Member Spotlight: Sandra Dempsey
by Thoko Zulu
Award winning internationally acclaimed playwright and performer, Sandra Dempsey is a Canadian playwright who has written full length dramas including "Flying to Glory" featuring boyhood pals enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air force and "Enigma" which examines sexuality, moral dilemmas and consequences associated with assisted suicide. "Barbie & Ken" is listed as one of her comedies, the synopsis being the world's cutest but anatomically incorrect couple who are proud parents.
Sandra has a keen sense of formidable wit writing complex narratives articulating richly drawn and emotional characters. This puts her at the top of her game and making her a popular reader for her book, "D' Arcy." Thomas D'Arcy McGee was an Irish patriot and Canadian statesman assassinated by Irish-American Finnians.
Dempsey's work also includes humanitarian and detective stories which not only maps intelligent story execution but also outstanding knowledge about wartime history, aviation and military expressions.
Her "Armagideon" has attracted very big reviews citing her work as 'provoking in the most powerful and positive sense' by John Murrell. Urjo Kareda lamented it is a very strong, striking piece which creates and sustains a world beyond experience with conviction and horror. Another follower of Sandra's work mentions the storyline, characterization and situation in "Armagideon" draws the audience into the play with a deliciousness which keeps one off balance. Sharon Pollock adds, "It is strange, violent and nutty...intriguing."
Proudly of Irish descent, Sandra Dempsey is an artist deserving a huge following by both seasoned and emerging playwrights who can benefit from the valuable industry advice given in this interview.
Q - What memories do you have of your childhood and how you became a writer?
A - I am proudly of Irish blood, youngest of twelve (3 sisters, 8 brothers), and even though that sounds like a pre-made gaggle o' companions, I spent most of my time very comfortably in my own world, and observing, always observing. I relished playing on my own in our huge double-lot backyard, driving my tricycle as a city bus, encountering scores of imaginary people on my routes. My oldest brother was twenty-seven years old when I was born, my Ma spent some nine years of her life in a state of pregnancy, and we had a vile alcoholic father from whom we all scattered like cockroaches upon approach. This latter element was likely the cause of the important imprinting of 'man's inhumanity to man' upon my psyche. As these factors all presented themselves, I early on determined that I would never marry, never have children, and I would continue to luxuriate in my independence for the rest of my life. I literally can still see my pre-school self, standing by the back stairs off the kitchen, by the tea towel rack, actually quietly vowing my future to myself. Writing and creating followed, though it really wasn't so much a conscious choice as predetermination, and I just knew I was meant for the theatre, acting and writing.
To keep things exciting, I have always had scatter-shot interests with the passion for self-sufficiency, so I take my own bio photos, maintain my own website, dabble in photography, will fly in any aircraft any time, positively love driving, and still try to ride horseback when I can. But always, always, I continue to observe and file away scenes and thoughts and snippets until they are ready to present themselves in my writing.
Q - You write drama, comedy and poetry. Most playwrights find it difficult if not impossible to effectively execute more than one genre. Where do you draw inspiration to do all three and which one is most difficult to write?
A - Perhaps the trick is not knowing what I'm doing. I do not profess to have a clue about any genre. Characters, dialogue, themes, and plots all just roll about in my head until they formulate themselves and are ready to come out. They are born of their own genetics, their own formatting, and I have little to do with it. However, I do believe that humor is to be found in most things, welcomed or otherwise, and it should be embraced, especially as it will always highlight the colors of the drama around it. Curiously, I have a piece entitled "Inhumanitarianism" which is a sort of hybrid between a short play and poetry - I see and hear it on the page, feel it in the flesh, and watch it unfold both ways. Whatever the work, it is always characters who present themselves in my head, and either I let them tell me what they have to say, or sometimes I will give them a story to tell. On some rare occasions, I will give them an event or an experience which actually happened to me and allow them to make the story their own, to tell in their own words. It's a secret pleasure knowing which of my pieces have been generated from my own life, and, because I am not the one directly speaking, they become solely those of my characters. No one genre is more difficult - again, if you don't know what you're doing, it can't be difficult - and again, the work just comes out in the form it is meant to be; I have little to do with it.
