When Work is Play
Interview with playwright Terri Wagener about the premiere of her newest play, Work, at Bloomington Playwrights Project
Bloomington Playwrights Project (BPP) has a specific purpose within the broader theatrical purview of the stage: to be a “leading artistic force in the production and encouragement of new American plays and playwrights.”
But with the Reva Shiner contest, there can be only one winner. And this year, that is Terri Wagener’s script about (as the tagline says) “those who run things and those who get run over...” It is the social climate of the 1960s. It is a musing on today intended to be amusing as well. It is Work, directed by conductor-composer Dr. James Mumford and acted by Breshaun Joyner and Jeff Craft.
Originally from Texas, Terri Wagener has lived in New York and LA, writing scripts for the stage, then for the screen, and now back again. Her plays have been produced at Yale Rep, South Coast Rep, Actors Theater of Louisville, and O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. There have also been several highly acclaimed productions in LA and New York.
She decided her goal would be one play per year, submitting to playwriting contests and “not caring if they got picked or not” though she admitted that is easier said than done. She wrote Work in the summer of 2006, her first play in her return to the theater. And “BPP's nod and production has been an invaluable encouraging word,” she said.
That full production, along with a cash prize, sets the Reva Shiner contest apart from most other similar contests around the country. And past winners have gone on to further acclaim, such as Sarah Treem, Buzz McLaughlin, and Janet Burroway.
Work is the story of an African American woman who receives an unexpected visit from a representative of her late husband’s employer. He is there to give her a widow’s compensation check, but it turns out to be anything but a routine delivery. The ‘60s setting becomes a reflection on current times, accomplished with, as Terri put it, “comedy and a surprising poignancy of the characters and their tenuous relationship.”
When I asked Terri how her story came about, she answered, “I was thinking about how our president sounds so much like my dad (they are both oil men), and how hard it was, as a child, with LBJ as President, for me to question my dad or his values since he and the leader of the free world sounded exactly alike. I thought about how voices and language affect us, and the parallels went from there.”
Photos are courtesy of Bloomington Playwrights Project
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