When did you start writing? What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?
I started writing in elementary school. In fifth grade, I started writing as a way to deal with being bullied at school. I was pretty lonely, and I was also dealing with my identity crisis after discovering that I was bi, so I turned to writing as a way to cope with things that felt too big to talk about. Writing is still therapeutic for me in that way - or at least it can be. I found some of that writing recently and as I was looking through it, I realized that almost all of it was dialogue, so it makes sense that I’m a playwright now. I took an after-school playwriting class in sixth grade taught by a wonderful woman named Bambi Everson and kept writing scenes ever since. I'm very inspired by artists like Anna Deavere Smith, Tony Kushner, Stephen Sondheim, Jeremy O'Harris, Sarah DeLappe, Amy Herzog, Joshua Harmon, Matthew Lopez, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel, Issa Rae, Elisabet Velasquez, and many more.
How did you come to write your #ENOUGH play? Given that there are many dimensions to the issue of gun violence, what aspect did you focus on and why?
This short play came from a prompt by my writing teacher Lucy Thurber from last year’s MCC Playwriting Lab. She’d asked me to write four stream-of-conscious lists of things that inspire various emotions in me, one of which being sorrow. After reading the list in class, she went through some common themes she heard and gave me a few prompts to base my scenes off of. The one that eventually became "It’s Okay" was “Write a scene that captures the feeling of: ‘It shouldn’t have happened.’” I’ve seen a lot of art about gun violence that has affected me very deeply, and before I began writing this short play, I knew I couldn’t approach the writing from a literal angle because I felt that I had nothing new to bring to the conversation from that perspective.
The literal reality of experiencing a mass shooting is something that, as an American student, is incredibly personal to me and close to my life. The realism of that was too overwhelming to write about, and I had nothing to say in that story because it has already been and continues to be told in extremely powerful ways. So, I chose to focus on the emotional aftermath of grief following a school shooting. The conversation surrounding gun violence is frequently overshadowed by two-party political discord, and that allows people to look at gun violence as an unemotional issue. With the sheer volume of mass shootings, specifically school shootings, every lost life is reduced to a statistic, and every discussion surrounding gun reform and gun control becomes a matter of politics and financial gain, nothing more. The policies surrounding gun violence are incredibly important to highlight, but in order to reach the systemic changes we need, I believe we have to have emotional, personal reminders of the human cost of the issue. I wanted to focus on one of those lost lives to re-humanize the cause and put the spotlight on the pain of a nameless mother whose child’s life was taken too soon.
If you could write a play or story that represented the future you want to be a part of, what would it look like?
A show where people are valued over profits, where differences are celebrated, where characters exist in a culture of giving instead of taking. There’s learning and love and lots of music. The show would take place somewhere peaceful and open where the audience can share a meal after the show, maybe in a garden with lots of natural light.
What are some of your favorite plays?
The Wolves, Angels in America, The Inheritance, Bad Jews. Also, not a play, but I love
Sunday in the Park with George.
What will your next play be about?
I’m currently working on a one-act composed of monologues and scenes that revolve around people leaving or receiving voicemails. It’s a non-linear collection of messages and none of the characters are recurring, only the themes are. It’s about love, loss, and connection in the digital age. I hope to direct a production of it at some point this year. Writing "It’s Okay" pushed me to play with structure and theatricality more freely in playwriting, and now, this is another step out of my comfort zone into something I’m very excited about.
What do you want to see done about gun violence right now?
Major reform. Generally, the most successful instances of decreased gun violence occur when multiple gun control laws are in effect at once. Universal background checks must be in place alongside harsher age minimums, permit requirements, and more in order to make true change. On a broader note, there need to be more accessible mental health resources available to everyone. No act of violence exists in a vacuum, and while mental health resources may not solve the problem, it’s still an important part of the discussion.