Friday, May 14, 2010

The New Normal

The New Normal
By Donnetta Lavinia Grays
Directed by Isaac Byrne

Monday May 24th 7pm
ART/NY Bruce Mitchell Room
520 8th Avenue, 3rd Floor
(between 36th and 37th Streets)
New York, NY 10018
($5 suggested donation)

So, back in 2007 I am on the receiving end of a mass email from my mentor Joy Vandervort-Cobb at The College of Charleston in South Carolina. She writes that a former student and friend, Anna Dorcas Warren (Schumacher), is participating in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk for the Cure and that we should support her by sending in what we can. I see the words diagnosed in 2006, battle, fight, baby…and I don’t quite get what I am reading. I mean, Anna is around my age. So, even with those specific words on my computer screen I think to myself, “I wonder who Anna’s walking for?” Seriously, I could not make the connection from “diagnosed with breast cancer” to Anna herself. I think, instead “Dude, Anna got married?? Anna’s got a baby?? Hot dog! I really need to get in touch with that chick!" Then my mind wonders to a couple plays we did together while we were in school and…yeah, I think that was that.

For one thing, this says quite a bit about my attention to detail, but moreover, in my mind Breast Cancer had always been this sort of disease of age. I mean, I knew my neurosis would have me spending the better part of my 40th birthday cooped up in some doctor’s office demanding another look-see at my mammogram results. There were commercials, morning talk shows and Oprah at 4pm all telling me that there was a threshold. I knew my facts. But, I also knew that Anna was maybe a couple seconds older than me (she was 32) so, there was no room whatsoever for her to fit into that medical community and media driven equation. No room. So, I couldn’t really see the words in that email as the truth. I guess I was shocked and shockingly ignorant.

And then there was Facebook.

I had lost touch with Anna for a while. And then, through the magic of Facebook in early 2008 we found each other again. We chatted. We exchanged inappropriate jokes as is our nature. We laughed “LOL” style. And then I clicked on a link attached to her profile page which led me to her personal blog.

Man…there were pictures. I saw my friend’s beautiful bald head. I saw my friend’s beautiful baby boy, Silas. Her husband, Kevin. I saw her being a Southern girl dealing with Seattle. Yeah. But, I also saw her…drinkin’, partyin’ and cussin’ with other beautiful bald ladies, putting ketchup on anything that moved, cracking jokes and being the firecracker I remembered from school. I saw Anna living. I saw Anna’s babyface making this incredible turn into adulthood and around that corner comes this disease to meet her full on. And I broke. I did. I broke out into tears. I broke into laughter reading about her son’s potty training stories and I broke open with so much love for her and a clearer understanding of why her diagnosis didn’t really sink in for me. The public dialogue about women under 40 being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer had not reached me and so, it wasn't a part of a reality that I could digest in reference to her.

That dialogue hasn’t reached a lot of people. And that’s what both Anna and I want to change with this play.

The New Normal is based on Anna’s blog which she maintains to this day. It details not only her struggle with breast cancer, but also the joys and pains of being a mother, wife, daughter and a member of a community of young women facing there lives as survivors.

The characters’ development in the play (of Anna and of those in her family and community) have been dramatized and fictionalized, of course, in order to ground the argument that young survivors are invisible to a certain extent and that this specific illness affects relationships and families not only the women who are diagnosed. Their portrayals are amplified to reveal truths.

The New Normal received an initial workshop with Coyote REP in June 2009. Invited guest artists during that workshop were a collection of individuals who either knew Anna while she was a theater student at The College of Charleston, Coyote REP members or artists who where familiar with creating documentary theater: Emily Ackerman (The Civilians), Blaire Brooks, Safiya Fredericks, Chad Goodridge, Carla Musgrove, Laura Rikard and Jeanne LaSala. These artists were invaluable in helping to sculpt a time frame and context for over 300 pages of blog entries.

The first draft received a public reading and fundraiser in August 2009 by Coyote REP at New World Stages. The cast for the reading included Emily Ackerman, Blaire Brooks, Andrea Caban, Jennifer Ferrin, Chad Goodridge and David Lee Nelson. The event also included guest speakers from the Young Survival Coalition.

Ultimately, I want to illuminate a major point that I learned

from reading Anna’s blog and knowing her as a human

being. The humor in her blog is directed at the illness the majority of the time. This is not by coincidence. I think she says through her humor, “look, it’s the people in my life who are sacred NOT this disease. I have it, but I get to define it. Not the other way around.”I hope that this sentiment is reflected in the work Coyote REP has started to create.

Donnetta Lavinia Grays is the Artistic Director and is a Founding Member of Coyote REP Theatre Company. She worked with Director Bill Rauch as an Altvater Fellowship Recipient at Cornerstone Theatre Company and served as Stage Manager and assistant to Fredrick Bailey on the original production of Beth Henley’s Sister’s of the Winter Madrigal at Moving Arts Theatre in Los Angeles. Donnetta also served as an assistant to Woodie King Jr. on various projects for New Federal Theater including BLACK BEAUTIES: Celebrating 100 Years of African-American Women on Broadway. Donnetta has written the cowboy is dying, her first solo play effort, which she performed with Coyote REP in 2008. Her play THE B FACTOR received a reading at Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center as a part of the 2002 Women of Color Arts and Film Festival and a reading with TOSOS Theater Company in 2009 as part of their Robert Chesley / Jane Chambers Playwrights Project. She has also presented her written work at Pride Goes East and with Kathleen Warnock’s Drunken Careening Writers series at KGB Bar. Other works-in-progress include ABSENCE OF FAITH, and THE REVIEW (working title). Poetry featured on

Acting Credits; with Coyote REP, the cowboy is dying, DECPETION, PATRIOT ACT (AN OCCURRENCE AT YANKEE STADIUM Broadway: IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY (Cover), WELL (Cover). Off- Broadway: SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT (Primary Stages) Regional Theatre: NO CHILD…(2 Connecticut Critics Circle Awards) JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE (Baltimore’s Center Stage) WELL (Huntington Theatre, Arena Stage), A RAISIN IN THE SUN, THE ROYAL FAMILY (Oregon Shakespeare Festival). TWELFTH NIGHT (Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Co.), MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Charleston Shakespeare Co.),Television: RUBICON, MERCY and LAW & ORDER: SVU (all recurring), THE SOPRANOS , LAW & ORDER and LAW & ORDER: CI. Film: THE WRESTLER (Darren Aronosfsky dir.) SHOOK and the Emmy Award winning documentary WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Proud member of AEA, SAG and AFTRA. Also a member of TOSOS Theater Company. BA: College of Charleston. MFA: University of California, Irvine.

The New Play Development Program is our commitment to nurturing the original work of our company's playwrights. This intensive, ten-month program provides a structured series of workshops culminating in our May Works-in-Development Series, a public presentation of readings.

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