Supporting creative work by women
Next month, North Carolina-based playwright Monica Byrne will have her show What Every Girl Should Know in the New York International Fringe Festival. The play inspired by Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and named for her seminal tract about women’s bodies, follows four Catholic girls in 1914 as they make Ms. Sanger their patron saint. Things get tricky when one of them becomes pregnant. The production, directed by Jaki Bradley, will also feature music by Amanda Palmer.
Monica spoke with Works by Women about what excites her about being in the New York International Fringe Festival, why she’ll spend her winter in Beliize, and how she came to write What Every Girl Should Know.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You have an interesting story about becoming a playwright. How did it happen?
MONICA BYRNE: I wrote my first play because I was stuck on my first novel! I just decided to write something fun instead, and it turned out to be Nightwork, inspired by my grad school days in a geochemistry lab. (Also by the scuttling cockroaches in my cabin, where I was writing by candlelight.) I had so much fun writing it, and even more so, when it was produced, watching actors actually say the lines I wrote. It was like Christmas every day. From that point on, fiction and theatre were equal in my heart.
WBW: What excites you about bring What Every Girl Should Know to FringeNYC?
MB: I’m really excited that we’re producing the play in the exact same neighborhoods where Margaret Sanger used to work! Her experiences in the tenement houses of the Lower East Side formed the basis of her convictions. She saw so much suffering in those apartments. I love that we’re telling a story about her there, a century later, in the very same spaces.
WBW: What inspires you about Margaret Sanger? How do you think modern women relate to her struggles?
MB: I love her certitude. She knew she was right, morally and pragmatically. She also didn’t suffer fools. These days, with regard to all the bizarre legislative crap going on, I notice more and more people just saying, “Nope, this is unacceptable.” New cultural norms have taken hold. It’s up to us to keep saying so until the laws finally reflect them.
WBW: What Every Girl Should Know will be produced in other theaters around the country this fall. How do you think art can help bridge tough issues or open dialogue around controversial topics?
MB: In my experience, it rarely does. And I don’t know that that should be its aim. A writer’s obligated to write what’s true for her, whatever that is; what that should do is simply give audience members permission and courage to express what’s true for them.
WBW: What’s next for you?
MB: Oooh, so much! My debut novel The Girl in the Road comes out from Crown/Random House in May 2014, the same week my new play with Little Green Pig, Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo, goes up in Durham. (That’ll be an interesting week.) Meanwhile, I’m going back to Belize this winter to research a second novel, set in a Maya cave in three different millennia.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
MB: Otherization as “women,” for starts. That categorization should always be qualified with its being a temporary, artificial construction. Otherwise, we start colluding with the myth of women being a special subset of human being, which ultimately enables, in turn, the marginalization of their work.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
MB: Well, that women are human and tell human stories. And if we just keep beginning from that assumption, the theatrical culture will very slowly change, and come to regard the present time as barbaric. I sure do.
Find out more about What Every Girl Should Know at http://www.saintmargaretsanger.com/.