Since April of this year, I’ve been working on a new play for Women of Color Productions. Two other playwrights and I had been tasked to write about women of color and human rights issues, a challenge that was both terrifying and exciting, and has brought about a lot of firsts for me as a playwright.
For one thing, it would be the first time I was writing a play that didn’t stem directly from my own personal experience. Yes, I am one of those playwrights who “writes what she knows.” But what it really boils down to is writing what I’m trying to know. Or writing what I’m afraid to know. And looking at it from that perspective made it a lot easier to delve into this world of characters that are new to me, but not completely foreign.
Something else that was new to me was writing a heavily researched play. The topic that initially interested me was Filipino “comfort women” of World War II. It was something I knew about on the periphery of my Filipino cultural & historical knowledge, but I was curious to find out more. My main source of information and inspiration was from the autobiography of Maria Rosa Henson, the first Filipina “comfort woman” to come forward with her story, entitled Comfort Woman: A Filipina’s Story of Prostitution and Slavery Under the Japanese Military. It was eye-opening to read such a detailed, yet unsentimental first-hand account of her harrowing experience. From there, I had a great starting point.
Another first was incorporating dance and straying from a straightforward naturalistic style. In my research, I read about a group of activist Filipino “comfort women” who protested at the Japanese Embassy by reenacting their stories through dance. I can’t imagine how horrifying it must have been for these women to live through that experience once, but to re-live it as a means of protest was such a bold, powerful act that I knew I wanted to incorporate some of that into the play.
The last first for me was working with a dramaturg. I was actually brought into the program by our dramaturg, Maxine Kern, who has worked with Diverse City Theater Company (DCT) quite a lot. DCT produced two of my one-acts last year, and Maxine sat in on a couple of rehearsals and gave me some useful notes, so I knew I would be in good hands. But I had no idea how good! Her insight was invaluable and opened up so many possibilities within the play that I couldn’t have thought up myself. The time, care and positive feedback she gave to my play was incredibly encouraging, especially during the rough patches of self-doubt and uncertainty that all playwrights go through. This experience alone has made the writing of this play rewarding and worthwhile.
We had the first table reading of our plays a couple of weeks ago, and it was wonderful to hear the work come alive for the first time. I was blessed with good actors, and that makes a huge difference. I also received a lot of positive feedback from those who attended our reading, and that’s always reassuring.
After this year of firsts, it’s appropriate that the title of my new play is Lola Luning’s First Steps. And I honestly didn’t realize that until just now. This weekend is our second table reading, so I guess I’m finished with these firsts. Now it’s time for seconds.
To find out more about Lola Luning’s First Steps, please click the Projects tab.