A Talk with
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
Bella: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, education
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
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
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
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,