A Talk with
Geralyn Horton

This interview with BellaOnline, a comprehensive, online Network created by women for women, appeared October 20, 2000. Reprinted here with permission.

Bella: Geralyn, if you could start by sharing a brief biography--

Geralyn: My earliest memories are of the theatre: the Toledo University production of "Othello" and the Broadway road show of "Oklahoma" I saw before I was five years old, are vivid in my memory to this day. By second grade I was herding neighborhood kids together to put on shows in our garage. I wrote dialogue, built scenery, and usually played the witch or the stepmother. When I was eleven, Grandma took me to see Yellow Spring's Summer Shakespeare, outdoors at the Toledo Zoo. There, right at the point where Hamlet says he'll "lug the guts into the neighbor room," I had a revelation: actors are heroes, bigger than life; but the author, the poet of the theater, is the one who can shoot an arrow into the heart across four hundred years. The playwright is immortal, a Creator who is almost a god. I knew from that moment what I wanted to do with my life. I went home and began my first grown-up, "serious" play -- which was, of course, in verse.

No one at Clay-Genoa High School discouraged my ambitions, I suppose because they were too absurd to discuss. I joined the Thespian Society, won a best actress award, directed a couple of plays, and wrote skits for pep rallies. I was one of the four females in my class who made plans to go to college. Enrolled at Ohio University, I learned some painful Facts: 1) Girls do not grow up to be Great Playwrights. 2) Most successful acting careers consist of long running hits of doubtful merit, occasional film bits, and commercials. 3) There's not much paid work for short round witches or freckled stepmothers, however wicked.

I married a graduate student in Electrical Engineering and followed him from job to job, changing our daughter's diapers, writing poetry, taking courses and acting at the nearest college or community theatre. In the late 60's I began to work with David Wheeler's Theater Company of Boston. There I met playwright Eliza Wyatt, whose writing I very much admired. I directed a science fiction script of hers for the Theater Company and her "Assassination of RFK" at Harvard's Loeb Ex. Wyatt and I are still working together, although she has recently re-located to England. I'm directing the premiere of her geek comedy "Chronic Competition" at the Boston Center for the Arts September 6-16th. We were both active in the developmental group, Playwrights' Platform, for many years. I have done readings of works-in-progress, led discussions, and served as lighting technician or producer for a dozen of the Platform's annual One Act Festivals.

Most of the scripts I've written for these Festivals have gone on to subsequent productions elsewhere. REGENCY ROMANCE (1981) was in the Quaigh Dramathon, and after being selected as "critics choice" at the Off-Off B'way Short Play Festival was performed at dozens of different venues, most recently NYC's Chain Lightning Theatre. Currently (September 2000) NYC's Love Creek is doing my 1999 Festival one act, BEYOND MEASURE. CHOICES, my 1988 all-woman script set in the besieged Brookline abortion clinic that in 1994 would become the site of John Salvi's murderous rampage, was in development at Sundance Lab in July of 1990-- along with "Angels In America" and "The Kentucky Cycle". Burbage Ensemble scheduled an LA premiere of CHOICES, but the production closed in previews as one after another of its dozen actresses abandoned the cast to accept work in movies or TV. Re-titled UNDER SIEGE, the script has yet to have a professional production--but it has been done by a couple of colleges, including South Africa's National School for the Arts in March of 2000. Christina Chan is still touring the set of monologues I wrote for her about gold rush era Chinese immigrants, UNBINDING OUR LIVES, but most of my longer works seem to get stuck at the "Staged reading" level, without a full production.

Over the years I have written forty some plays, directed forty more, and performed in more than one hundred and forty-- mostly unpaid and in church basements. An acting high point was getting to rave reviews at the 1989 Edinburgh Fringe in "Martha Mitchell", a musical monodrama about the loud mouth wife of Nixon's Attorney General, written for me by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro. Other favorite roles include Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, Maria, Olivia, and Gertrude; along with Gilbert & Sullivan's Buttercup, Ruth, Dame Hannah, and Mad Margaret. Recently, I've played Madam Arcati, Juno, and Bessie Berger, and appeared in three American premieres by Scottish/Irish writers: Rona Munro's "Bold Girls", Marina Carr's "Portia Coughlan", and Liz Lockhead's "Perfect Days"-- all 3 at the Sugan Theatre.

