Playwright Spotlight: Adrienne Dawes

Where did the idea for your play come from?

I once dated a guy that was a teen dad. On the second date, he dropped some bombs: “I have a son. He’s 19.” I am sure that I was taking way, WAY too long to do the math in head so he finally offered, “I was 14 when my son was born.” Sitting across the table from at this soft-spoken, baby-faced 33 year old Midwestern white guy, it  wasn’t a deal breaker . . . but I did NOT see that coming and had a million questions. Aside from his homemade tattoos and being a musician, I didn’t borrow too much else for the character Thom but after reading the essay “The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Concert” by Martin Black, I had the foundation ingredients for Tanya and Thom. I knew their experiences as teen parents and “alternative kids in the 90s”  would be completely different because of their race.

I had also seen a local production of the play “Other Desert Cities,” and it really got me thinking . . .  for one thing, it felt like, “Ho hum, another play about a rich, White, conservative family working out old shit in their beach house with an open bar.” It was a good production but it’s just SO far from my experience of real life. So I wondered what if the family wasn’t all White, or rich, or conservative . . . what if they don’t even own the beach house?!

I was also struck by the audience for that production, which was made up completely of older White people. I wondered if I could get that same audience to sit through almost three hours of play I wrote. What if I could write something that looked and sounded just like a regional theater kitchen-sink drama . . . but had characters that were Black and mixed-race?

What was your favorite moment in working on this piece?

My friend Rudy Ramirez (director/theater maker) e-introduced me to actress Krysta Gonzales for a workshop of Teen Dad that I self-produced in Austin in May 2013 (thanks to a Seed Support grant from Scriptworks, ALL THE PLUGS). Even though I KNEW RUDY WOULD NOT FAIL ME, I was nervous about working with someone  that I had never met or seen perform before.  Would she like the material? Would she get the material? Would she be able to hit some big jokes out of the park? I think the character Alicia is very much the anxious, worrywart side of me . . . that has SO MUCH TO SAY but often feels super anxious about expressing herself.

At the first table read, Krysta not only hit Alicia’s monologue out of the park, she hit it out of the stratosphere  I think my note (after I recovered from laughing) was something like, “That’s Alicia exactly! PERFECT!” Krysta was an amazing discovery (she also writes plays! – look her up!).

I went into that first workshop not sure whose story I was telling. It’s a classic Dawes. I always love every character (even Thom) and every actor and I want everyone to have their own play, amen.  I was leaning towards Abby as protagonist, thinking a “mixed-race coming of age” story would be strongest but I realized that I have so much more to say (right now) about the adult characters that  experienced trauma. How they try to heal, how they try to help others heal . . . how they might try to shield their loved ones from previous trauma.  I experienced a lot of trauma in my early childhood . . . and I haven’t had an opportunity to really process ahem, write about how that has shaped my adult life and romantic relationships.

I didn’t feel like I had a draft that was really “ready” yet but I love this opportunity (and deadline) to finish up a complete draft and see where the new direction takes me.

What projects are you currently working on?

After this reading, I’m directing a sketch comedy show for The Institution Theater in Austin, TX. We’re doing a sort of  “In Living Color” style reboot, DJ on stage, fly girls and guys, all of the 90s fashions, none of the 90s misogyny. I’m excited to keep developing my director muscles. Maybe by next year I’ll be flexin’.

After that I’m working on a lot of rewrites and trying to generate new projects this summer: a collaborative piece with Salvage Vanguard Theater and visual artist Beth Consetta Rubel; tackling a new screenplay or TV pilot. I’ve heard they sometimes hire playwrights to write for TV . . . and sometimes they are also women. And people of color. I will investigate . . .

Finish this sentence- “I love theater that…”

is made with love, shared often and generously, reflects a diverse range of artists, and isn’t afraid to take risks.

What was the best advice you were given as a theater artist?

“Start by telling the truth.”

What is the one thing you know as an artist now that you wish you could tell your younger self?

Don’t beat yourself up about not getting into graduate school, you don’t need it.

Outside of theater, what are you really into right now?

Nerdy table top games, karaoke every day, and quality time with family/friends (always).

What is your favorite and least favorite word?

YASSS: cumino

NOPE: Rooibos.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share? (About Live Girls! Theater, Love, Life, Puppies, …really – anything at all?)

Meghan and I did some math (it probably took me longer because again, math is not my strength) and my first professional play reading was with Live Girls! Theater back in 2004, when I was still a senior in college. Which means Live Girls! has been my Seattle artistic home for 12 years (on and off). Which means: crazy, dumb, wonderful luck!

PS: The title of that play was “Jesus Loves Good Christians” and that is not a closing joke.’