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BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

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In partnership, Skylight Theatre Company and Playwrights' Arena have launched the first of four World Premiere productions for the 2021/2022 Season with Inda Craig-Galván's play A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER, first developed in workshop with the Humanitas Prize. Her new play explores the effects of a never-ending barrage of trauma on the women who are continually looked at to lead a movement of resistance and change. In it, a social media influencer and a boots-on-the-ground activist form a complex bond of friendship to help each other survive as American racism manifests into physical form.

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

"Originally slated for production in March 2020, and now 18 months after our big pause, Inda's play cuts deeper and more profoundly through the state of racism in this country," observes Jon Lawrence Rivera of Playwrights' Arena, director of A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER. "I am delighted to continue my work on this project, especially as Playwrights' Arena embarks on a season of collaboration with Skylight Theatre Company."

"Both of our companies are huge fans of Inda's work," says Gary Grossman, Artistic Director of Skylight Theatre. "This painfully relevant story deserves to be experienced live on stage where its impact can be personally felt. I couldn't think of a better way to begin our season or our partnership with Playwrights' Arena and with Jon."

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

Playwright Inda Craig-Galván often explores conflicts and politics in her writing, within the African-American community. Inda's plays are grounded in reality with a touch of magical realism that plays with time & memories. Produced plays include Black Super Hero Magic Mama (Geffen Playhouse) and I Go Somewhere Else (Playwrights' Arena). "I'm excited not only to share this play with audiences - live freakin' audiences," shares Inda Craig- Galván, "but also as the inaugural collaboration between these two companies who gave me my first L.A. reading of the play Black Super Hero Magic Mama at Skylight Theatre Company and my first L.A. production of I Go Somewhere Else at Playwrights' Arena."

Here is my interview with playwright Inda Craig-Galván on watching the world premiere of her play come to life onstage.

(Shari): Has this production of A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER been realized in the way that you had expected? If not, what were the surprises?

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

(Inda): This production is beautiful. I worried, as we do, that a two-person play set in one location would be tough. But the pacing works. The emotional journey works. And the outside threat became a third character in this play in a way that did surprise me. I always worry about monologues, but Cheri Lynn VandenHeuvel, who has the most of them as the character Gina, has a miraculous way of making them feel like honest conversation in scenes between two women that made me forget that they were "written." One other little surprise was the ivy growing on the brick facade of Gina's house - going dormant a bit because it's winter - that really says "Chicago" to me. Jan Munroe captured that small detail that helped me to see the world of this play.

(Shari): How did the process with the director and cast influence any revisions to the play?

(Inda): The play got much clearer and leaner working with Jon and the actors. They asked questions about details that existed in my head but weren't actually on the page. And some things that I hadn't given any thought to, like how the garbage gets taken out or how many times a day Gina orders her food delivery. I was more focused on relationship than those kinds of specifics. But as a character, Dru would ask these questions. She'd be curious. And Kacie asked on behalf of her character whom she'd gotten to know so deeply, that she could investigate on behalf of Dru in a way that I found incredibly valuable. There were also moments when the actors asked for help bridging between one idea and the next, mostly because I write characters who are as scatterbrained as I am. I love for characters to hold more than one need/thought/emotion at a time, because that's real. The actors were so game for making what was on the page work "as is," but those moments of questioning helped me to realize that I needed to look at the shifts and do more distillation.

(Shari): What do you enjoy most about the development process? What is your least favorite part while in development?

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

(Inda): I love questions during the development process. I probably won't answer them in the moment. But I enjoy hearing how the work lands on other people and what they're still yearning to understand. A huge moment in the development of this play came so late in the process - after the first preview. It dawned on me after watching a full run that some scenes needed to be rearranged and tightened. It was one of those "How did I not see this before?" moments, and I felt like a jerk for making such sweeping changes so late in the game. But this cast and Jon were entirely open to it and I'm so grateful both for their willingness to always say yes and for the boldness to make those changes.

I wouldn't have done that years ago. I would've bottled it up and not taken ownership for fear of inconveniencing the cast and crew, and then regretted it forever. Thank God for growth. That was probably my favorite moment in this particular development process because it reminded me that this is a living, changing thing, and as playwrights we can utilize our voice to advocate for what our new play needs.

My least favorite part of any developmental process is probably a presentational reading in front of an audience. I don't need to have strangers' judgment on a still-developing work. It's a baby.

(Shari): I completely understand that! I am curious as to why you have included a trigger warning for your play, and have you had a strong response from audiences about the content?

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

(Inda): This play sets fictional characters inside real-life situations of protest and trauma, comfort and pain. It delves into some very real and scary day-to-day realities for Black people in this country. Someone in the audience is undoubtedly going through what's depicted in this work. They've lost someone. They've fought for someone. They've marched. They've walked out of their homes and heard the whispers. They've experienced even more overt violence - the vitriol of other people's hate. The last thing I want this play to do is exploit our collective reality for the sake of entertainment.

