Interview With Playwright: Lydia Diamond

Lydia Diamond

Lydia Diamond’s phenomenal work shines through, but not without hard work and years of dedication. She has a critical, yet witty analysis of the world and her collection of memories. “Stick Fly” is no exception to the rule. In this play, she peels back layers of her characters and exposes them bare bones. The audience gets a clear glimpse of the reason and motivation, the ‘what makes him or her tick’. Pure genius with the interweaving of  individual African-American perspectives and conflict; while addressing cultural and emotional collective psyche.

1. When did you know you wanted to become a playwright?
I didn’t know right away that I wanted to ‘be’ a playwright. I considered myself an actor and wanted to write roles that I’d enjoy playing. Funny, flawed, complicated, contemporary black women.

2. Who has inspired you on your journey? Family and other artists?
I am so fortunate to have been well supported and mentored through the years. First of course there is my mother, who has cheered me on, and come to every play, from grade school on. Then there are the many mentors and colleagues along the way… Chuck Smith for instance, this kind man and talented director who is committed to mentoring young artists, through the years he has taught me so much. He directed my first play at a Regional theatre (The Gift Horse at the Goodman, in 2001). And of course, he directed the first production of Stick Fly. I won’t name all of the others, I can only leave some out. But I have been well brought up by friends, family, and colleagues and it has made all of the difference.

3. Where did you begin your education in developing characters and building worlds?
My first playwriting teacher was Charles (not to be confused with Chuck) Smith, the wonderful playwright, who was my playwriting professor at Northwestern University when I was an undergraduate. I don’t know that I’d have learned that I have a facility for the craft were it not for him. He gave me the foundation for making plays, on which I’ve built anything and everything else I’ve ever written.

4. What works have you done lately that led to “Stick Fly”? Inspiration for this play?

Well, Stick Fly has been around for so many years, that between writing it and now, I have been busy. Since Stick Fly there have been many others. Voyeurs de Venus (first produced while we were putting up Stick Fly – It won the Joseph Jefferson award for best play that year), An adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Harriet Jacobs, also for Steppenwolf, and most recently Smart People.

I’m not sure that’s the answer you were looking for here’s a shorter version:

I was inspired to write Stick Fly while working on another play. I wanted to try my hand at a “well-made play” a traditional play, and I wanted to laugh and sort of escape the research I was doing for the other play that was deeply depressing. That other play was Voyeurs de Venus, and it is one of my favorites.

5. How would you describe “Stick Fly”?
I would call Stick Fly a comedy/drama about an a family who spends a weekend at their home on Martha’s Vineyard… and exciting stuff happens! The marketing people do that better…. but it’s definitely a play full of laughs, tears, and revealed secrets.

6. What specific character can you relate to the most and why?
There’s a little bit of me in all of my characters. Taylor is the character who some years ago I most identified with. Now I’m really understanding Kimber better, and now that my son is getting older, I have more compassion for Joe. But yeah, I’m in all of them.

What are pros and cons of Broadway vs. Off-Broadway? (In your opinion)
Having been raised in Chicago, it’s a hard question to answer. Chicago is a town that values the art above the venue. First of all, there are no Broadway cons. It’s an honor to be able to have had a play produced there, and it’s the same with off-broadway. A production is a production, you hope for talented people who bring the talent and not the drama, you hope that you’ll all make something beautiful together, and you hope that audiences will appreciate what you have made. The rest is just real-estate. I suppose that if I had to critique any of it, I’d say that the American Theatre still needs to figure out how to put on plays that represent the racial, economic, and sexual diversity that makes our country what it is. Right now theatre, particularly in the more established houses, can look very homogenous. I’m happy to see that changing…it could change faster.

7. Is it still difficult to be an African American playwright? Is there more tolerance to blacks and females in the theater, now?
It’s difficult to be a playwright, period. It’s challenging to be a person of color in this country that still has so many racial issues, and denies that it does so vigorously. Theatre is no different. It’s gotten a little better, but if you look at the statistics for who gets productions in this country, the reality is still very grim for women of color, and women in general.

8. Where do you go when you create? (Your own writing space)
Right now I have a specific table, near an outlet, at the Starbucks on Sherman Avenue in Evanston. I also have a nice spot at the bar at the restaurant Farm House in Evanston. (it has electricity too, good fries, and if I’ve had a good a day of writing, it’s nice to have a glass of wine at the end of the day.) I do have an office at home, but I find that if I try to write there I get too easily distracted, and tend to feel a little confined.

*This interview is by the original author Okema “Seven” Gunn*

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