Funsherpa chats with Dana Lynn Formby to discover the world of a blue-collar playwright. Dana shares her interest in giving a voice to the working class and uncovers the secret three E’s of theater. Her play, Inherit the Whole, will be starting a run at the Mortar Theater this Friday.
F: You’re often described as a ‘blue-collar’ playwright. How did that come about and why make the distinction from other playwrights?
D: I call my self a blue-collar playwright because my father is a pipe-fitter and my mother was a hairdresser. They loved and supported me and struggled with money their entire lives. They rightfully told me I could be anything I wanted… I was an American. Through the struggle of growing up, I learned, what the media told me I wanted was different from the reality staring me in the face. I’m interested in taking off the rose-colored glasses I perched on the end of my nose as a kid. I carefully assembled my glasses out of clippings of American dreams found anywhere from Glamour to Fortune 500. I write plays that question this rose-colored-cutout-pasted-collage, in hopes of preventing certainties that arise when blue-collar economics beg you to stop at your gender. I do this to look past what the 2D American dream promises, and aim for the impossible. Through my art, I strive to dismantle the barriers put up by economic classes.
F: We saw another online feature of you that mentions your fondness of listening to Cake to get into the writing mood. Do you still listen to Cake to get yourself into the writing mood? Or has your musical taste evolved since then?
D: Cake! Absolutely! There is something about how raw and dirty the sound is, that puts me in a nice bit of anger at the world. This helps me see the obstacles my characters need to face. Also, I love me some Chris Isaac.
F: As a playwright instructor with the Chicago Dramatists, how would you describe your teaching style?
D: I am a cheerleader. I wish to empower my students to allow themselves the right to write. I encourage them to ask questions. I also ask them to teach each other what I have taught. I believe the true path to learning is to teach what you know. When you are forced to do this you realize you didn’t know it half as much as you thought. And when you have to explain what it is your teaching, you yourself gain a deeper understanding for it.
F: How do you deal with hopeless students?
D: Hopeless is a strange word. If you mean they don’t do the work there is not much I can do. If it means they feel they can’t write, than it is my job to empower them. As a writer there is always this critic sitting on your shoulder yelling at you, “You can’t do this! You have no right to do this. This is stupid.” I encourage them to tell that critic to go eat a bag of chips because work needs to get done. The critic can come back after you finish a draft.
F: Can you talk to us about your play at the Mortar, called Inherit the Whole? Why talk about Vietnam now?
D: My father is a Vietnam Vet. There is no me without Vietnam. I honestly believe that half of him is still over there. War causes a separation between all of the survivors of the war. The country is at war again. There are daughters and sons who will grow up with this same disconnect with their parent if they have served in battle. Theatre has the ability to connect strangers through catharsis– through witnessing the journey of a character on stage. It is my hope that writing about the past– Vietnam, we can quell the taboo’s of war for our soldiers coming home. I hope lessen the gap between soldier and citizen. This gap will always exist but I believe through art, we may be able to reach over that gap.
F: Why did you bring in the element of the trunk of gold?
D: Honestly? When my Granddaddy died, his brother’s came to his house looking for a big old bag of silver that my cousin Danny went with him to pick up at the train station back in the seventies. We never found it.
F: Who did you create the play for?
D: This is a rough question. It’s something that an artist must ask themselves but is difficult to answer honestly. This play came out of the chaos of living paycheck to paycheck. I wish to give a voice to the working class. I hope with “Inherit the Whole” Mortar Theatre is able to bring together people from different social economic backgrounds so that we can see our similarities are more in common than we think. It is through our commonalities that humans find connection.
F: Who do you think will enjoy ‘Inherit the Whole’ the most?
D: People with a good since of humor who can laugh and get angry at the absurdity of life.
F: The story almost seems quite ‘melancholic’. Is that an accurate description or is there more to what is presented in the play’s synopsis?
D: It is actually quite funny and quickly paced. I mean, men digging a hole in a living room! Funny. Dennis Zacek, the Artistic Director of Victory Gardens, keenly taught me the three E’s of Theatre. First: a play must entertain, the next step is to enlighten, and finally, if we are lucky, the play will take us to a level of Ecstasy. I believe all three are touched on in this play. I also believe that I will learn so much about the play by witnessing how the audience reacts to the play. I believe a production of a play is the playwright’s actual first draft. The reason I say this is because the play behaves differently when it is on its feet moving around in three dimensional space. Theatre is a collaborative sport and I am so thankful to have a place to play ball in front of a crowd so that I may grow past what I learned in graduate school.
F: How did you decide to share your play with the Mortar Theatre? What was it like working with them?
D: I am an Ensemble Member here and I feel we are a great fit for each other.
F: What’s in store for your future plays?
D: Right now I am working a play called The Eve Maneuver. The play is about a girl named Veronica,18, who wants to uphold the proud Semperfi tradition of her father, a Desert Storm Vet. Determined to march in his footsteps, she unearths what it means to do or die, leaving her finger on a trigger as she decides between her patriotism towards her father and the heart she found as a child going to Sunday school.
F: Anything vastly different from the plays you’ve created?
D: Looking at what I just wrote above this question it would appear that I tackle the subject of war quite a lot. I cannot deny that I am moved and feel a need to write about this subject. But other plays I have written, do not touch on war. I write very much from my heart. It is hard for me to see the trees for the forest on this one. I feel my plays are all very connected. Gender is something I choose to tackle as a writer. Some would say I have masculine plays and feminine plays. I guess I have to say without one, the other cannot exist. It is through my definition of masculine that I understand feminine and vice versa. It is my goal to stretch myself as an artist while maintaining the honesty of my experience in the world around me.