Artistic Statement

Artistic Statement

My artistic vision is influenced by my mission, which is to create high-quality, thought-provoking work that entertains, uplifts, educates and inspires, particularly illuminating the lives of LGBT Americans of all races who’ve largely been hidden from history.

Any American history that excludes queer stories, or the stories of women or people of color – the half-told history most of us read growing up – is incomplete. Our individual and collective stories, real and imagined, may be as yet un-told, but they are there to be mined. I aim to unearth them, lifting the veil that has obscured and partitioned queer experience. The history of America is the inseparable history of all of us.

What we see at first glance seldom offers the whole truth, particularly in America, where reinvention is a national pastime. This re-imagining certainly was true of classic Hollywood, a particular fascination of mine – that dream world of Jewish immigrant moguls eager to present themselves and their world as uber-American, gleaming white and unambiguously heterosexual. But this conscious cloaking also was true in my childhood.

Growing up, I thought my family was Christian. I’d gone to Catholic school, after all. In fact, we were Jewish, which my mother revealed when I was 13. I thought I was white; in fact, I was mixed race: My Mother said her father, a jazz musician, was “French.” In truth, he was African and Portuguese. I thought I was straight; but no, at 18 I came roaring out as lesbian. Then in my 50s, I recognized that I am, in fact, transgender and began the process of coming out all over again. My mid-century birth certificate suggested gender normativity. The reality is much more complex. My own dad – handsome, educated and successful, with trophy wife and all the trimmings of post-war America – turned out to be a closeted homosexual who hid his very essence lest he lose all. (Despite his circumspection, he was blackmailed, as many deeply undercover queer men of the era were, and lost everything anyway.)

So I was primed from the start to pass and to recognize that passing in others – to hear what is unspoken and to see what is hidden, to apprehend what Sarah Vaughn terms “the notes between the notes.” This fact has shaped my work and personhood.

Therefore, my objective, whatever the medium, is to pierce that public presentation and to uncover in characters those personal truths, that common human experience, with which viewers can identify. Having done so, those viewers at once both forget a character’s queerness yet can never again imagine a period or place without queer people in it.

As to process, everything begins with place. The motor court featured in my first play Bluebonnet Court was a ramshackle shell of itself, down the block from my flat in the Hyde Park district of Austin, Texas. One day, en-route to the laundromat, I passed the Bluebonnet, and the characters jumped into me. For a brief, shining moment, I could see the court as it was during its heyday, and I knew how the story began. Likewise, the Hollywood has-beens in Coming Attractions hijacked me at a 1950s Palm Springs inn frozen in time. Once the characters appear, I’m made aware of the play’s opening and ending, and the end of Act One. Thus armed, I plunge painstakingly into researching the era of the play. I read a great deal. I welcome these new friends, invite them to tell me who they are and carefully construct their biographies. This way, when characters start talking, I know the difference between their voices and my own. Theresa Rebeck says of her first draft that she “just gets it done.” I may do several drafts like this, powering through – typically heavy on the exposition – then it’s workshop/redraft, workshop/redraft for a long time, stripping out everything but the essential, finding those “notes between the notes.” With each subsequent reading of the play, I mindfully layer in the tiniest elements, until the characters and story are fully formed, true to themselves and to the era. The devil is in the details. I do this last work in front of an audience, paying close attention to what listeners say and do. Theatre is, after all, the original interactive art form: I trust my audience.