Friday, May 27, 2011

Evelyn Jean Pine on Being a Female Playwright and Her Revenge Against Samuel Beckett

SINCE THIS IS THE FINAL WEEKEND OF THE BEST OF PLAYGROUND FESTIVAL, we wanted to publish one more interview with a Festival playwright to console those of you who cannot get enough PlayGround. Evelyn Jean Pine has been in the Writers Pool since 2003, although at one point, she too was just starting out, like Arisa White, the first Festival playwright we interviewed. And like Daniel Heath, our second Festival playwright, her playwriting career began when she entered the Pool. Since then, she has won PlayGround’s June Anne Baker prize for a distinguished female writer and has been named a PlayGround Emerging Playwright five times. PlayGround commissioned her to write two plays, Astonishment, about the invention of movies and their impact on the imagination, and The Secrets of the World about Queen Isabella. Currently, she teaches Performance Studies at San Francisco State.

Evy wrote See. On. Unseen. The. Lost. for the Monday Night PlayGround devoted to a quote from Eugene O’Neill, ("Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see—and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason! " — Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night), although Jack Kerouac figures largely in her play. In our interview, she explains why, and she also reveals how her play takes revenge on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In the Festival production, David Cramer and Jomar Tagatac act, and Raelle Myrick-Hodges of Brava! for Women in the Arts directs.

Are you from the Bay Area?
Nope. I'm from Worthington, Ohio, north of Columbus.

Where do you live now?
San Francisco.

How long have you been with PlayGround?
My first season was 2003-2004.

What is it like being a female playwright in a male-dominated field?
Being a playwright is fantastic. I think I would have become a playwright sooner if I'd read more female playwrights when I was growing up. The only women playwrights whose work was in the Worthington Public Library back then was Lillian Hellman, Claire Booth Luce, etc. I wrote a lot of plays in high school and college, but I never took them seriously.

How did you come to start playwriting?
I submitted a ten-minute play to PlayGround in 2003. I became part of the pool, and, after Brady Lea and Martha Soukup stopped laughing, they showed me the ropes.

What are your goals as a playwright?
To have my plays brilliantly performed in every continent in the world every night of every week.

Which playwrights inspire you as a playwright?
All of them. Today: Adrienne Kennedy, Maria Irene Fornes, all the June Anne Baker winners, and, of course, all the PlayGround Playwrights Pool past and present. And in honor of Buster Posey, the Organic Theatre Company members who wrote Bleacher Bums.

Does your teaching have an impact on your playwriting, or vice versa?
My rule for teaching is I don't teach anything that isn't useful/inspiring for my playwriting. Tell no one.

What inspired you to write See. On. Unseen. The. Lost.?
I have a dear friend Abbie Lehrman who has worked with very poor people, people who have nowhere to live, for years. She said in all her years of doing this work only once did a person on the street say to her: "This is a lifestyle choice." She replied: "If it's a lifestyle choice, kid, what's your other option?"

You did what could be called a very literal translation of the topic, including the actual words from the Eugene O’Neill quote in your play. Why do you have the character mistakenly attribute the words to Jack Kerouac?
I read the quote from Eugene O'Neill that was the prompt and I thought: "Sounds like Kerouac to me." Maybe it was the word "beatitude," because Kerouac loved that one so much, but also the idea that we all have flashes where we see the truth -- and then the curtain falls and we stagger away -- kind of like the theatre.

Why did you write the roles without specifying their gender or ethnicity?
I wanted to say, "baise toi," (I hope my French is correct) to Samuel Beckett for refusing to let women play Vladimir and Estragon in Godot. I'm a proud member of the Dramatists Guild, but, jeez, you write a momentous work, Sammy-boy, let people at it.

What do you hope people will take away from See.?
I hope they have a crazy, intense experience that transforms their lives.

What was the writing process like?
Was it similar or different to your usual writing process?
Yep. Write. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Ad infinitum. Alas, I am not one of these, "Start the play at 1:15 on Tuesday and submit it at 2:00," playwrights, like many in the PlayGround Pool.

What are your plans for the summer?
Write. Go see a bunch of plays. Write. See plays. Write. Write. Write.

What are you working on right now?
A retelling of the myth of Uranus and Gaia for the SF Olympians Festival. The staged reading is October 13 at the Exit. The remarkable Molly Noble directs.

What are your upcoming projects?
Woman's Will in San Francisco is doing one of my short plays that was initially developed for PlayGround, Counting the Minutes on June 3 and 4 at 8:00, Phoenix Theatre. Part of the Playfest 2011 Benefit. See ya there.