TC is a director

 

TC

Tell me a little bit more about Click.

 

JG

Click is about college-aged friends who are involved in a frat gang-rape that goes viral. It spans 20 years, and it shows how that event, and the subsequently evolving technologies change the course of their lives.

 

TC

What drew you to these themes of gendered violence and technology?

 

JG

After the Steubenville Rape case, I was thinking a lot about technology, especially having a teenage daughter. A lot of people said, ‘Oh this is a rare incident, people aren’t going to live-stream violence or put it online like that again’, and I just felt…the opposite. Now that we have these tools, and especially because our kids have grown up using them to communicate, it’s going to feel different to them, it’s going to feel natural. Live-streaming and other technologies are the new reality, and are going to shape how we see the world, and our place in it.

 

I spent the last four years writing this play; creating a draft and then having something happen that blew the draft up (technology shift, etc), and then writing a new draft, on and on. It’s been a long process, but it’s been great because I’ve been able to revise significantly and dive deeply into the relationship between humans and technology, and how our lives are altered by those we get to know through a screen.

 

TC

Let’s pivot a little bit – I’m curious to know more about how current events shaped your play, particularly in the development. But I guess before we dive into that, let’s talk a little bit about what new play development means in general. I’m interested in hearing from your perspective as both a playwright and a dramaturg what new play development is and how we as a community can better support it here in Philly.

 

JG

Right. So, a play is not a piece of literature. It’s not made to be put on a page and be read by someone in private, in quiet. If you write something in private and in quiet and never hear someone speak it out loud, there’s a chance that it will come off more like a narrative fiction. And so development serves the incredibly important role of making sure that theater is actually theater. It’s what makes the art speak through character and gesture and movement. Theater is equally a literary and a visual art. And visual art is made in space, made in three-dimensions, so we have to make sure that our new playwrights and our makers have access to the same opportunities to make their work in space that any other visual artist has.

 

What’s most important in the communities where new work thrives is that they offer a broad spectrum of development possibilities for different types of work; and within each development process they’re focused on what the art and the artmaker needs rather than what the institution sponsoring it wants. That’s a paradigm shift, definitely. I say this having worked in institutions, many of which I admire, but knowing when you apply for grants so far in advance, you have to create a certain infrastructure for the piece before you really know how the piece, itself, will breath, will be in the world. So how do we as a community create support that involve funding and grants that remain flexible enough so that they can move in nuanced ways with the art? I think that’s one of the biggest questions we have to ask as a community.

 

TC

I definitely feel that, especially because Philly has such a strong devising community too. In some ways devising is a really visual representation of bodies in a room developing something new, like a new play – so how do we support that work with funding when the purpose of that work is that we don’t know what it is before we’ve made it?

 

JG

I agree. A lot of the questions that we need to ask as a community about supporting new work, are not about agreeing on one way of making, but about insuring diversity of making and preserving the uniqueness of the form itself. And I would say that devised work is definitely playwriting. Unless you’re doing improv, you may be starting with bodies in the room, but you end up with something that can be performed the same way every time. So really, while “regular playwrights” may come at it from the written word, “movement artists” come at it from gesture, “devisers” come at it from physicality and other methods – there are as many unique ways into piece as there are artists – at the end of the day, it’s all playwriting. A play is just a word for text and other notations used in theater to give us a framework of what to do performance after performance.

 

TC

Totally. So let’s talk a little bit about the development of Click. You already talked about how current events shaped the writing process, but what about the development process? I’m thinking a lot recently about the backdrop of social networking being a huge contributor to the conversation about Harvey Weinstein, how this #metoo has created a self-identifying survivor platform in a way that some people – including me – have concerns about. So I’m wondering how current events have shaped the development of Click, especially when those events involve issues of consent and gender.

 

JG

One of the mistakes I made early on when I was writing Click was that I was writing too much about the technology. And at the end of the day, I just felt like, unless it’s a TedTalk, people probably don’t want to come see a talk about technology onstage. It’s just not theatrical. So the first draft or two I was focused on the wrong thing, which is why I had to completely rewrite every time there was a new technological or social media evolution. But what that allowed me to do was to dig down deep and ask about the human relationship questions that are really at stake here. If technology is just a conduit for human relationships, then what do those relationships do as it evolves? What we found through that process is that these questions of identity are all pretty much the same throughout the history of technology. Those aren’t changing.

