As an emerging playwright, the dramaturgical program is crucial to my growth and development. Embarking on my first full-length play Venus’ Daughter has been a beautifully illuminating and relentless challenge over the last four years. I have been lucky to receive support from playwright development units at Nightwood and Obsidian Theatres. However, I am now at the point where my focus is clarity of story, structure and emotional character arc. I finally have a draft strong enough to stand up against rigorous dissection. I believe that the dramaturgy program will allow me the time and space to continue to hone my skills as a playwright—for which I am so grateful.
My first play Who the Hell is Eleanora? was based on the life of Billie Holiday. I gravitate towards stories of black women who were not able to overcome their tragic circumstances in their lifetime because I’m desperate to squeeze out some sort of cautionary tale. Both Sara Bartmaan and Billie are infamous for their tragic ends, so much so that they are mythologized. Both women spent much of their lives coping with trauma; Billie with sexual and physical abuse that manifested in substance abuse that ended her life; Sara similarly with sexual and physical abuse, displacement and exoticisation (just to name a few). There is definitely a sense of poetic justice throughout my work.
In my play Venus’ Daughter, there is also an element of biomyth. What does Sara‘s story mean to me, and daughters of a diaspora today? My mother is Jamaican and every time I’ve visited Jamaica, it has always been for funerals. Death has a way of bringing people together and is central to African Caribbean rituals and traditions around death/burial. It became imperative to connect Sara’s legacy within a contemporary context.
While developing this play through playwright units (the first was as a participant in Nightwood’s Write from the Hip program, led by Anna Chatterton and Audrey Dwyer), there was almost an element of group dramaturgy which became part of my process. After completing my first draft, I knew I needed more focus and time to really understand the impact Sara’s life has on me today. Her story is so epic that I had to sift through all my research and then put it down and decide on the story I want to tell.
I have been working on Venus with Mel Hague through Obsidian’s Playwrights Unit for the past 2 years. I just completed their 2013/2014 Development Series. Mel understands my process (even when I don’t) and we have set up a work plan that includes several check-in points and a detailed list of monthly goals to carry us through the year.
So far, the most significant turning point in the writing of Venus was when I started working with Mel. She encouraged me to dig deep and asked essential questions which forced me to reinvestigate the story I had thought I wanted to tell: “What is your connection to Sara’s story? What do you want to say about her story? Why now? ” These are just a few of the questions that rolled around in my brain and still do. Through finding answers to those questions I realized that I needed to allow myself to show up in the play. This was the most challenging part because looking back I can see where I grew into the draft I have now. I took a big risk and tried to relate Venus to my life—and that is when something in me cracked open.
My most memorable experience(s) of theatre as an audience member: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard starring Diahann Caroll, at the Ford Centre. As a reader: Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears.