November 2012 – Adrienne Dawes – AM I WHITE

Read Adrienne’s bio Here

BLACKBOARD: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you write….

AD: I am a writer born from a remarkable story, the premature baby of mixed-race teenagers from Corsicana, Texas. When I was three years old, I was adopted by my preschool teacher, a former flower child transplanted from California. In my adoptive family, I am the second-eldest child of eight in a single parent household and the first to graduate from college. I am also the first to live outside our family home, as most of my siblings have severe physical disabilities and cognitive limitations that require full-time care.  I grew up with the constant nagging question of “What are you?” from my peers and quite often complete strangers on the street. “What are you?” My own racial background was ambiguous enough on its own without the presence of my White adoptive parents or disabled family, but this question haunted much of my young adult life. I never identified solely with one aspect of my racial background and found it very difficult to articulate the fluid, dynamic nature of identity as I experienced it.

My ability to “pass” between different identities has given me a great appreciation for the experience of “the other” and a sense of responsibility as a storyteller to give the stage to those without a voice. I write because I want to express what I feel is missing from contemporary theater: a greater diaspora of characters, personalities, gender identifications, sexual orientations, and familial upbringing.

BLACKBOARD: Why did you write this play?

AD: I wanted to share a story that I thought would be forgotten or overlooked. We live in a world that keeps in its collective consciousness only the stories that happened two seconds ago.

I first found out about Leo Felton and Erica Chase in an article in MAVIN magazine in 2004. I was initially curious to explore an exchange between two mixed-race characters who shared so many similarities and yet their lives took completely different paths (inspired by the article “Leo Felton and Me” by Farah Stockman).

As the process continued, however, the story of Wesley and Polly took over. At the core of this play is a theme I often explore in my writing: impossible love. Wesley has experienced many losses in his lifetime, but he cannot come to terms with the loss of Polly. I was excited for the opportunity to play with an expansive dreamscape that continually pushes into a confined prison environment. Wesley won’t tell us how he feels, but his dreams and nightmares do.

BLACKBOARD: How did you find Blackboard?
As an emerging writer, I am always on the hunt for opportunities to share work and meet new collaborators. I found Blackboard while Googling opportunities for emerging writers of color (as there are so few in existence).  I am extremely excited to have Blackboard’s support!

BLACKBOARD: What is important to you about a community of black writers?
AD: I think it’s important we have a community of directors, actors, producers, dramaturgs and designers to support us. It all begins with the first YES. Yes, we can read your play. Yes, we can grab coffee and talk about your new show. Yes, I can read that draft. Yes, I can recommend you for that fellowship. Yes, I’m here (just showing up is a HUGE YES). The first yes opens the door to other “yeses.” There’s no guarantee audiences or critics will give ever us that YES. Most of our weirdo experiments don’t even make that far. Anytime you can give a playwright a YES, you help secure their place in this community.

BLACKBOARD: How do you want people to feel after they have heard this play?
I’ll paraphrase something I heard Erik Ehn say once, “It’s like being a chef. You prepare this huge meal and you want people to walk away, full.” He even made a “Zen Buddha full face,” if you can imagine what that might look like.

One of the biggest questions this play asks is “How could you betray someone you love?” I’ve personally grappled with this question a lot in the past year and doubt there’s ever a situation when the answer isn’t problematic on some level. At the end of the day, you’ve still hurt someone you love. I am really curious to see how audiences navigate this question. Especially since, in the context of my play, Wesley’s remorse has everything to do with his relationship with Polly and very little to do with his racist ideology/terrorist attempt.