Jessica Dickey is creator of the acclaimed The Amish Project, [produced here by Factory 449 in 2014], Charles Ives Take Me Home, and the Civil War reenactor play, Row After Row. Twice nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn prize, The New York Times recently named Dickey a “talent to watch.” The Guard is her Ford’s Theatre debut. Jessica Dickey and The Guard are recipients of the National Theatre Conference’s 2015 Barrie and Bernice Stavis Award, an award celebrating outstanding emerging playwrights.
Why are you a playwright?
I don’t know why I write, I just know that I must. I know that to write is to reach out, and to attend the theatre is admit we want to be reached. You could say that I’m a person for whom reaching out is an innate need. Once I had several plays under my belt it occurred to me that it was now possible that something from my small life could last. I don’t know what I think of that yet.
I do believe all good theatre invites us to contemplate death. Even with the bawdiest of comedies, anytime you put a group of people in a room and they watch a narrative together, somehow death intrinsically joins them in the audience. Maybe it has to do with the idea that every play helps us answer the question “How are we to live?” But because the event of theatre intrinsically involves live, beating hearts in one room, watching other live, beating hearts play out a story– inevitably we hold an awareness of time passing, of human story moving through us, of ephemera.
When writing The Guard, I was definitely trafficking in what lasts and what disappears. The play lives in the tension between the longevity of art and the brevity of a human life.
What type of theatre most excites you?
Contemporary theatre. New work. I’m less interested in what we were saying a hundred years ago; what are we saying now? Of course there’s a place for returning to the classics, but we focus too much on that in theatre right now. We need to be tuning in to what writers are saying NOW. What could be more relevant?
WOMEN’S VOICES THEATER FESTIVAL
September 25 – October 18, 2015
511 10th St, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Details and Tickets
What starts a play moving in your imagination?
Oh, it’s different for each play. In the case of The Guard, I was at the National Gallery in London, in the midst of an emotional encounter with a painting, when I looked beside me and discovered a museum guard. I was immediately struck that this was his JOB— all day, every day, he watched the art, which meant he also watched the people like me who had come to see the art, and I wondered what that was like. So I asked him! Thus began The Guard, my journey to discover the secret world of museum life.
Describe your writing day.
I’m not particularly ritualistic in my writing life, except that I do it every day and I write by hand (not by computer) for most of the process. I usually write in my apartment; I never write in a cafe; sometimes I write on the subway. Lately I’ve had the luxury and privilege of writing in other countries! There’s nothing more satisfying than finishing my work for the day and going for a run in a foreign place, seeing the people, the architecture, the sky.
How did you choose this play to debut at the Festival?
Ford’s commissioned me to write The Guard, and once they read the first draft they immediately selected it for their festival slot. It was amazing!??
Which female playwrights have influenced your writing and how?
Many female writers have influenced my work (though not limited to playwriting)—Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Marilynne Robinson, Natalie Goldberg, Mary Oliver… These writers helped me realize that the vocabulary and questions of my own heart were all that I needed to write. In my early theatrical life I was slow to notice there was a dearth of female voice.
What’s missing from theatre today?
What are you working on now?
A Sloan commission about Galileo’s Daughter, a commission from Rising Phoenix for an all female cast called The Convent, and a feature film.
Answer this: “If I weren’t a playwright, I would be … “
Less happy. Still writing, but less happy.
Anything you would like to add?
Come to Ford’s Theatre to see The Guard! Then go to all the other theaters in DC producing work by women and buy tickets! Your ticket is your way of voting for female writing to be produced– GO!