 

In the play, we start off with the technology that we have access to today, and then we’ve created a new technology that’s in line with where we’re going. It’s a rather simple and straightforward tech so that we can highlight the relationships of consent and identity. The emphasis is still on the human story. I was very lucky to find The Producer’s Fund here in Philadelphia which funded part of the development, and receive a residency with Emerson Stage in Boston that allowed that tech to be developed through workshops. So now, for the reading with Exile, I actually have two final scenes. We’re thinking that we may read both scenes for the audience and have a talkback after, because they’re both great ways to end the play depending on what we want to do and how the audience engages with the piece.

 

TC

That’s so cool! I’m someone who’s particularly fascinated and excited about the intersections of technology and theater. I personally find that technology as another making tool allows artists and audiences of all backgrounds and abilities to participate in the work. Where do you see tech and theater taking us in the future? Are you looking forward to it or do you have any reservations?

 

JG

Oh, I’m really excited about where we’re going. I think it’s going to be beyond anything we could ever imagine right now. I mean that in terms of where technology can take the technical side of theater, but also in the ways that technology can open up conversation between different communities. One of the things in Click that I’m drawn to is that because the characters connect online, I can have people talk to each other who in the real world probably would never run into each other. So I get to have these phenomenal conversations that are made richer because it’s online. Segregation based on geographical, racial, gendered, or class lines isn’t as permanent online as it is in real life.

 

TC

Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, in some ways I can see how the openness of online spaces certainly has the potential of creating conversations across communities, but I can’t help but remembering how the same thing is true for communities that are highly homogenous and insular, and are looking to attract more folks. Like how the alt right definitely used the internet to grow, or how search algorithms that bring information to folks are not in any way democratic or neutral.

 

JG

Yes, absolutely. Well, I mean one of the great things is that when we learn to use technology efficiently in plays, which people like Jen Haley and Quiara Hudes have already done, it’s going to blow open the door of who can have conversations onstage. We’re not limited geographically anymore. It’s not the same six all white or all black or all Asian men sitting around the kitchen table. Now, will the dominant theatrical voices take advantage of those possibilities? Who knows? But there are projects like Jeremy Gable’s twitter plays, as well as theater artists who are now doing work in multiple cities, where one portion of the play is performed at one end and the other in the another city. We have an entire new branch of theater makers who are making specifically online theatrical experiences. And that is – and will be – stunning.

 

TC

My last question actually touches on this idea of bringing together a more diverse group of voices at the table that you already mentioned – specific to new plays. How might you categorize your responsibility as the playwright in writing inclusive work without telling someone else’s narrative?

 

JG

What an important question. So, I am a white middle-class chick, and I have been, from the start of my career, invested in representing a diverse array of voices on stage in a lot of ways – class, gender, ethnicity, race, and more. The foundation of my process has always been research. And making sure, especially when I’m creating a piece about a character who has a vastly different experience than my own, getting the right people to take a look at drafts and participate in developmental workshops. A major part of the job is then making sure that I am being open so I can actually hear them. For example, with Slipshot, both Akeem Davis and Cathy Simpson were incredibly key in creating those roles from the beginning. In Click, there is a trans character, and so MJ Kaufman, Viv Burke, Finn Lefevre, Ashley Rogers and a number of other trans theater artists have been kind enough to look at drafts and come to readings and talking with me about both trans life and the play. Having people with experience different than your own involved early and often is key.

 

In Click, I knew that it’s not my place to tell a trans transitioning story. It’s defining of that community, and I didn’t feel that I could truly and deeply tell that story. But I do want to support the trans community, and amplify their voices on-stage. After doing research and talking to a few folks, I felt that I could tell the story of this character well if she had already transitioned. So I’ve worked to tell that story well, and have been grateful for the support of all of my collaborators.

 

Every writing process is going to be different, but regardless, I find it’s important to have other people with unique expertise and insight involved early and often.

 

TC

So then, for the folks who are involved, how do you define their roles? Are they readers? Are they participants in the making process itself? Like with Akeem Davis, were the two of you writing that character together, or was he more of an advisor?

 

JG

It really just depends on where the other artists are and where I am, but I try to make sure that at every step of the way those voices are included in the process. Sometimes I share pages. Sometimes they come to private workshops. Sometimes public showings. It’s usually a combination of ways of sharing – but sharing and being opened to seeing the world through another’s eyes is essential to creating great work.

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