Playwright Kira Rockwell on ‘The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood’ (part 1)
Production dramaturg Eliana Pipes talked with The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood playwright Kira Rockwell about her play, writing, process, and what’s next.
What is the genesis of ‘The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood’?
Before moving to Boston to pursue my MFA in playwriting, I was working in the recreation department at a youth residential care facility back in Texas. The play is very much a work of fiction, but the subject matter is inspired by those three years. The play’s inception was actually an accident or rather a rebellion. I was supposed to be working on an entirely different play, one about a church and a sinkhole, and while I was stuck I started to hear dialogue between three teenage girls. . .forty pages later I thought, “This is going to be my next play.” Recently, teenage girls have been getting a huge spotlight in American Theatre, Barron’s Dance Nation and DeLappe’s The Wolves, and I believe if those stories about girlhood are going to be seen, then these teenage girls deserve to be represented in the conversation.
How did you become a playwright?
In short, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop. Longer version: I’ve always been a writer and then, in eighth grade I became an actor. But it wasn’t until undergrad while pursuing my BFA in theatre performance at Baylor University that I dared to combine my two artistic identities. It was there that I took my first playwriting course and, as cheesy as it sounds, found my identity in the theatre community. In retrospect, I think I’ve always been a playwright at heart and I feel so thankful for my formative acting years that have since laid the foundation for my current writing endeavors.
How has the process shaped this play—both from writing it as an MFA student to being in the room with actors?
This past summer was a major rewrite season. My mentor Kate Snodgrass has continually pushed me to dig deeper, to peel back the layers, and to “get in the swamp.” But, all that work aside, I do believe that a play can only come to life when it is in the hands of actors. I feel so fortunate to be working with these young women. They have been so vulnerable and smart this entire process.
Is there anything about the process that has surprised you?
I am delightfully surprised by how much I adore working with our director Leila Ghaemi. My whole life teachers and mentors have encouraged me to “find your people” and I am so grateful to have found a people in Leila. I hope to work with her again and again and again.
What drew you to the title ‘The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood’?
Can I just say I hate picking titles?! I do. For each of my plays I keep a note in my phone with potential titles that I toss around until one lands. For me the title encapsulates all of the feelings of being a teenage girl. Things are either utter bliss or they are devastatingly heartbreaking.
What other projects do you have coming up?
In December, Girlhood will have a West Coast Premiere with Third Culture Theatre! Also, I’m currently working on a few new plays. One explores purity culture and the other is the sinkhole church play I mentioned earlier.
What’s something you wish you could see more of in the theater?
I want to see plays that diversify the Southern narrative, i.e. plays by female playwrights, playwrights of color, playwrights who don’t identify with the middle class and the classes above. Also, I want to see more blended family units portrayed on stage and neurodiversity, specifically I want to see neurodiverse characters and actors in plays not about neurodiversity. Also, I want to see more theatre in the theater. Too many times of late I’ve walked out of the theater thinking, “Did I just sit through a live taping of a TV show?”
The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood runs at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre Oct. 11-21. Tickets