Diane Grant takes the stand:
I think we are all born to tell stories and to listen to them. Leslie Marmon Silko says “I will tell you something about stories. They aren’t just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don’t have anything if you don’t have stories.”
1. How did you become a playwright?
As I child, I learned to love stories. My father was a wonderful storyteller who could take the ordinary events of family and of daily life and spin them into something that always made us laugh. My Aunt, my dad’s sister, also told stories. She was the National Secretary of the Women’s Temperance Union in Canada and would travel from town to town with her felt board, speaking and reciting. I was very impressed.
When I was in middle school and I can still remember being mesmerized by hearing a performance of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. Our school auditorium was full of rowdy students when suddenly a man dressed all in black appeared on the stage and began….
“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas….”
It’s hard to imagine now but that auditorium was utterly quiet until he came to the end. I thought, “Oh, I want to write something like that.”
I’m a Canadian from Vancouver, British Columbia, and my desire to write was reinforced every time my mother, grandmother and I would go to Theatre Under the Stars, an outdoor musical theatre in Vancouver’s gorgeous Stanley Park, where the singers had to compete with the seals barking and the peacocks screeching. Magic!
2. What is your favorite play of yours?
I just did a performance of my one act comedy, Rondo a la Condo, with The Kentwood Players, which remains my favorite play. I don’t know why, except that I’m crazy about the characters, who are all trying to find a little peace and quiet but who keep each other on high alert much of the time.
3. I loved a production of another short play of mine, called Sex and Violence. It’s a difficult play to do because the comedy is dark. The protagonist has grown slightly mad and his wife, who despises him, has to be played as a cold, ambitious woman, indifferent to his pain. This production captured all of that and got all the laughs that were there, too.
4. What play by someone else has moved you the most and why?
One of the plays that most moved me was The Glass Menagerie, which I grew to know well because I played Amanda Wingfield in two different productions. I hate productions of it in which Amanda is played as a self centered shrew. Her story is so contemporary. She’s a single mother, abandoned by her children’s father. She makes terrible mistakes but she loves her children and tries to keep everything afloat in a time of depression. Her son also deserts her and his sister, and his guilt is at the heart of the play. And the language is superb.
5. Who is your favorite playwright? Why?
I have a few favorites. Right up there is Shakespeare with his wit and insight and gorgeous language. It’s amazing that so many of his words and thoughts are still part of our lives. I wonder how many books there are with titles taken from his plays. Tom Stoppard’s sophistication and crisp language is thrilling. (I keep looking for revivals of Arcadia. Saw a very moving production at Vox Humana a few years ago.) Ann Jellicoe was an early influence. I admire her immediacy, sense of place and culture, her zest for life. She also plays with style and is not afraid to work outside a conventional framework. Shelley or The Idealist is one of my favorite plays.
6. How has your writing changed over the years?
I’ve learned to cut, cut, cut. I still overwrite and am fortunate to have a husband who is a fine editor and who spots every comment on a situation, every repetition. I’ve also learned to enjoy rewriting. And rewriting.
7. What type of plays do you write?
Although I’ve written plays with political themes and dramas, generally speaking I write comedies. I like to call them “profound comedies.” And I don’t know if I’m joking about that. I don’t start out to write in any style. Comedies are just what happens. I often use music, too, and like the way it enlivens the proceedings.
What also influenced my style was working in a company that built new plays from research, documentary material, and improvisation. We’d write as we sat on the stage, put the pages on their feet and go.
8. Do you write in any other literary forms?
I write poetry on occasion. I’ve used poems in my plays but have usually turned them into songs. My husband and I used to write screenplays, which involved a lot of walking around the block.
9. Why did you become a blogger for the lafpi?
The fab trio, Jennie Webb, Ella Martin, and Laura Shamas asked me to become part of the lafpi and I was absolutely delighted. Women are still not adequately presented and represented in the theatre and we need to raise our voices. I don’t know if I volunteered or was drafted to blog.
10. What is your favorite blog posting?
Catching Up, which is about my fellow bloggers. The bloggers’ voices are so diverse and wide ranging. I like getting to know their different worlds and approaches to writing and life.
11. Who do consider an influence where your writing is concerned? And why?
My first mentor, George Luscombe, the Artistic Director of Toronto Workshop Productions, encouraged me to write.
12. When did you find your voice as a writer? Are you still searching for it?
I think I found it early on but couldn’t describe it. I’ve been criticized for being too implicit but I like nuance, subtext, and irony, and have been writing like that for a long time.
13. Do you have a writing regimen? Can you discuss your process?
I used to write every day and kept a daily journal but have found that the business of marketing has intruded something fierce and I write more sporadically. I just read a quote from Bertolt Brecht that says, “It’s not the play but the performance that is the real purpose of all one’s efforts,” but he doesn’t say tell you how you get to the latter.
14. How do you decide what to write?
I don’t think about it consciously. When I have made a conscious decision, it has often been the wrong one. I tried for over a year to write about the friendship between Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein before I realized that I’d never be able to make it work.
15. How important is craft to you?
It’s key for me. Searching for conflict, clarity, a character to root for, a beginning, middle, and end are what I look for when I rewrite.
16. What other areas of the theater do you participate in?
I’m an actress. At one of the lafpi meetings at Theatricum, I got to stand on the Theatricum stage and thought I’d die from joy.
17. How do you feel about the theater community in Los Angeles?
I’ve seen some great plays and some rotten ones but there is always something going on that’s interesting. The Black Dahlia’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was out of this world and I still think of a number of plays I saw at the Odyssey, Tracers, to name one, with real pleasure.
18. How do you battle the negative voice?
The negative voice is my default position, so I deep breathe and walk a lot. It’s thematic in my life, walking.
19. Do you have a theme that you come back to a lot in your work?
I realized recently that I write a lot about betrayal and abandonment. But I also write about love, and betrayal and abandonment are part of that.
20. I have three rewrites that I’d like to settle down and work on. When those are finished, I hope that an idea will immediately attack and start the words flowing again.
Diane Grant is an award winning playwright and screenwriter, whose film Too Much Oregano won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.
She was a co-founder of Redlight Theatre, the first professional women’s theatre in Canada. Her plays, which have been produced and published in the US and Canada, include Nellie! How The Women Won The Vote, Sunday Dinner, Sex and Violence, The Piaggi Suite, Four Women In Search Of A Character, Rondo a la Condo, A Dog’s Life; and The Last Of The Daytons, a semi-finalist for the 2007 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Will To Win, a documentary on the Southern California Shakespeare Festival, written by Ms. Grant, and produced by filmmaker Kerry Feltham, previewed in Los Angeles and the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2007 and is recommended by the Royal Shakespeare Company of London.
Ms. Grant has performed at the Stratford Festival and the National Arts Centre of Canada. She was Literary Manager of the Los Angeles Write Act Repertory Company, a mentor for the young playwrights’ group HOLA, and a member of Los Angeles’ Wordsmiths. She’s a member of the Dramatists Guild, The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the International Center for Women Playwrights, and is Vice-Chair of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights.
Diane acts as LA FPI Task Force Coordinator.