in my head, especially on the drive to and from work. When I'm at school and rehearsals my focus is on the students and the show we are creating together. But that 20 minutes in the car is "me" time- unless my kids decide we're listening to Spongebob the Musical, and then of course I'm singing with them.
Stephanie Shearer (Girl, Period): Ah, work-life balance. I'll be the first to admit that I have no balance, and I'm sure other teachers feel the same. In addition to directing theatre, teaching English and theatre, and coaching the speech team, I'm also in grad school. I use writing to relax or escape, so you'll often catch me awake at 4 am or up late to get a few pages of writing in. If there is anything I have learned in my teaching career, it's that grading papers can wait; go watch the movie, go write the play, go spend time with your family. Those moments will mean more than that grade on a paper. In the end, I don't remember students' grades anyway. I remember that amazing performance as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, or that smile of getting a speaking part for the first time, or the giggles that often come out of my classroom after school. It's never about those graded papers!
SP: Why is it important to shine a light on the female playwright?Jane Best (Some Things Never Change): Humanity is full of diverse experiences, and it is important that the stories we see on our stages are representative of these varied experiences. Women make up over half of the population of this planet, and yet are vastly underrepresented among theatrical works, particularly in the "canon" of "Great American Writers." By uplifting female writers and encouraging new ones, we can make sure that women are represented both on the stage and behind the scenes. Everybody should feel welcome to take a seat at the table. Patty MacMullen (Angela and Angie and Cynthia): It's important to shine a light on female playwrights because the next generation of writers is watching. A heightened visibility of female playwrights' works will enable young female writers to be inspired and know that they, too, can one day see their work published.
SP: Which female playwrights inspire you?
Patty MacMullen: My husband and I saw Danai Gurira's play Eclipsed on Broadway in 2016. It was the only time he's ever seen me cry at a theatre performance. It's not that other productions haven't moved me. I am just not a crier, but Eclipsed grabbed my heart and twisted it. Gurira's characters were so real and the emotion they evoked in me was so raw. I also LOVE Lauren Gunderson's work---The Revolutionists, Silent Sky, The Book of Will----such great storytelling!
Jane Best: I primarily work in musical theatre, so I take a lot of inspiration from female composers and lyricists like Jenine Tesori, Lynn Ahrens, Kait Kerrigan, Georgia Stitt, Nell Benjamin, and Sara Bareilles. I also love the work of female theatre icons such as Lorraine Hansbury, Caryl Churchill, and Lynn Nottage; they all take the forms of theatre and twist it in ways that surprise and delight. To me, that's the most interesting thing about writing: taking existing forms and changing them to make it your own.
SP: What do you want students to walk away with after working on your play?
Stephanie Buckley: The Woman’s Land Army tells the story of three American women during World War II. The courage of the woman who volunteered for The Woman's Land Army during the war provided a way for young women to escape the expectations of 1940s femininity. However, almost 80 years later, students who work on The Woman’s Land Army will realize that many of the pressures that Mary, Helen and Ruth experience in terms of their independence, gender norms and sexuality are still a reality for women.
Diana Burbano: That it’s more fun to join forces and be a team than it is to conform to outmoded standards of beauty.
Emily McClain: I would like for students to walk away with a sense of empowerment in their own curiosity, and a willingness to call out adults, especially teachers, when we don't encourage that curiosity. That's our job as teachers! We should be expanding horizons and helping students discover what element of a topic is most intriguing to them, because that is when learning takes on meaning beyond just memorizing facts. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if the main thing they were inspired to read about was Shirley Chisholm either because she is amazing and her autobiography is one of my favorites.
Rachel Bublitz: I wanted to give four roles that were different, but still friends. Female friendship is at the heart of this play, and so often I see in the media that women and young women are pitted against one another. I also wanted to create a challenge. Horror is SO hard to do! And horror on stage is even harder. I think it sets up the actors and designers to rise to multiple challenges. I love a good challenge and I try not to shy away from challenges when writing or teaching.
Patty MacMullen: Well, this story is based on an experience I had as a young adult. Since acting requires a talent for empathy, I'd love for students to walk away from my play with a better understanding of what it means to really understand and share someone's feelings. At the end of the play, Angie wanted to make things better for Angela, but throwing away a t-shirt adorned with the Confederate flag isn't going to fix anything----anymore than posting something virtuous on social media will bring about any real social change. Until we can stand with someone and really walk through their pain alongside them, we won't truly know them. Having empathy means we must be prepared to look into the face of things that will make us feel uncomfortable, and most of all, be prepared to stand, sometimes in awkward silence, and
just be present.
Stephanie Shearer: I want students to walk away with a sense of humor and empowerment. It's really easy to judge each other - as you see in the female-identifying secretary in the play - and look down on those calling for a simple change. Progress is a hard-fought battle, and there will always be nay-sayers that call you out for doing it wrong. In the end, though, progress is progress. Society will adjust.
Eugenie Carabatsos: I just hope that it brings up a memory of something from their childhood that gives them comfort, or maybe encourages them to reach out to an old friend.
Jane Best: I want students to understand that deep and enduring friendships are just as important as romantic relationships and that those bonds should be treasured. Life is full of change, and those close relationships will ground you when you are having trouble finding your footing.
SP: How would you frame the conversations about your play with the male students working on your play?
Rachel Bublitz: Well, I think there's so much to do in theater apart from being on stage and acting. And a huge aspect of this play is the design, costumes, lights, sets, props, there's a whole lot of spectacle and stage magic asked for in this ten-minute piece. Additionally, all of the things need to coordinate with one another, where a stage manager comes in. I think female students are used to not being on stage and supporting the work in these other ways, and I believe it improves the acting. I'm all for learning every aspect of theater you can. This play gives male actors and theater students a great chance to learn or develop a theater skill beyond acting.
Emily McClain: Especially for my white male students, I would like for them to think about all the times in their educational careers where they learned about white males or read work by white males. This perspective absolutely DOMINATES the conversation in literature and history classes, and I would love to hear their perspective on how they feel about that. Are they able to empathize with students from different perspectives, and do they think it would be hard to constantly feel like the people they are learning about in school don't speak to their lived experiences? For all students working on this play, framing a conversation around bias (both deliberate and implicit types) and how bias can impact our understanding would be essential to working on THE UN-HELP DESK.
SP: What is your teaching motto?
Eugenie Carabatsos: It’s not a motto per se, but when in doubt passion and empathy help you out.
Stephanie Buckley: “Change it up!” The students are constantly changing. Teachers have to adapt. What worked last year may fail this year. We have to pay attention to what our students need in order to reach them.
Patty MacMullen: My teaching motto and my personal motto is "You can". There are so many things I have done that at first I didn't think I could accomplish. I want to pass on to my students the gifts of persistence and determination and to challenge themselves and move beyond their comfort zones to reach goals that were, at first, daunting.
Stehanie Shearer: My teaching motto is "relationships, relationships, relationships." I can have high expectations. I can be flexible. But if I don't show these kids I care about them as human beings, the students will have a harder time engaging with the class content. Now, I will say some kids are really hard to build a relationship with, but even a simple "How's it going?" can at least make them see you care.
Jane Best: Everybody deserves to see and be seen; to hear and be heard.
We hope you enjoy reading IT’S HER SAY as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Female identifying writers are out there and must be heard.