Life As A Pomegranate – interview with playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman

As promised, here’s my interview with Life As A Pomegranate playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman

I sent Dawna some questions via email – here’s what she had to say:

Q: You’ve gone with a more linear, chronological narrative this time around, with no flashbacks into Rozyee’s past. How did you come to find/decide on this revised structure?

A: Embarassment.

Basically the answer is I don’t want pity, so I opted out.

After the first staging, people would come to me after the show crying and telling me how sorry they are to see what a hard life I’ve had and they’ve had a hard life too. “It’s a PLAY!” Yes, there are some elements of my own truths in it and I’m glad you got something out of it but don’t make me a victim. A playwright has to either borrow someone else’s story or strip mine their own life if there is to be a story, right? But the audience thought it was all me.

So Ginette (the director) and I decided to take out the tragic flashbacks and keep the one from the bingo night because it is happy to put a stop to the pity party.

Turns out even with the flashbacks removed people still come up to me crying after the show. Guess the play touches them somewhere deep.

Q: We see the same characters in this version of the play, but each is given a different weight. We’re seeing more of Arthur and less of Rozyee’s mom – and the witch in the mirror seems more predominant. And Arthur has gone from being a mildly supportive to actively discouraging Rozyee’s dream. Can you tell us a bit about the character shifts, and how this affects their roles and impacts on Rozyee?

A: When I’m on stage I have a set of boxes in my head. There’s a box for the lines, one for blocking, timing and emotion. When I am the playwright there’s also and a box that is observing the room.

My observer told me Rozyee has to struggle more to reach the audience on a deeper vein. It’s important to me that my audience feels the story either in the heart, the hips or the head…ultimately I’ll write a play that touches them in every spot.

After the preview I threw out the idea that my story was incomprehensible. I knew by the reactions of the audiences that the story had touched on some universal truths and they could understand it. (There’s nothing worse to me than going to theatre that is so cerebral that the audience doesn’t know what’s happening.)

I worked on developing the inner critic and Arthur and Sutton. In the preview you saw they were more cartoony. In the last version the witch is more depressing, Sutton more menacing and Arthur an ass.

It’s interesting that you say we see less of Rozyee’s mom; Ma was more a part of the show this time round. I wrote the play so that Rozyee and Ma never make contact, they’re always on the phone. I wanted to turn up the ache of loving a parent but never being close to them.

Haha….this answer is so long. Short answer: Rozyee is more of a hero if she struggles more so I wrote in more struggles.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the mean girl birthday party prank anecdote. This time, it’s Sutton’s story and I seem to recall that being Rozyee’s story in the earlier version of the play. Is that right? If so, what made you decide to make it Sutton’s story?

A: You are right. (Thank you for noticing.) I love playing Sutton. I am not a writer. I write to act. I ache to act. The acting community here won’t let me in so I write characters I want to play. To take Sutton deeper (for the actor me), and to make Rozyee less of a victim (for the playwright), I got Sutton to show a bit more humanity. I gave Sutton the story.

Q: The stakes are much higher for Rozyee this time around. She was already a heroine in the earlier version of the play – but this time, she has bigger obstacles and decisions to make. How did this shift in her journey come about?

A: After the preview Nika Rylski said: “Good, now make Rozyee struggle if you want this story to last.”

So I gave Rozyee more struggle and she also grew the courage to divorce Arthur.

Q: You performed the play in New York and will be returning there. Did you perform this version of the script there? What was it like performing for those audiences, in that city?

A: Yes, I perform the same script there.

When I act, I give all of me, every cell. No tricks. No shortcuts. No methods I show up and say the lines, I open my flap and show that through the words of the playwright and the channel of the character.

I fly, I fly, fly.

In NYC, I opened myself up even more. I thought: “If I am only here on Broadway once in my life I want to say that I gave every fiber of me so that it will have been a personal success.”

I had no idea I’d be asked back.

When I get to act I am so happy I truly believe the experience is a dream I conjured. Thoughts become things, right? I am free on a stage. Now. Now. Now. No inner critic.

It was so surreal to act in NYC. I lifted my arms and fell off the cliff willingly, freely. I do this: Here. Here’s my heart. Look. Take it. It’s yours.

I thought the producers would erase the Canadian bits of the show. They loved those bits. I only changed the place where Rozyee gets her treats from Loblaws to Price Chopper so they would understand it is a grocery store.

Q: Will you be making any further revisions to the script? Any other plans for a run or tour?

A: No more revisions. There were 16 drafts to get it where it is. Tempting, but no, that egg is cooked.

Life as a Pomegranate will be in the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival, Times Square, February 2013.

We’ve applied to six fringe lotteries across Canada for summer 2013: PEI, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal (didn’t get in), Vancouver, Victoria UNO Festival.

If you know of anyone who wants to see it, let me know…why wouldn’t I want to fly again?

Q: You’re working on a new play right now – Yellow Bird. Will that also be a one-woman show? What can you tell us about it?

A: Yellow Bird is the story of what happened to Ma from Life as a Pomegranate. If there is grant money I can write in three men to play Ron, but if not it will be a two-hander.

Plot: Ron forges his mother’s signature and goes to fight in WW2. He is 14.

Returning from the front injured, he meets Pat and they fall in love, but the two of them are in that war together until they die at a young age, within 10 months of each other.

PTSD, shame, no moral ground…this is their love story.

I will play Ron’s mother, then his wife then his daughter.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

Thanks for seeing my work.

 

Thanks, Dawna! With special thanks for being my first blog interview. 🙂

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Author: life with more cowbell

Arts/culture social bloggerfly & Elwood P. Dowd disciple. Likes playing with words. A lot. Toronto

3 thoughts on “Life As A Pomegranate – interview with playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman”

  1. FANTASTIC interview! You asked such insightful questions, and Dawna shared many illuminating bits (the “boxes in her head”, “I fly”, etc.) about her process. Hope Toronto gets another chance to see what sounds like a wonderful play.

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