If the saying is true, that playwrights give birth to worlds – then plays are indeed planets. These planets are planted into pages, warmed in the light that is inspiration, watered with tears, and perhaps spit from cursing at computer screens, but most profoundly these planets are grown not just by the farmer (who is the playwright) but by a host of other laborers, producers, field hands, harvesters and in this case, most profoundly the dramaturg.
When I think of this award and of my frequent collaborator and friend I think of her as a wind song swirling around such planets. In this way she is like a goddess, a beacon of light, a comet, a fierce somebody.
But aren’t all dramaturgs like the wind: they carry seeds and leaves and soil to other areas of the planet. Their nature is to be cool at all times. When the director is too direct, when the actors are making a scene because they need to be seen, when producers want to taste the produce of the planet and harvest looks a season away, the dramaturg like the wind breezes by to put the fires out. They move quietly and patiently, waiting for just the right moment to whisper wisdom in the writers ear or tap that director on the shoulder and hand them that bad ass research packet complete with table of contents, cover page, a personal preface, important lines high-lighted and color coded with a key, re-footnoted, reformatted, with thoughts explained in plain English, backed up with an annotated bibliography and a series of related images all in color and paginated. And if the answer is not in the packet it’s in their storehouse, that dramaturgical mind that knows just enough about everything to be a work of art.
And unfortunately like the wind, they are often un-heard and unsung, people don’t see them sometimes even if they feel them. But we who plant planets, we farmers, builders of plays, we often cannot bring plot to crop without them. We don’t often say it – you know farmers can be stubborn, moody, eccentric, difficult, dry yet always good for a drink – we don’t often say it but you are a life force to us. You are vital to our ecology. You carry our planets to other galaxies. You above all, get our cosmos. And so tonight, I salute you and one in particular who blows my mind.
The artist that is being honored tonight drifted into my life at a writer’s retreat where I was feeling rather blue because my play didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. It was fighting me and I was letting it win. However, during a talk back this dramaturg, asked me such thrilling questions about my characters and plot that not only did I run to my housing quarters right after to rewrite the entire thing, I immediately tried to steal her from the writer she was assigned to. And I know I should feel guilty about that… but people keep telling me that the best writers steal so…I stole her. Eventually the play got produced and she joined the creative team as dramaturg for that first production which has now had over a dozen productions across the country. And thus started a ten-year journey with this friend, this fellow artist, foodie, hat lover, soul singer, and travel buddie that has been one of the most rewarding relationships in my life. One of our most recent adventures centered around the national tour of the play that Stephen mentioned: The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry. This play is the second installment in a trilogy about the migration of Black Seminoles (African and First Nation peoples) from Florida to Oklahoma. At its core, the play is about a group of people whose faith and identity are put to the test when their water well runs dry. Some believe it is an act of God, others believe it is the weather or the work of neighboring tribe. The truth however is revealed when we learn the town recluse, Number Two believes he is immortal and goes on a revenge plot to destroy his arch-enemy who also happens to his ex lover. Yeah, it gets deep.
When the opportunity came to do this ambitious, life-changing project, I knew immediately that I could not do it without my friend and fellow collaborator as dramaturg. But as Stephen mentioned she became that and so much more. She worked with me on the script for four years then found ways to make every production unique to the location where it was being produced. She was there in rehearsal when I couldn’t be around and because the project was so massive she became the center of all things, my right hand – and there is no way the project would have been successful without her. All of this and she kept an amazing record of the entire process from start to finish. She even spent time away from her loving husband (who makes the meanest limoncello on the planet) and she was paid so little money she was essentially paying to work. Her sacrifice, hard work and passion for the project and for the theater is infectious. I could not be more proud and elated to celebrate her – this great wind, artist and friend who’s laughter could out sparkle Fourth of July. It looks like the planets have aligned for you tonight, thank you for getting in the dirt with me and helping to grow a work that feeds so many. Congratulations.
And so it is with great pride that I announce that the 2015 Elliott Hayes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dramaturgy will be presented to Nakissa Etemad.