Q - Who is your target audience and which play has been your memorable showcase?
A - I really don't write for anyone specifically. The characters and content of my writing are just what they are, and whether or not an audience finds it all of interest or entertainment, well, I can't control that. I really don't/don't wish to pander to any group or cause. "Flying to Glory" and "Wings to Victory" inclusive of "D’Arcy" are all history-based dramas, but that is but one element of their being. It is the characters and their journeys that are the hearts of the pieces, and the historical circumstance is but a bonus - military/history audiences might appreciate the latter, but if the drama's heart does not beat, the audience might just as well read a textbook. And while "Armagideon" is a cautionary tale about the horrors of nuclear annihilation, it is 70-year-old women and their disturbing choices that catch up the real emotions, which in turn drives any messaging. All the universalities will always boil down to their effect, their effect on individuals, and that is in essence how I go about telling my stories. Of course, I am genetically wired to speak to/for/about women, but I think my male characters have truth to them, also.
I must confess I am just vain enough to think that my most rewarding showcases have been via readings of my own work. I positively love performing my stuff before an audience, feeling the exhilaration when they're teetering on the fence-top of 'what is this woman doing?' and then feeling the sheer joy of them falling into my arms when they instead are engaged and enveloped by entire characters brought to life before them. I especially love it as my work can shape itself, a bit cat-like, in and around, and moving an audience's emotional response from laughter to actual tears. And I did really enjoy presenting a reading of scenes from "Flying to Glory" to a visiting squadron of British Royal Air Force aircrews. Afterwards, all the handsome young flight-suited lads lined up like excited little boys, pulled out their Canadian money and bought signed copies to stash in their Tornado fighters to fly back to the UK.
Q - What kind of artistic challenges have you tackled as a female Canadian playwright and how did you resolve them?
A - At this point in my life, hell...probably at every point but I care not a flying fur-ball as to who thinks what of my work. I really don't. I walked out of a 4-year university acting programme because I thought the instructors/administrations were all a whack-a-doodle bunch of misogynist idiots (actually, most of the women in my year also walked, and have all been working since) I have such low opinions of most of the male species that they have become something of a non-factor. And when I do inevitably encounter them, be it a director or an actor or a playwright, my conviction is further strengthened and I just move on. From an actor grasping at snippets of action movies in his vacuous head as he tried in vain to get a handle on Nathan in "Armagideon," or the director who jumped right in with him in the sudden male bonding of two guys sharing movies' awesomeness, I simply haven't the time or life to begin to try to enlighten them, and I just move on. Ironically, it is often the women in the audience who can see past all these nonsensical misinterpretations and grasp the true impact of the scene or piece, and that in itself is very rewarding.
Q - What is the status of Canadian theatre and women support structure?
A - I'm not really qualified to answer this. As far as I'm concerned, theatre here, as it is most places, is and sadly probably always will be male, male, male - male A.D.s hiring male directors selecting male playwrights with predominately male casts. Organizations and even governments attempt to fulfill their token obligations at support and funding etc, but really, I think we're all on our own.
Q - What kind of social issues/stories are of interest to you and why?
A - Primarily 'man's inhumanity to man' is the catalyst for my writing. It seems there are no ends to the unbelievably horrifying things to which we humans continually subject one another. My duty as a playwright is not so much to proselytize about the generalities of a sweeping issue, but to bring it down to its impact upon the life of the individual.
Q - Do you think women have reached a level where they can hold their own against their male counterparts in story execution? If no, how can we be more competitive?
A - Of course they have and of course they can, and do. But it is and sadly probably always will be male, male, male - male A.D.s hiring male directors selecting male playwrights with predominately male casts.
