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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Southern Fried Mysticism: Q&A With Reginald Edmund

On May 1-4, work by this year’s MFA class – Peter Floyd, John Greiner-Ferris, and Heather Houston -- will be featured in our annual Ground Floor New Play Series, along with Reginald Edmund’s Southbridge. Southbridge was the winner of the 2011 Southern Playwrights’ Competition, and is part of the Sister City Playwrights Exchange.

All four readings are free – reserve your seat and get additional information here.

Playwright Reginald Edmund
Tell us a little about Southbridge.

Southbridge was my grad school thesis project two years ago, that was the winner of the 2011 Southern Playwrights Competition, and national runner-up for both the Lorraine Hansberry and the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award. For me, this script is one of the most personal plays that I've ever written. I wrote this piece wanting to examine what it meant for people to really see each other for who they are. I wanted to explore what it means to love, really love, and to love so fully to the point that it can tear your soul out. What it means to love and how it can both heal spirits and destroy them as well. So I hope when audiences come to take part in this journey, it touches them in some kind of way.

Southbridge is part of your nine play The City of the Bayou series – that’s a pretty big undertaking. Was the project conceived as including nine plays, or…?

Like all crazy ideas, The City of the Bayou Collection started off with a singular idea: Tell the story of a singular contemporary neighborhood in Houston, Texas, and experiment with how one moment from a play can directly affect how the next play begins, and how each action one person makes can directly affect and impact the lives of others around them – creating, in essence, a social domino effect, that is constantly rippling. Later I realized that in order to have a full understanding of what America is in the present, and ultimately shall come into being in the future, that we need to closely examine the past. So Southbridge, a play set in 1881 Athens, Ohio became the second play in this series.

For so many playwrights, locale is a character in itself, and it sounds like this may be the case with The City of the Bayou series. Tell us a little bit about this environment.

I write a lot about Houston, but specifically the south, and southern culture. But to examine what modern southern culture is you have to look at how the past impacted that present. My plays and my life is so deeply entrenched in that environment that it, in truth, seems like the only place I've ever truly known. It flows through my blood. But there is something otherworldly about this city feels whenever you walk down the streets at night. There is an oddness to it, where both the past and the present seem to merge in on itself, where there is so much culture and ghosts that weigh on this town. That seems to directly impact my writing. Every play I write, I think the past seems to collide uncomfortably with the present.

Speaking of locale, it sounds like you’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot, in support of your work, and to pursue development opportunities. What impact has that had on your work?

I think traveling has really helped me open up to various forms of techniques and tricks in my writing, has caused my scope to expand from focusing primarily at what American Theatre is doing but towards what is happening globally in the area of theatre as well. Plus I've been blessed to meet some of the most amazing people who have taken the time to guide me and mentor me along this journey as a young writer. I feel that is a rare blessing that many writers haven't had the opportunity to experience. Playwriting is so often a lonely task filled with writing and rewriting, and when you know you have so many people that believe in your voice and are willing to help push you forward, you feel like this industry isn't such an uphill battle. So for every time that I feel like I should quit, I've be fortunate enough to have people from everywhere from the United States to Colombia and Prague tell me that I need to push on. I'm no longer just writing to impact my community in the Bayou City of Houston, Texas, but now I'm writing to try to touch the souls from all over the world who have reached out to touch mine.       

How would you describe your writing to people unfamiliar with your work?

Southern Fried Mysticism – I like to think of it as magic realism with a southern swagger to it. 

What’s next for you?

I don't really know what's next for me. I'm at this point in my life that's incredibly exciting and yet a scary place to be. I'm currently looking for a new artistic home but aside from that, recently I've co-founded an organization called the Unit Collective in Minneapolis; under the guidance of the Playwrights' Center, I'm working on a commission with the History Theatre called the 1968 Project; and I've written a play called White America, about an influential political family that is a part of the Tea Party movement – they are actually the descendants of African American slaves. I wrote it in response to the recent passionate national movement -- overwhelmingly white, that has risen screaming rhetoric that they are reclaiming something that has been taken away. And I became more intrigued by this phenomenon when they became making statements like “Return American government to the American people." It made me ask the question, what does that mean? Are they saying Obama isn't American? Does that mean I'm not what they want to view as American? Am I the other? So the play started out as a question what happens to your mentality when you discover that the white privilege you've been able to claim and enjoy for so long is in danger of being stripped away from you. But ultimately it looks at America as being a house built upon a rather weak foundation, and what happens when the house you've resided in starts crumbling around you... Oh, and I still have four more plays in my City of the Bayou Collection to complete.

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