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Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks' plays tackle serious topics, such as race, family and gender, but Parks doesn’t let weighty themes consume her. In fact, she was quite funny at Davidson College.
In a ranging talk April 3, Parks shared humorous stories about the inspiration for her popular plays “In the Blood” and “F---ing A.” She gave audience members a knee-slapping tale about her Sanskrit tattoos and offered witty advice to aspiring writers as well as the culture-consuming public. Parks said she doesn’t set out to tackle a particular topic when she writes.
“I start with: I want to write, I want to create stuff,” Parks said. “Usually, I write beneath the surface about things that people aren’t ready to talk about yet.”
Even if Parks works do strike a nerve and win tons of accolades for doing so, Parks doesn’t bow to expectations. She said everyone expected her to write another play such as “Topdog/Underdog” after that play was so successful. Instead, she wrote “365 Days, 365 Plays.” The collection of short plays about everything from Abraham Lincoln to frozen arms is nothing like "Topdog."
Parks said although artists have a responsibility to try to make the world a better place, it isn’t the responsibility of theater or television to address things in our culture. She said people need to address things in American culture. She said the everyday interactions between people should be the subject material for plays.
“We all have a responsibility to increase the peace and spread compassion,” she said.
She also said that she doesn’t necessarily write from personal experiences. She creates plays she would want to see. Once the play is finished, she hopes theater companies will “do their thing” with the work when they stage it.
“I catch it. I write it. I let it go,” she said regarding the writing process.
Parks followed her own advice when in her re-write of the Broadway revival of “Porgy and Bess.” She did her own thing.
Parks focused on character development and added story points. Her goal was to make the story as memorable as the music. At Davidson, Parks showed that the woman behind the words is as memorable as her works.
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