Q - I see your work maps intelligent execution and knowledge about history, aviation and military idioms which is uncommon to most female playwrights. How did this knowledge come about?
A - This is organic in origin. With all those brothers, I've always been interested in non-traditional-girlie things. I grew up with baskets of hand-me-down Dinky Toy cars, and G.I. Joe's (not a Barbie in sight) - and I've always been vain enough to think there was little I couldn't do, if I just took the time to figure it out. And after some years and provinces apart, when I re-connected with my oldest brother, he had just earned his private pilot's license. I had been wanting to write about World War II, but hadn't decided on which service, and I thought, of course, if I explore flying, I'll have something to share with my brother. So I went for a ride in an old WWII warplane - and I was instantly hooked. And it wasn't just boring straight-and-level flying, but *aerobatics* in the 60+ year old bird. We did loops, rolls, cuban-8s, inverted - and because I did *not* throw up, the pilot let me 'take the stick' and it was pure ecstasy. I returned as often as I could afford the hefty cost, on various vintage aircraft, doing more tricks, pulling more Gs, and even landing and taking off myself. I have no capacity for science or mathematics, so while I do have good hands and good instincts for flying, I could never in a month of Sundays pass my pilot's license. Turns out another of my brothers is plane-crazy too, so that's another wonderful connection.
Q - Which work presented the most difficult technicalities to produce in terms of venue, props, costume, lighting, etc.?
A - My work is character-driven, so there aren't many challenges for these technicalities. Both "Flying to Glory" and "Wings to Victory" obviously involve World War II aircraft, however their representation may be anything from literal, as in actual vintage aircraft in a hangar staging, to stylize. But the biggest consideration, which I even mention in the notes of the published play, is that the sounds of the aircraft must be historically true, out of respect for the play and for the history of the subject - having a giant four-engine Halifax bomber emitting the sounds of a little modern-day Cessna doesn't cut it. Jessie in "Enigma" is ill with severe rheumatoid arthritis - the actual hospital room setting can be literal or interpretive, but the actor's realistic portrayal of the specific aspects of her debilitating disease is imperative to the character and the story. Technically, I have a bit of an affinity for monologues, and using parallel - and in pieces such as "Casualties" or Shirley's monologue in "Flying to Glory." As she speaks, I can actually hear the snapping of the white sheets in the wind on the clothes-line and smell the faint scent of bleach. This could be the result of far too much time left to my own devices, but it's how my brain functions and how I present my craft.
Q - Would you change your profession if you were given an opportunity to choose another career?
A - No. Though I would love to do more writing and more voice work. But I would change my health if I could. I have had severe lung and bone disease (and on continuous oxygen) for most of my life, and had a bout with the big C. I thank god for my Canada's incredible healthcare not burdening me with impossible debts, but still the constant state of ill-health has made it extremely difficult to create to my potential or to earn any sort of decent living from writing or even supplemental jobs. In 2018 I will meet the lung transplant team. No lamentations; it's just a fact of life, but one I wish I never had to negotiate. But if I were physically able, I'm just vain enough to think I could do just about anything, if I wanted to do it.
Q - Please give advice to emerging writers dealing with industry related rejection or failure or delayed profits.
A - Above all, I would trust your own instincts. Rightly or wrongly, at least at the end of the day you will have followed your own heart, and that is reward itself. There are a very, very few people whose opinions I trust and respect or whose counsel I will seek when it comes to my writing - barely a handful, all others are but noise I choose to block. 'Arseholes do vex me' is a bit of a mantra, especially in response to rejections. And if there is any criticism attached, I will read it, assess it, and, if I deem it worthless, I will dismiss it and move on. I would advise others to do the same, especially women writers in receipt of 'advice' from males.
