Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 2011

You know one of the (admittedly, many) things that makes me crazy, Poppets? Not getting closure. It’s right up there with people who go the speed limit in the passing lane and even above people who put spoilers in comments without giving fair warning. Yep, getting closure is important to me. So, imagine my relief when Shawn Harris agreed to a follow-up interview with me. To remind you, Shawn is the playwright behind Tulpa or Anne&Me that I spoke with back in May. BUT! We spoke before the show went up at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Which meant, I really needed to know how it went and what happens next. Luckily, she was willing to fill me in…

Bridget Adams (BA): The very first question I have to ask is: How did last summer’s
performances go?

Shawn Harris (SH): Planet Connections went very well! We had great performances, and the show got a couple of nominations for awards. Attendance was solid considering when we had to perform. The thing about festivals is that you don't get your choice of performance slots, so you make the best of what's available. Our last 2 shows nearly sold out, though! I'm very happy about how things turned out.

But more than that, people were interested and engaged with what they saw, so in that regard it was a phenomenal success.

BA:  At the time, I said I believed the goal to be to create an honest dialogue around race and racism and asked if you thought Tulpa was succeeding. You said you thought it was too soon to say. How about now?

SH: Right. Now that I've been able to observe people's reactions to the play, I think it does do that.

One of the great things about theatre is that it's a lot like a thrill ride. You can go along with the action without putting yourself at risk. For many of us, we don't know how we'd handle the situations raised in Tulpa until we suddenly find ourselves face-to-face with
them. While we can learn from these experiences, the cost of that is often a lot of pain, both inflicted and endured. It's a lot like talking about "a friend of mine" who has a problem. Only in this case they're live human beings doing human things.

At the same time, the distance allows people to examine these events more closely to get a better understanding of how they work. This is in no small part due to the facilitation of the Anti-Racist Alliance's women of color group (via the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond), who were able to combine a personal approach with anti-racist

BA: Is an honest dialogue about race still something you want to accomplish with Tulpa?

SH: Yes. The purpose of that goal has changed, though. One of the reasons why the post-performance discussion was so valuable was that it showed Tulpa's potential to not only initiate these dialogues but to facilitate and sustain them. Looking at how much substance audience members brought to these discussions showed me that there was a lot more that Tulpa could do. Honest dialogue is no longer an end in itself, but a required component of a larger mission. We often say that dialogue is important to improve understanding, but I soon realize that my deeper wish is for people to act on that understanding.

Because of this, one of the long-term goals that has emerged is a practical way to combine making theatre with social justice and community organizing. Making theatre and community organizing have a lot in common. In both cases, you're bringing people together with wildly different temperaments, skills, motives, interests, and so on in order to create or change something. Both theatre and community organizing face similar dilemmas, especially when it comes to doing a big job with few resources.

So, I'm looking at ways in which we can use theatre to help promote social justice while at the same time applying social justice principles to making theatre. Does that make sense?

BA: It makes perfect sense to me. How much has the main character being a Queer woman, as well as Black woman, entered into discussions and/or people’s response?

SH: Honestly, not that much. But when talking with queer women of color, it does come up more often. It's one of those situations where queer find the play REALLY queer while it goes way over the heads of straight cis people. It's not about in-jokes or anything like that, but generally how the characters understand themselves and relate to each other.

BA: What’s going on with Tulpa now? With such a great response, I hope it has a future…

SH: I'd been interested in another performance for a while, but not it looks like there is an opportunity for more performances in mid-to late April. Because of the energy and insight generated at the post-performance discussions, I'm also looking for ways to turn Tulpa, or Anne&Me into a workshop or seminar that can tour in different cities. I'm also working with someone to develop a seminar or workshop using Tulpa as a keystone piece through which we can learn about and examine anti-racist concepts. I have my work cut out for me, but it's work that really means something to me and the people who've been touched by Tulpa, so I don't mind.

Right at this moment, though, I'm putting together a fundraising campaign for the 2012 production of Tulpa, or Anne&Me. I'm trying to raise $3000.00 which will go toward rehearsal space, marketing/publicity/advertising, copies of scripts, props and costumes, tech and design, and -- most importantly -- small stipends for the cast and crew.

BA:  What happens once you get the $3,000.00?

SH: I'm gearing up for a mid- to late April performance here in NYC. As with any project, that depends on how things work out. Right now the main thing is raising money, so I'm putting together a volunteer fundraising team to help with that. After that, I have to hire a cast and crew, book rehearsal space, and so on.

BA: Will it be exactly the same show, or will you make some changes?

SH: Every time I do a show there are changes. I tweak the script, try working with different people, approaching the process differently. I'm very much like a scientist conducting experiments and using what I observe to make my work more interesting, more meaningful, more theatrical, and so on.

BA: What is next for you, as a playwright?

SH: I'm currently working on a script I want to have a complete draft of for NaNoWriMo. (Note from BA: NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month”, an event that takes place every fall to challenge writers to write a whole novel and/or 50,000 words in the month of November and no, Poppets, I’m not participating.) It's a straight-up fantasy about the human slaves who discover lost secrets of magic and use them to rise up against their elven masters. The story is a lot less personal than Tulpa, and I look forward to finishing a draft.

BA: Good luck with the fantasy script and with NaNoWriMo! Finally, Shawn, supporting LGBTQ projects and voices is very important to Betty Pages readers. Where do they go if they want to donate or get more information?

SH: Online, they can go to Or they can always email me at

(Or, my internet-only readers, you can click here.)

And there you have it, Poppets, a little bit of closure for all of us at the end of the year. Feels good, doesn’t it? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Until next month, Poppets, have a safe and happy holiday season whatever you’re celebrating, don’t forget to call a cab, and, as always, take care of you.

1 comment:

RVCBard said...

An update on the fundraising!

I have an IndieGoGo campaign set up at where people can contribute.