This past year or so I have been focusing on the Internet as a possible path through the barriers erected against unagented scripts, and also as a way of talking shop with theatre artists around the world. I am a Boston area critic for AisleSay (www.AisleSay.com)the Web review magazine. My Web published (and downloadable) one act plays at (www.tiac.net/users/ghorton) have been getting a flurry of student productions in high schools and colleges by young people who are more inclined to surf the Net than visit the library. At the moment, a handful are being translated: A LATE LUNCH and IN THE DARK into French by a pair who want to act in them, and NO SECRETS and CAST SPELL into Arabic by a class at Bahrain University I've attended all but one of the International Women Playwrights' Conferences, and I hope to be at the 2000 Conference in Athens, Greece, in October.

Bella: How did you get into playwriting?

Geralyn: Somewhere around age 10 or 11 I had a mystical vision: a golden music box carousel on which little statues of my favorite authors were riding. Shaw and Shakespeare told me I was to become a playwright and join their roundelay.

No instructions came with this assignment, alas. I grew up post W.W.II, when women were being sent home from "men's jobs". This included the Arts, and especially creative or managerial positions. My class play in high school was directed by an (untrained) female, but I had no female teachers in college, and no books-- or plays!-- written by women were included in the English lit courses.

Bella: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, education and training?

Background-- Midwestern boring. See my bio, (above) or my semi autobiographical comedy, "Intercourse, Ohio."

Education-- Midwestern boring. I could read and write long before I started school, and consequently thought "education" a waste of my time and an insult to my intelligence.

Training-- In theatre, just the basics. I performed in community theatre from age 5, on and off. My best training was the Toledo Museum School, where I studied with artist teachers every Saturday from age 8 to age 16. I knew I wasn't going to have a career as a visual artist: but I loved the history, discipline, respect for craft; and I developed absolute confidence in my aesthetic judgment.

Bella: Are you involved in any other aspects of theatre?

Geralyn: Acting, directing, design, musical theatre. Also do gigs as a techie. Plus I write reviews and criticism.

Bella: Would you comment on your writing style?

Geralyn: Polysyllabic, stylized, sensual, aural rather than visual.

Bella: Would you say that your plays are more character driven or action driven?

Geralyn: My plays, alas, tend to be idea driven.

Bella: Are there any playwrights that have influenced your writing? If so, in what way(s)?

Geralyn: Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Shaw... these I read as a child, and they shaped my imagination. The Wakefield Master, who Explains It All. Wilder, Albee, Churchill, Stoppard, Yankowitz, Friel, Kushner, Frayn, have delighted me more recently, and stretched the tedious limits of naturalism without abandoning characterization or depth.

My favorite contemporary writers, all novelists, are Iris Murdoch, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guinn, Georgette Heyer, and the sisters Margaret Drabble and A.S. Byatt.

Bella: Where do the ideas for your plays come from?

Geralyn: The news or the Muse or my acquaintances.

Bella: What is your favorite play and why?

Geralyn: At the moment, Frayn's "Copenhagen" is my favorite play-- because it is brilliant, historical, serious, playful, moral, intelligent, thrilling, important, large, and sad.

Bella: What would you say is the most rewarding part of playwriting?

Geralyn: What's a "reward"? Certainly none of them have been financial! There's the inspiration that creates a world, the poetry of a perfect speech, the character who takes over any actor who plays her and demonstrates a life of her own. But there is also the downside, that all these joys are imperfectly realized "on the night". There are perfect moments of laughter, tears, or gasps of plot surprise from an audience. But these moments dissolve into the grim daily reality that nobody really feels the need for a new play. There already exist more wonderful plays than there are stages to put them on. Nobody really wants to get dressed and go downtown and sit on uncomfortable chairs and in the dark in the company of strange characters to whom they haven't been properly introduced, who may be bores or boors or worse. The news, the buzz, the research and development of emotional intelligence are focused elsewhere in our time. If one doesn't bribe or beg every relative and friend in the world to come and be supportive, the actors on a new play's opening night are likely to outnumber the audience. The whole process is manic depressive in the extreme. I love-hate everything about it -- except marketing, which I simply and excessively HATE.

Bella: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Geralyn: Yes! Read my on-line scripts: one-act plays, full-length plays, and monologues.


home | bio | resume | blog | contact GL Horton
monologues | one-act plays | full-length plays
reviews | essays | links | videos

Made on an iMac by Websites 4 Small Business.