BAPF Playwright Martha Jane Kaufman was interviewed by Sonia Fernandez, PF Literary and Administrative Director.
Sonia Fernandez: How did you get started on your BASH! Play, House and Junction?
Martha Jane Kaufman: The election of Barack Obama led to a lot of conversations about how we were moving into a post-race world. But I still saw racism built into the worlds around me, particularly working in Oakland Public Schools. As a white person, I wanted some models and approaches for resistance so I started researching the underground railroad. I was interested in the roles and approaches of white people in that struggle. I found a lot of fascinating stories, but, of course, the characters I found were not simply heroes. In many ways they reflected the racism that they were resisting. This is clearer nearly 200 years later and allowed me to see how we are all steeped in the attitudes of our time. When the government and culture says that you can own another human being what does it take to start to see that person as human? I think this is a very important question for our time because slavery is not that far behind us and we are still dealing with that inheritance. Of course, my piece is written from my perspective as a white person and would not be the story everyone would tell. The questions that have come to the surface as I’ve been engaging with these characters and stories have allowed me to look more critically and compassionately at the present.
SF: You’re a recent transplant to the Bay Area. What’s it like to be here at this moment in time, and how has it affected your work?
MJK: Well, I’ve started taking astrology a lot more seriously… (lol) No, but actually, I’ve found the writing/performance/theater scene here in the Bay to be edgy, imaginative and insightful. People working in all media are constantly blending genres, mixing media, and eroding the boundaries between disciplines, which is how I feel most comfortable as an artist since I am also a dancer. I’m inspired by how people here manage to do a lot with very little in terms of financial support, space, materials, and time. I’ve found myself surrounded by articulate, creative, and socially conscious artists making street theater, puppets, spoken-word performances, and all of it feeds my work and ideas. Plus, friends invite me to tackle hard questions in my work, hold me accountable and push my boundaries. And, everyone wants to collaborate! Since I got here less than a year ago, I’ve worked on a puppet show for a community garden, a performance piece in which the costumes were made from newspapers, and two dance/spoken-word pieces that were staged in the corner of a living room. And of course, the amazing weather and freshly grown food only feeds a writers soul …
SF: What about the festival itself?
MJK: I love spending time writing and talking with other writers so I am excited about that aspect. And I’m also excited to work with a dramaturg [Jayne Wenger] and actors on this piece - one that still feels so fresh to me- I’ve never done something like this before. Usually I let ideas incubate a lot longer before bringing a director and actors into the picture. I didn’t know my director, Molly Aaronson Gelb, but as it turns out, she also went to Wesleyan, so we share an artistic vocabulary right from the start. I’m very eager to get started with the process!
SF: What do you have on the horizon?
MJK: After the festival I’m going to return to a full length piece I’ve been working on for a while, called A Live Dress, that focuses on the Yiddish Theater, but from a very contemporary point of view, and plays with gender roles, sexuality and the blending of post post modern and traditional art forms. Like other of my plays, the world of the play crosses the time/space continuum. I’m also thinking about the pros and cons of attending graduate school in playwriting – I’ll let you know what I decide!