Q: What kind of playwright is Erica Bennett? How would you describe your playwriting?
A: I am a conflicted playwright, who struggles daily with passion v. politeness. However, I am fully committed to writing stories that address the struggles of damaged American women and the men in their lives.
New Yorker reviewer John Lahr said in an interviewthat playwright Clifford Odets’ work “...has a rhythm and a lyricism, and in that lyricism, it’s straining to expand the bounds of this sort of deadly naturalism of the period, [the 1930s].” When I listened to that interview, I felt a sense of kinship to Odets. I am certainly not putting my work on par with his, however, I acknowledge that at least from an academic point-of-view, I write lyrical dialogue.
Q: Music and musicians figure prominently in many of your plays, Bender among them. You seem to have a particular love for rock and roots music. Should more playwrights put some music into their scripts, and take advantage of the charisma and immediacy of musical performance?
A: I think music brings people closer to their center, whatever you might call it; God or spirit, or... I remember many times in the 1970s, lying on the floor near my dad, listening to albums together with our eyes closed, absorbing the rhythm into our bodies through the floor boards. My use of music in my plays comes from the core of my life experience. It is intuitive. Music is part of me. I would say to playwrights, take advantage of every part of yourself.
Q: Bender focuses on a woman trying to leave her static, abusive circumstances and fulfill a lifelong dream. Do you think that too many of us never question the circumstances around us, and whether something better might be available? Do you think even musicians and actors and artists succumb to that?
A: In drama, I have learned we want to see a Heroine/Hero struggle and succeed. Yet, in Bender,I am writing women who, for whatever reason, cannot critically analyze the world around them, because if they do, they may be forced to take action, to change. And change is scary. The character of Ruby is finally Forced to take action toward a brighter future, only when her back is up against a wall.
I do think artists and musicians may succumb to complacency. To counter that, I try to read as much as I can; I listen with all my senses, but work hard at staying objective; I write dialogue, poetry, and narrative, and try to know the story I want to tell – what am I trying to say (and if I can get it down in one paragraph, yay), but admit that I mostly improvise and throw stories against the wall to see what sticks; I share and am terrified to be heard; I write the truth and I fail (constantly) to be honest, but I get back up. Most importantly, I persevere.
Q: People who encountered early versions of Bender might be struck by the difference between those versions and what they will see at OC-centric. How would you say Bender has evolved from its first draft?
A: Bender started as an exercise in dialect in January 2013. It grew into three connecting one-act plays with music. It has since developed into a two-act, full-length play, with many new songs.
I belong to several playwriting groups. I have extraordinary friends and colleagues, such as Charlotte Shoaff, now departed, and Karen Fix Curry. With their feedback and technical advice, and under the direction of Tam Warner and Wendy Girard, we have shaped a stageable play. I am the sole writer, but must acknowledge that I did not achieve this play in its written form alone.
Consequently, I am of the opinion that while people may remark about the play being different depending on what draft they read or witnessed on stage, this is what I’d call play development. This is what I think playwrights who struggle to find our voices outside the Ivy League long for and desperately need.
I think OC-centric audiences are going to be transported by director Travis Kendrick and his amazing cast of unique performers to the fictional Greenway, Alabama and will root for Ruby’s success. A play does not exist on the page. It only exists on stage in front of an audience. I look forward to being a participant and a witness of this wonderful collaboration between artists.
Q: What's the greatest bit of playwriting advice you have received - or alternately, the greatest realization that you have come to in writing plays?
A: I cannot remember one great bit of advice, because my learning curve is still fluid; I am still growing and I don’t think I’m there yet. Realizations come to me daily… This month I have realized that I generally write plays about protagonists whose conflict is internal. However, recently, I’ve been schooled that to reach a greater audience, I may need to actually follow the rules of playwriting and start a play with an inciting incident, and follow it with a proscribed number of plot points. Duh. Being ignorant is no excuse for poor playwriting; I learn, as I continue to grow and am humbled every day.
Erica Bennett's Bender opens on Thursday, August 21 @ 8pm at