A Chat with Eljon Wardally, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’14

eljonwardally_headshotEljon Wardally is a 2014 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.

Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.

No matter which part of the world you’re in, the multifaceted concept of gender politics is ever constant and ever present. For many women in the Caribbean, it is more difficult to break free from the stereotypes of wife, mother, and “just a girl,” especially on a small island where society is dominated by men. I rarely see these stories told on stage. It’s time to bring it to the forefront.

Through Blooming In Dry Season, my aim is to demonstrate that women stuck in traditional roles in the Caribbean can break free and create their own path, no matter the age. How do gender politics affect a nuclear family in the Caribbean – especially when a suppressed member of the family decides enough is enough? In the case of Blooming In Dry Season, that person is Rose, a mother and devoted wife who on the surface, represents the traditional role of a woman. Just as talented as her husband, Fitz, she pushes her dreams and goals down so he can be happy but when she sees her daughter going down the same path she did, she decides to make a choice. Rose’s struggle to break free echoes stories of so many women who push themselves to the side to appease their significant others.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I had been writing short plays since I was in undergrad but never pursued it professionally. Then, in 2010, I suffered a stroke. The threat of having my ability to write taken away from me pushed me to pursue my passion. When I recovered, I took my first Playwriting class at Primary Stages ESPA under the direction of Rogelio Martinez, applied to Fordham’s MFA Playwriting program, and never looked back.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

The National Asian American Theatre Company’s Awake and Sing by Clifford Odets, directed by Stephen Brown-Fried, with an all-Asian cast blew me away. We need more actors of color on stage. Having an Asian cast portray a Jewish family is even more proof that actors can do anything and should be given the same opportunities as everyone else, regardless of race. That production was not only a stunning portrayal of Odets’s work but, in my eyes, was also a call to action.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

I am inspired by the fearlessness in An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. I greatly admire August Wilson. To this day, nothing I have read has given me the feeling I got when I read the ending of Seven Guitars. The endings to his plays always surprise me. He is someone I look to when trying to plant twists and turns in my own work.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I recently purchased The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith. It is a beautiful book of black history that is probably going to take me a good three months to read through! I also recently saw the film, Fences. I love that August Wilson’s work can now live on in a different way. Having this film makes his work more accessible to more people. Since I have adapted some of my plays into screenplays, I appreciated the care that was taken to preserve his words.

What else are you working on right now?

The second season of my award-winning digital series, Docket 32357will premiere in early 2017.

I am a part of a black writer’s group at Juilliard called HomeBase. I wrote a 15-minute piece called ImPrisoned, which premiered with them on January 8. Set in solitary, a man who is about to hang himself is visited by the spirits of Ota Benga and Saartjie Baartman. Jasmine Batchelor directs.

Big Black Balloon, an O’Neill National Theater Conference finalist, will be making its podcast debut on The Parsnip Ship on February 12. It will be directed by Kel Haney.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

One of the resolutions that I have upheld for the past few years is to travel somewhere new every year. I’m looking forward to seeing where that will be in 2017!

 

Catch a reading of Blooming in Dry Season by Eljon Wardally on Thursday, January 12 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

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