(Click here for Introduction Part One and Part Two)

It is such an honor to be standing here in front of all of you, my colleagues, friends, and family members, to receive the Elliott Hayes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dramaturgy. I'm especially grateful to receive this award from one of my dearest artistic collaborators and friends Marcus Gardley, and to be part of LMDA's 30th anniversary year, an organization I am so proud to be part of.

At LMDA's 25th Anniversary Conference in BANFF, Alberta, Canada, I joined a session led by my friend and colleague Liz Engelman who asked what made us feel JOY. We heard such a variety of answers, and then it hit me. I feel joy when I collaborate with a playwright whose vision I fully comprehend and embrace, and for whom I can serve as a muse and partner, to help them express themselves as best they can in reaching their full potential. And that joyful partnership is the one I have with Marcus Gardley. That conference was just before I dramaturged my second Gardley Classic every tongue confess for Arena Stage. Now, five years later, we've had eight more collaborations. I've been working as a professional dramaturg for the past 23 years, and Marcus Gardley is a playwright who inspires me to keep going for the next 23 years. He is my theatrical soulmate, and I could not be happier to get this award for my work with him on such a labor of love. His gorgeous, epic play the road weeps, the well runs dry is the reason I stand here today. It's all the stuff of great plays rolled into one: a poetic, mythical love story; a vengeful murder mystery; a forgotten history play; a feast of language; a triumphant tragedy; a searing comedy; a magical journey of two cultures coming together to survive all odds for the next generation. It's the middle play of a trilogy, the necessary history of the Seminole Freedmen, also known as Black Seminoles, a culture UN-represented in most American history books, and their founding of the first incorporated all-black town in Oklahoma's Indian Territory. This play tells such a vital story of a struggle for freedom, love and personal identity, a crisis of faith and victory over oppression. It brings disparate cultures together both on and off stage, it moves people of all races and creeds; it needs to be heard.

I had the incredible experience of serving as Marcus's Dramaturg for the four nationwide world premieres of the road weeps. It is unusual for an independent, freelance dramaturg to be given the chance to work on such a high-profile project with so many diverse companies and artists, whose common ground is their belief in this playwright and love for his play. It has been an unforgettable journey – and a literal one, as we worked on the play four times in four cities with four separate production teams, casts and community partners, and the only consistent artistic personnel were me and Marcus. The project centers on a play about building a town; four times we built a community of artists to create a community of characters – on the stage, behind the scenes, out in the audiences, and on the streets of all four cities. Working on one world premiere production teaches us so much about a play; to be able to work on three more successive and unique premiere productions is such a gift. I not only had the luxury of time and different perspectives to do even more of the typical dramaturgical tasks, but I became an expert of sorts, especially in the play's Native language, music and customs, teaching songs and Seminole rituals to each cast and doing extensive research and 'mining for gold.' In each city we incorporated cultural inspirations from the different local Native American tribes, such as the Juneau production’s Tlingit (Native Alaskan) composer and five cast members. Along our journey, Marcus and I were able to craft the finer details of the play and even experiment with some risky writing choices that could be changed in the following production. As I often do as the dramaturg, for two years on the road I was this play's ambassador and advocate, Marcus' representative, and promoter of my field in all the community engagement events across the country. We could literally watch our impact happen in every community, and allow the play to be influenced by each and every response, every remark and gasp and laughter. It was so gratifying when we presented the play to younger students and non-theater-goers, to see that spark happen in folks stirred by the stories in the play, who were amazed that our professions even existed, who got excited about the idea of a life in the theatre. To see the kids we spoke with from Yaakoosge, Juneau’s alternative high school, appear at the preview that same night, or Florida college students majoring in mass communications to sign up for run crew because of a class I taught months before... It made us feel very proud.

The four partner productions took place at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, AK, Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Latino Theater Co. of LATC, and the Univ. of S. Florida in Tampa, all part of the Launching New Plays into the Repertoire initiative, led by the Lark Play Development Center and funded by the Mellon Foundation, a remarkable program. I am especially grateful to the Lark, and particularly John Eisner, who's here with us tonight, who put Marcus at the center of this project and who said “yes” to having a dramaturg. I want to thank John and the four producing theater institutions and their leaders – Art Rotch, Faye Price, Jose Luis Valenzuela, and Fanni Green – for honoring my collaborative partnership with Marcus in this profound way. And to the hundred plus actors, directors, designers, production teams, artisans, crews, teachers and community partners, thank you for opening your minds and hearts to us and for your indelible help in bringing Marcus’ vision to life.

As this multi-year project kept me on the road with the road weeps, I must give thanks to my family in San Francisco for being so supportive during my absence, my parents Galen and Jaleh, my uncle Oroad, my brother Cyrus (thanks for being here today), and especially my amazing husband Michael; I truly could not do any of the work that I do without you. And thanks to my dear friend Ginny Reed for your constant camaraderie, kinship and sage advice.

Dramaturgs spend our lives advocating for plays and playwrights; it is so rare for someone to advocate for us. Marcus, thank you for being my champion. LMDA, thank you for being my tribe. And thank you to this play. I feel like a stronger dramaturg, and this experience has helped me soar to new heights in my craft and in spreading the gospel of dramaturgy.


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