I have encountered many artists, writers and even a musician, who are utterly devoid of soul in their work. That is not a condition to which I will ever aspire, into which hopefully I will ever allow myself to fall. I may make the wrong choices, but so long as I have the passion of my convictions and follow the dictates of my heart, my soul will be strong and pulsing with life. Write about what catches your conscience, write it completely, and write again.
Q - Which play best describes how you want to go down in history?
A - I'm at a loss on this one. I'd probably assign that writing task to 'Cubby Caley' the cat, who has a better credit rating than I, and probably more creative artistry in his left paw than I...
Welcome New Members
ICWP awards a 6-month organizational membership to recipients of the 50/50 Applause Award.
Storycraft Studio, USA
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theater, USA
Plan-B Theatre Company, USA
Ruth Zamoyta, USA
Ruth Zamoyta is an emerging playwright. She has an academic background in English literature, including dramatic works, and she has published several poems, poetry anthologies, and a novel. Her day job is Development & Communications Director for New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the service organization for the state’s 31 Equity producing theatres. Before joining the Alliance in 2014, Ms. Zamoyta worked in communications and project management in the executive offices at Columbia University, and as an independent strategy consultant.
Ms. Zamoyta’s publications include the online novel email@example.com, published in 2001 by classic novels.com; ‘Otsu’ and Other Poems, self-published in 2006; Eating Her Wedding Dress: An Anthology of Clothing Poems, which she co-edited and was published by Ragged Sky in 2009; and Blanket Stories, a poetry anthology published by Ragged Sky in 2014, which she co-edited and which is based on a multi-disciplinary work of collaborative art orchestrated by Richard Jochum. Her poems were published in the aforementioned anthologies, as well as in Dark as a Hazel Eye: Coffee & Chocolate Poems, Ragged Sky 2016; and American Narrative Poetry, Fall 2015. She has also written articles for Howlround, a knowledge commons for the theatre industry; and over 25 cover and feature stories for architectural trade magazines;
Ms. Zamoyta holds an MS in strategic communications from Columbia University, an MA in English from New York University, and a BA summa cum laude from St. John’s University. She is a trustee of Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ, and was recipient of the 2010 Cynthia Carter Memorial Cup, granted by US Fencing to the top-ranked female épéeist over 40. She considers herself equally from New York City and the Adirondack Park, and currently resides with a teenager, a cat, and a few struggling houseplants in northern New Jersey.
Representative Play Titles: The Caregivers; The Fencers; The Lovers; The Friends
Ashley Lara, UK
Ashley Lara’s plays include Economy Class (10x10 Festival Play Festival at Old Joint Stock Theatre in Birmingham, UK), Author (Playwrights’ Workshop at George Cadbury Theatre in Birmingham, UK), and The Cruller Twist (High Stakes Theater Short Play Festival at The Kraine Theatre in New York City). Awards include Poetry Slam Winner at 2012 Birmingham UK Book Festival, and Best Short Play for The Cruller Twist at High Stakes Theater Short Play Festival. Other works have been presented Naked Angels’ Tuesdays at 9, Upright Citizen’s Brigade (NYC), and The Barrow Group’s First Fridays. She is currently a featured artist for High Stakes Theater Company. She has also been featured in The New York Times and TimeOut NY for her work with She Makes Me Laugh, a monthly all-female comedy showcase at the People’s Improv Theatre (PIT). Ashley Lara holds a Master of Research in Playwriting Studies from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Grace Epstein, USA
As a Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati, I teach drama, literature, and film. I have published scholarly articles, poems, fiction and plays in a variety of journals, online and off. Several of my plays have been staged around the country in college and professional venues.
Ren Katherine Powell, Norway
Poet, playwright, translator and theater teaching artist.
American-born, settled in/nationalised citizen of Norway.
