Edith Freni | Why Write This New Play?

this-is-about-you.jpg

The Ingram New Works Festival is here! Time to celebrate #newplay creation here in Nashville. The Festival isn’t just an opportunity to see great new plays first in Nashville before the rest of the country; it’s an opportunity for you to get to know the artists behind the plays. We sat down with 2015-2016 Ingram Playwright Edith Freni and asked her why she wrote this story.

Edith:  When I sent in my application for the Lab, I pitched a play about a group of Christian feminists working with the residents of an all-girls group home in Atlanta. I’ve been a teaching artist with the educational outreach wing of a theater in Atlanta for the last few years, doing similar work with similar girls and I felt ready to write that play. Most of the young women I’ve encountered have been in and out of foster care their whole lives. They’ve been physically, sexually and emotionally traumatized and not surprisingly, they’re really good at making it hard to love them. But I do. We all do. Because they’re truly spectacular people.

I think I mentioned in my proposal that research for this play would involve reading both the Bible and the Quran. (Don’t ask why). It was an insane proposal and despite feeling ready to write this play, I wasn’t. I must have known that on some level when sending in my application because right before our first weekend in Nashville, I started writing something entirely different. Lucky for me, Nate Eppler is awesome and he didn’t tell me to get lost.

I realize none of that addresses the question of why I ended up writing the play you’re (hopefully) about to see. I have two answers for you. One is simple and one is complicated. For the complicated answer, continue reading. For the simple one, just skip down to the last paragraph and be done with it. I’ll never know what you choose to do so you don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings.

My writing process often starts with an image, normally the very first moment of the play. That image gets stuck in my head and I can't get it out so I start to ask it questions. In the case of this play, the image was of a guy and a girl sitting in an apartment throwing a blue handball against the wall over and over and over again while they talk. I began to inquire: who are they? Where is this apartment? What time of day is it? What is the nature of their relationship? What has just happened?

Additionally, this play is sort of a prequel to another play I wrote several years ago. I suppose I wasn’t done exploring that world and those characters. Hopefully I am now because the people in these plays are extremely needy and I want my life back. Lastly, if I’m being honest, part of the why of this play has to do with my own competitiveness. Right around the time I was starting to work, I’d seen another play by another playwright. A play that I thought danced rather inelegantly around some of the same central ideas: identity politics, third wave feminist theory and representations of “the feminine” in mass media. I wanted to write something that would craftily dramatize those ideas and in a way that invited the audience into a fuller, more embodied, slightly darker theatrical experience.

In order to do this I decided that it was necessary for me to watch several great erotic thrillers from the late 80s and early 90s. Films like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Single White Female and several Brian Di Palma movies including the ironic and iconic overblown masterpiece Body Double. Most of these movies are about obsessive watching and objectification and they all effectively exploit the “Sex = Death” hysteria of that particular cultural moment in our fair nation’s modern history.

The women in these films are pathological narcissists or nymphomaniacs or both. The Queer characters are either gay best friends--easily disposed of when the plot calls for such a turn--or gender-confused homicidal maniacs. Male characters are scruffy, well-intentioned, affluent, white dudes who end up paying for their sexual “mistakes” with irreparable damage to their existing monogamous relationship or something sharp and pointy to the head and/or chest. If these films teach one lesson, it is that sexually empowered women and non-heterosexual “others” are not to be trusted.

While this play has evolved a lot over the last nine months, it is still full of symbols, tropes and archetypes respectfully borrowed from those films. The main character does things that might seem “crazy.” She isolates herself from friends and family, she changes who she is to suit other people’ needs, and she manipulates and attempts to control the object of her affection, all in the hopes that maybe one day he will turn to her and tell her she’s the “one.” She does all of this because it’s what she knows: because her survival depends on it.

Now that I’ve “finished writing” (ha ha), I can see that many of the ideas I was interested in exploring in my original project proposal are the same ideas that are being explored in the play that I’ve written. Everyone in this play (including the dolphin) is traumatized. They all have blind spots and biases and ultimately, they’re just really scared of being alone and feeling unlovable. These ideas are embedded in basically every play I’ve ever written and I’m sure I will continue to return to them over and over again until I don’t need to anymore. So I suppose the simple answer to the question of why I wrote this new play is that I needed to. That it’s what I know. That my survival depended on it.

This is About You | May 10 & 13

This is about You, a woman in her late twenties working at a run-down swim-with-the-dolphins facility in Key Largo. She's been working with a traumatized dolphin that is getting increasingly aggressive and she has the bruises to prove it. You is in love with her best friend, Him, the youngest ever director of the world's only underwater research facility. Him is a man with more education than You, more potential for mobility than You and more secrets than You could have ever imagined. Him thinks of You as a roommate. You wants more, and she’s willing to do anything to get it. This is about the consequences of trying to control those closest to you and the ultimate realization that the thing you might want most in the world is rarely the thing that you need.

*This play contains adult themes and language.

Learn more and buy tickets to the Ingram New Works Festival here.