Playwright Kira Rockwell on ‘The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood’ (part 2)
Part two of production dramaturg Eliana Pipes’ conversation with The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood playwright Kira Rockwell about her play, writing, process, and what’s next.
On the cover page [of the script], you call The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood a poetic drama; how do you see the role of poetry in this piece?
I am really inspired by the works of Naomi Wallace, who writes these gritty dramas about the working class and she always finds a way to bring out the poetry in their circumstances. In Girlhood, there’s poetry to be heard in the way the girls think, feel, and speak. The play deals with heightened emotions and aims to break through any defense mechanism to get below the surface.
Even though we never see them directly on stage, church and therapy are major and mandatory parts of these girls’ lives. How do you think those institutions affect the play?
At the age most the girls in Girlhood find themselves, you’re still trying to figure out how your body works, and where you fit into the world, but then you have these adults, mostly with good intentions, who try to spoon-feed you the answers to life that will fix all of your problems. They say things like, “If I had known this at your age, things would have been very different for me.” I think both church and therapy are very personal journeys, but when you’re a teenager, you aren’t really allowed to make decisions for yourself on that scale, and sometimes those things become more harmful than helpful.
What cultural or regional norms informed the play?
I’ve lived in the South for most of my life, 24 years, and it’s only been in the last two years of living in Boston that I’ve truly come to know the cultural and regional norms that raised me. Growing up I was taught three things: serve God, love your mama, and don’t question authority. Let’s just say, I’ve got at least one of those down.
What is the biggest thing that people think they know about the world of this play, that isn’t so?
I think a huge misconception about youth that live in institutions like the one in the world of this play is that they are bad kids.
What is the most important thing that people don’t know about the world of this play, that they need to know?
These children are a part of our future. Their message is urgent and it needs to be taken seriously. They can’t be written off or ignored. We need to take care of them. We need to have better systems in place to properly care for them, for their caretakers, and for their families.
What do you think most characterizes your writing?
I like to joke that my plays are like a bowl of mashed potatoes––hearty, universal, and warm. So I would say tone is a big factor in my work. Also, I am very character driven. I let them lead me and the story. My characters are often complex, enigmatic, and don’t always make good choices, but they are human, relatable, and so freaking endearing. I’m not interested in writing about villains or heroes; I write about people for people just like you.
The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood runs at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre Oct. 11-21. Tickets