Playwright Georgette Kelly took some time out to talk to us about theaters responsibility to a diverse community, her childhood and advice to aspiring writers. She was apart of the 2015 list for The Kilroys Organization. (http://thekilroys.org)
Tell us about your childhood growing up. Could you tell us what your family is like?
- “I grew up in a neighborhood in Manhattan called Yorkville, which was historically an area with a large German and Hungarian population. My parents are New York transplants; my mother is from Indiana and my father is from Alabama. They have both worked in a number of fields, but currently my mother writes about fine art photography, and my father writes children’s books.”
What is your earliest memory of theater? What was the first play you read/specific playwright's work you admired? Did this inspire you to pursue a playwrighting career or was it something else?
- “When I was a child my mom would take me to touring puppet shows at a community center in our neighborhood. I have a lot of memories of those shows—they featured a lot of really interesting international troupes. I’m not sure if that was the root of my interest in theatre, but it certainly helped! It also probably got me thinking visually at a very young age, which has clearly translated to my writing.”
What has inspired you to write any particular piece of work? Could you give us a few examples of your earlier work and compare it to more recent work. How does it differ or relate?
- “I started writing plays by writing adaptations, such as my adaptation of Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Lighthousekeeping (produced with New Leaf Theatre in Chicago in 2011). Since then, I have mostly moved away from adaptations. Ultimately, I think that this change gives me more freedom because I am originating new stories with new characters.”
A couple of your plays feature LGBT relationships. Could you reflect a bit on that dynamic and what diversity in theater means to you? (Content, casting, etc)
- “I think it’s essential that theatre tell many stories so that people of every experience can see themselves represented and reflected on the stage. In particular, many LGBTQ folks and people of color have experiences that make them feel isolated or marginalized—theatre can be a vital tool in combatting that violence. Based on my own experiences, as a queer playwright I strive to use both form and content to create new opportunities for queer stories to be heard on stage. In turn, hope that producers, directors, and casting directors call upon the talents of a diverse range of actors to represent my characters.”
Tell us about your education at Northwestern University and Hunters College! Was there a particular instructor or experience that was especially crucial to your creative development as an artist?
- “At Northwestern I completed by B.A. in Performance Studies and was lucky enough to study with many brilliant artists and scholars, such as Mary Zimmerman, Barbara Butts, E. Patrick Johnson, Paul Edwards, D. Soyini Madison…the list goes on and on! Later, during my M.F.A. in Playwriting at Hunter College I was deeply influenced by my mentors Tina Howe and Mark Bly who were incredible cheerleaders and dramaturgs as I completed a number of new works.”
What advice would you share with an aspiring playwright?
- “First, be kind. Second, listen to kismet. Third, choose the paths that inspire you—and require you—to keep writing, even when they are the paths of greatest resistance. “
Congratulations on your recent recognition by the Kilroys Organization (among your many accolades)! The list of recognized playwrights featured a wide variety of diverse plays from female and transgender writers. Do you have a criticism or praise of the writings you have seen emerge from contemporary writers?
- “Thank you! I think that writers can be incredible inspirations and resources for each other, and I’m honored to be part of such a talented group. I’m very grateful to The Kilroys for their support and advocacy!”
Are you working on your next project already and if so, could you tell us a little bit about it?
- “There are a few readings of my work coming up over the next few weeks. Both 'Ballast' and 'F*ck la vie d’artiste' will be read as part of ParityFest Baltimore on July 23rd and August 1st, and 'F*ck la vie d’artiste' will also be read at Capital Stage’s Playwrights Revolution on August 6th.
Some personal favorites: what is your favorite movie, book or TV show?
- “Two of my favorite books are: ‘Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing’ by Hélène Cixous and ‘100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write’ by Sarah Ruhl. I also love Jeanette Winterson and Paul Auster.”
Favorite place to write? Do you do any creative exercises to get in the writing zone?
- “I like to write at home, but I’m also a member of Writer;s WorkSpace in Chicago, which is a shared studio space. I’m not much for exercises when I’m writing on my own, but there are some I like to use in my classes. I’d recommend a book called The Playwrights Workout, edited by Michael Bigelow Dixon and Liz Engelman, for a full palette of exercise ideas.”
Could you tell us about your teaching career and how past experiences have shaped your teaching style. What do you hope your students take from your classes?
- “I have been teaching since I was 19, when I first started working at the French language immersion program of Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, MN. My current teaching style—in both French and Theatre—is deeply rooted in the pedagogy there: that learning should be fun, engaging, and experiential, and that it should help prepare young people for responsible global citizenship.”