At the PWC this week: Julia Gay

Many Voices Mentee Julia Gay is working on her new play A Slipping Joy at the Center this week, with Hayley Finn as dramaturg. She’s collaborating with actors Katie Bradley*, Michelle De Joya, Ayden Her, Awazi Jaafaru, Sandra Struthers*, and Jennifer Blagen* (*Member of Actors’ Equity Association). A short interview with Julia:

You are an actor and dancer as well as a playwright. How do your other artistic practices inform your writing?

When I write, I envision my words coming to life and dancing across the stage. For me, writing is a choreography on paper and dancing is a poem flowing through my body. Each artistic practice informs the others and invites me to play, move, imagine, and risk.

What stories are you interested in telling right now?

Right now I’m interested in telling stories of mother and child across time and space. I’m particularly interested in exploring how a mother copes with the grief of losing her child, the line between heartbreak and insanity, and how losing grip of reality is a means of survival and resilience.

What draws you to theater? What does theater allow you to do that’s different from other forms?

Theater has been a space of empowerment, processing, and healing for me. It’s given me the confidence to stand front and center and raise my voice, and it’s offered space for me to share my own story with those who are willing to listen.

What do you do when you’re stuck on something you’re writing?

Honestly, I stop writing. I get up and I go on with my day. And then, when I’m waiting for the bus, or dancing at rehearsal, or in the middle of a dream, something will hit me and the words that were missing will appear to me as though they’d been there all along.

Your play motherlanded was an autobiographical one-woman piece. What advice do you have for writers interested in writing an autobiographical piece?

When I sat down at my computer to write my one-woman show, I found myself constantly editing, erasing, and rewriting. In doing so, I was filtering the authentic rawness of my own voice. My brilliant director, Sun Mee Chomet, suggested I record myself processing thoughts outloud. This was a helpful exercise that I would absolutely recommend. It was amazing what I unearthed by simply talking to myself in my room.

What is the most thrilling artistic experience you had recently?

Last summer I tried stand up comedy for the first time. I knew nothing about stand up—literally googled “stand up comedy” before writing my set. I figured, what do I have to lose besides a little bit of self-esteem? But it turns out I love it. My show motherlanded brought people to tears, but there’s something especially empowering, thrilling, and rejuvenating when you make people laugh.

What artists inspire you and why?

All of this year’s Jerome and Many Voices Fellows are super inspiring. Quite honestly I’m a little star struck to be working alongside such an amazing cohort of writers. I’m especially loving my fellow Asian American women playwrights this year!

What is your advice for finding or creating an artistic community?

You have to see art to know the community. Don’t lock yourself up in your house and expect to produce pages of brilliant material. The people around you should inform your work just as much as you do. Also, stay clear of people who do not find art to be intrinsically political.

What is something about you that may surprise people?

I did Chinese acrobatics when I was younger and studied flute for 12 plus years.

How do you balance writing and theater with the rest of your life?

Writing, theater, and dance are my life; there’s no easy way to balance when it’s all-consuming. However, getting a good night’s sleep, eating veggies, and my Google cal make the balancing act a bit more manageable.

Julia Gay