I did not want to further traumatize anyone. This play is about healing, friendship, all of the ways we need to take care of ourselves and each other in order to fight back. So, we want to let the audience know, this play which was written for Black people, will go there. It will expose and lay open some things that may be painfully familiar. But it seeks to do so without doing harm.

This play wasn't written as a glimpse into Blackness from the outside. This play is for us, about us. And this is the audience that I seek to protect. I did have one friend see the play and she was crying afterward. I was like, "Oh no. I screwed up." But later she said that the play messed her up "in the best way possible." As a Black woman, she felt seen in a way she doesn't often feel while watching plays.

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

In addition to the note to audiences, I requested that we do Black audience-only performances, something that I'd picked up from both Jeremy O. Harris and Aleshea Harris. I know all too well what it's like to experience a play as one of a handful, if not the only, Black audience member. It can be uncomfortable to damn near impossible to engage with a work that has sensitive, racial subject matter when you're the fly in the buttermilk. When the sea of non-Black audience members is laughing at the parts that you know aren't intended to be funny. When you're looked at to make sure it's okay to laugh. We're not in an audience to be your thermometer or your explainer. And that's a common experience that I wanted to give relief from, thus the Black Performance nights during this run.

We also had a Sensitivity Coordinator, the amazing Ann James, to help the actors through the process of this work. We have to consider the burden we're placing on the actors who'll embody this experience several times a week. And ensured that they have coping tools and practices to release the pain and come back to themselves fully after performing. These are human beings with great sensitivity and ability to tap into their emotions in a way we're not asked to in other professions.

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

(Shari): I applaud all of you for realizing the importance of taking care of your cast, especially their emotional well being.

(Inda): It was paramount and became a priority for everyone at Skylight Theatre Company and Playwrights' Arena that we take great care to support and protect our cast.

(Shari): Do you think that your writing evolves more from each play you've had produced or has it just been a natural progression through time?

(Inda): Absolutely. I hope so. I hope it's evolving. As my understanding of what's important in the world changes, as my views on society shift. As the world shifts. I find the way I write now to be more about living in moments and less about explaining them. I've always written plays centered on Black female protagonists. I think my characters are a bit more layered lately. And I'm recognizing my writing isn't served by plot as much as by moments and change in perspective for the characters. I love magical realism on stage and I'm learning to use it more to excavate emotion rather than the coolness of a device. Though, some things are still just cool.

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

(Shari): Who were some of the biggest influences in your writing style, and what did you learn from each of them?

(Inda): One of my biggest influences on how I write for theatre has been my background in sketch comedy. Starting with character, finding the "what" of the scene, holding comedy and sadness within the same scene, and using fun sketch comedy tropes in a way that I wasn't seeing in traditional theatre has become my jam. Playwrights that influence me: Stephen Adly Guirgus - dialogue, dialogue, dialogue; Aleshea Harris - poetic language and guiding the reader on how to read the page; Rajiv Joseph - creating a body of work that is varied but still feels like you; Harold Pinter - adding tension and imagining characters who feel dangerous yet strangely comforting; Edward Albee - metaphor and taboos; John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi is so messed up and nightmarish and I love it so; Rebecca Gilman - specificity of place and culture; Luis Alfaro - community engagement and writing for a specific audience. Jennifer Haley's The Nether opened my eyes to so much possibility. I love the way Tarrell Alvin McCraney centers Blackness and all its beauty. August Strindberg's sad, effed-up relationships.

(Shari): What do you hope that people remember most about A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER?

(Anda): I hope people remember that they are seen. That they matter. That their lives matter. That despite the very real dangers out there, that danger is not bigger than us. We can each choose to holler back at the monster in our own ways and if we don't feel like it one day, that's okay too. It's okay to hole up in a house or apartment and take care of yourself. It's vital to take care. Of ourselves. Of each other.

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván on A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre

A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER, a world premiere play by Inda Craig-Galván, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera and produced by Gary Grossman, Skylight Theatre Company / Jon Lawrence Rivera, Playwrights' Arena, continues through December 12, 2021 at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 ½ North Vermont, LA, 90027. Performances on Fri/Sat at 8:30pm, Sun at 3:00pm, and Mon Dec 6 at 7:30pm. Run time 90 minutes, no intermission. Virtual performances available to watch from home. For reservations call 213-761-7061 or visit http://skylighttix.com

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks are required. Guests must be 12 or older.

Tickets: Start at $20 (Previews $15); Discounts for Seniors, Under 30, Students, and through Season Flex Packages. ASL interpreted performance on Dec 10th. For best viewing of the interpreters some seating is marked as "ASL." For more information, please check http://skylighttheatre.org/ and https://playwrightsarena.org/

- Black Communities Performance: Dec 6
- ASL Interpreted Performance: Dec 10
- Pay What You Want: Dec 6

Production photos of Cheri Lynn VandenHeuvel and Kacie Rogers in A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER. Credit: Jenny Graham


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