5 Questions with D.W. Gregory

The 4th reading in our FORUM “Soundings” series is  A GRAND DESIGN by D.W. Gregory. This reading will be begin at 7:00pm on January 15, 2015 and will be held at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dreyfuss Theatre, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ. Click here for directions. Click here for a printable map of the campus (the Dreyfuss Theatre is located in Building 9).

Len and Claire have just moved in next door to Hal, Len’s friend from work.  Between a history involving Hal’s soon to be ex-wife and a mysterious shooter around the city never hitting the same place twice, Claire’s visions like those from a children’s book begin to parallel real life more than she ever imagined.

D.W. Gregory’s plays frequently explore political issues through a personal lens. The New York Times called her “a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke” for her most produced work, RADIUM GIRLS, which has received nearly 300 productions worldwide since its premiere at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey. Her drama THE GOOD DAUGHTER received a Pulitzer Prize nomination when it was produced at New Jersey Rep, where Gregory is a resident playwright. Other plays include: MOLUMBY’S MILLION, nominated for Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play in 2011; OCTOBER 1962, produced at NJ Rep; and A GRAND DESIGN, commissioned by New Jersey Rep and developed through Theatre J’s Locally Grown Festival. In addition, her short comedy, SO TELL ME ABOUT THIS GUY, was a finalist for the Heideman Award and produced at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville on a bill of short works. Gregory also writes for youth theatre; a competition version of RADIUM GIRLS is coming soon from Dramatic Publishing. Gregory’s work also has been developed through the support of the American Alliance for Theatre in Education (AATE), the National New Play Network, the Maryland Arts Council, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as The Playwrights’ Center, Theatre of the First Amendment, NYU’s HotInk Festival and New Plays for Young Audiences, the Lark, Florida Stage, Geva Theatre, the Women’s Project, and the Young Vic, among others.

1) What inspired you to write A GRAND DESIGN? A GRAND DESIGN was inspired in part by the D.C. sniper shootings of a decade ago. The first in a series of murders took place three blocks from my house, in the parking lot of a Shoppers Food Warehouse. For three weeks, we lived with a constant sense of danger, terrified to go to the grocery store or fill up the gas tank. After it was over, the first thing I did was get my bicycle out and go for a ride. The sense of freedom was exhilarating.  Out of that experience I wrote a short play that I later developed into the current script.

2) Your bio says that your plays “frequently explore political issues through a personal lens.” Why are you drawn to write about political issues?
Martin Esslin says that all drama is political, because it either critiques or affirms the culture in which it was written. But a lot of what passes for political theatre is a polemic in dialogue form; hit you over the head with the message.  And I’m more interested in the complexity of the struggle and the way in which political debates, political battles play out in our living rooms, at the kitchen table, or in our bedrooms. Those big debates, the screaming headlines, the news crawl at the bottom of the screen — all of that can render the issues in an abstract way.  But ultimately these calculations have an impact on someone’s life, someone’s opportunity or hopes. Individuals who are deeply affected by the choices of governing class, and very often, those individuals don’t really have a voice. We like to think they do, but in a political system that is so dependent on big-money donors, in which voting districts are so egregiously gerrymandered, so that most seats are “safe seats” — the average individual does not have much of a voice at all. And the power of theatre lies in its immediacy and its intimacy, its ability to cut through abstractions and present the story of individuals whose lives are transformed by decisions made far away and beyond them.

3) We originally produced your play RADIUM GIRLS which has gone on to have a plethora of productions all over the country. What do you think it is about this play that resonates with theatres and audience members?
It’s an amazing story, and it’s a true story, about young girls recruited to work in watch factories, and who discovered later that they were slowly poisoned by their employer. And it turned out the dangers weren’t hidden at all — they’d been documented, but they were ignored in the mad pursuit of profit. So it’s also a recurring story — and it resonates because we recognize that it could be happening right now, except we don’t know which of the so-called “safe” products, “safe” practices that we use or engage in daily are not safe at all. But it’s also a story about gender politics — about the way in which our culture demanded (and in many ways still demands) compliance from young women, who are expected to be “nice,” and not to make waves or trouble. So when a culture of compliance is a culture of victimization. And it’s only when the woman shake off those expectations and start to make noise that they come into a sense of personal power.

4) Your work has been developed through the support of the National New Play Network (of which we are a member). What does this mean to you as a playwright to be part of a national group of new play development theatre companies?
It’s definitely an affirmation to receive the support of an organization like the NNPN–not only in the form of a development grant, but in other ways. They just launched a national database of new plays, and I was invited to test it out last summer. It’s another venue for promoting your work to theatres around the country–and hopefully it will help to shed a little sunlight on playwrights who are flying under the radar.

5) What would be your ideal way to spend an evening? A) Cocktails with F. Scott Fitzgerald  B) Exploring the depths of the sea with Jacques Cousteau  C) Being an Aerial Silk performer with Cirque du Soleil or D) Hanging out with Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees.
No contest. Cocktails with Scott Fitzgerald.​