Angela J. Davis, USA
Angela J. Davis is the author of The Spanish Prayer Book, a Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center - National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist, PlayPenn top-12 finalist, Julie Harris top-5 finalist, HRC Showcase finalist, FutureFest top-6 finalist, and SETC new-play award first alternate winner, among other honors. Angela's play, The Czar's Daughters, was a 2017 Pittsburgh New Works Festival finalist (scoring 98 and 94 from the evaluating judges) and is slated, along with another of Angela's plays, Charlotte, for the 365 Women a Year playwriting project. Recent work has been presented, or is forthcoming, at the Hollywood Court Theatre, The Dayton Playhouse, The Road Theatre Company - SPF8, the Pittsburgh Original Works series, and The Blank Theatre Living Room Series. Her writing has appeared in numerous national publications, including a University of Iowa Press anthology, and she has received a Pushcart Prize nomination. Angela studied comparative literature at Stanford and lives and writes in Los Angeles, where she is also a practicing attorney, an adjunct professor at Southwestern Law School (formerly at USC Law School), and the creator of an award-winning multi-media program on elimination of bias in courtroom environments.
Eva Moon, USA
Eva Moon has been writing and performing her original music and theatrical works around the Pacific Northwest since 2002. Her original musical shows include 7 Deadly Sins and Me which had a nine-month run in Seattle, My Perfect Life and Other Delusions, The Deal With It Cabaret and The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes, which has been produced multiple times across the US and UK and has a filmed version out on DVD and Amazon Streaming Video.
First You Jump, a surreal and darkly comic musical play in which five very different characters face extraordinary choices that will change their lives irrevocably, has had partial productions in London, Chicago and Louisville, and mounted its first full staging in January, 2015.
Her latest play is The Home for Dead Fairytale Mothers. Everyone knows about the wicked stepmothers, but this one-act introduces audiences to the original First Wives Club.
Eva is also an optioned screenwriter and a regular contributor to Huffington Post.
Representative Play Titles
First You Jump, The Home for Dead Fairytale Mothers
Sithokozile Zulu, Zimbabwe
My purposes manifest as a self-invented, inspired artist whose products have earned recognition both locally and internationally. Art flows naturally in my veins and I have a dream that sees me contributing significantly towards the growth and development of my country and the region at large. My ultimate goal is growth as an artist through international collaborations and further training refining my creative production techniques to open more opportunities for professional growth.
Now Playing & Coming Soon
If you have a play or a reading between January 1 – January 31, please email Amy (firstname.lastname@example.org) before December 15 and it will be featured in the NOW PLAYING column of the January newsletter. Any play or reading in February will appear in the COMING SOON column.
God Bless Phyllis Schlafly by Amy Drake, Jan. 26-28, 2018, Columbus (OH) Conservative Theater Festival, The Shedd Theater, Columbus, OH For more information visit http://conservativefestivaloh.com/
Queen Marie by Shirley Barrie, directed by Rosemary Doyle, will be produced at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, April 13 - 28, 2018 as the finale of the theatre's 100th anniversary season. Visit www.alumnaetheatre.com for ticket information.
Revelation by Shirley Barrie, will be produced in Shifting Spaces, a program of 3 one-act plays by Those Women Productions at Live Oak Theatre, Berkeley CA from March 23 - April 8, 2018 http://www.liveoaktheater.org/
Letter from the Editor
I have thoroughly enjoyed doing the newsletter for the past five years or more. However I am starting an online graphic design company and there is a very steep learning curve so I have to cut back in other areas. Each section of the newsletter is spearheaded by a Board Member. The responsibility of the new Newsletter Editor is to format all the information and images into a template on the administrative side of the ICWP website, a valuable and transferable skill. In fact, many of my skills in graphic design I have learned by doing the newsletter and other volunteer work for ICWP. (Click on the link at the very bottom of this page.) If you like design and technology, this is an exciting opportunity. I will stay on board to mentor the next editor.
Yours for innovative, engaging, and equitable theater.
The image used in this newsletter is the work of Engin Akyurt taken in Siem Reap, a province in northwestern Cambodia and downloaded from Pixabay on December 1, 2017.