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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Q&A: Deirdre Girard on 'The Christina Experiment'

Deirdre Girard’s The Christina Experiment opens Thursday at Newburyport’s Firehouse Center for the Arts. The event will mark the first production of one of Deirdre’s full-length works, so of course it was fun to chat about it…

KAM: Is this the first production of one of your full-length plays?

DG: Yes!  And I had no idea it was even being considered for a full production.  I had a staged reading of the play at the Actor’s Studio in Newburyport and apparently the President of the Board for The Firehouse Center for the Arts (a 200 seat historic theater) was at the reading.  A couple of months later, the Artistic Director of the Firehouse surprised me by saying that they commit to one new play each year and my play was their first choice for the 2011 production.

KAM: That is absolutely fantastic! Tell us a little bit about The Christina Experiment.

DG: The Christina Experiment questions how we make committed choices in a world that is never black and white, a world where our complex pasts and current perceptions continuously alter what we know to be facts.  How can we ever feel truly safe?  And what is at risk if we require a surety that simply doesn’t exist?

Christina is living a quiet life with her daughter Abby, when her celebrity psychologist father writes a book that exonerates his foster son of murder.  But Christina trusts neither her father nor his book, and insists on verifying the facts before she’ll expose her daughter to a man who might be a brutal killer.  As she tries to find the truth, Christina risks losing everyone she has ever loved, including her daughter.

KAM: What made you want to tell this story?

DG: It started with a recent newspaper article about a widowed minister in New Hampshire who allowed a level-three sex offender to live with him and his young daughter.  The minister felt that he was responsible for providing for his entire “flock”.  I started thinking about the daughter. What happens to that young child as she grows up knowing that her father, the person who is supposed to protect her, put his theoretical ideals before her personal safety?  That girl has been transformed into my Christina, and the molester into a child killer.

Deirdre Girard
I wanted to write the story because I love to write strong female roles, and I could not stop imagining the adult this woman would become.  As a mother (who can sometimes be too safety conscious), I thought a lot about how our quest for safety in an unsure world can lead to isolation.

KAM: How are you feeling about the production?

DG: As you would expect, both excited and terrified.  The theater was able to engage my favorite local director, Steve Haley, and he cast it beautifully.  I have complete faith in Steve’s vision and direction and couldn’t be happier with the cast.  My greatest comfort is that the actors seem to really like the play and the lead studied the script extensively to secure the role even after swearing she was only going to accept roles in comedies for a while.

But… it’s my first play, so it will never be my best play… I’m learning so much all the time about playwriting, which makes me want to keep tearing it apart and rewriting it.  And the thought of all those empty seats haunts me -- it’s a large theater, and a new work from an unknown playwright is not likely to attract large audiences.  Then there are those thoughtless people to contend with.  You know them.  The ones who love to say obnoxious things to playwrights after seeing their work, like “What did YOU think?”  “You must be so excited” or “You had a wonderful cast” -- all of which mean they hated the play.  And they actually believe they are being gracious!

KAM: What are some of the challenges you’ve run into so far?

DG: Rewriting.  I love it.  I can’t stop.  I’ll never stop until the director demands that I do.  Actors find this very annoying when they’re trying to memorize lines.  Fortunately, all is forgiven if they like the new lines better.  I’ve rewritten the last three pages at least a half dozen times, and told the actors I refuse to stop until the director tells me he fucking loves it.  He really liked yesterday’s version so I’m close…

KAM: Working on anything else we should know about? What’s next?

DG: What I’m most excited about is a one act I’ve written based on the life of Phoebe Prince.  It is designed for high school production (or to be brought into a high school) and my dream is that it will open up a discussion about bullying without being an “issue” play or pandering to the students in any way.  The entire cast is 15 and 16 year olds; the adults are represented only by offstage voices.  The dialogue is brutal, sexually charged, hopeful and heartbreaking—the world as teens know it.  It’s only in first draft and I’ve shown it to a few high school students—I was pretty floored when they all seemed to love it, and found the dialogue and situations to be on target.  I know that with “The Christina Experiment” I’ve had a lot of compliments on the mother/daughter relationship and the daughter’s dialogue, so maybe capturing a young girl’s voice is strength for me.

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