South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Vietgone by Qui Nguyen.
The 2018 festival will bring the total number of plays presented at PPF to 137, including many works that have become mainstays of contemporary American theatre.
Julia Doolittle is one of the five playwrights whose works will be featured in festival readings. She took time to talk about part of her literary life and provide a glimpse into her favorite writing space.
Doolittle at her “day job," writing a play and drinking iced coffee. Dunkin' Donuts sponsorship unintentional.
Love and Contracts
Describe your favorite place to write.
I can't believe this. The first question and I already have to cheat. I can't tell you where my favorite place to write is. Mostly because I'm about 85% sure it's under surveillance by the CIA.
In all seriousness, I can't tell you where my favorite place to write is because I don't really have one. Like most writers in this country, I don't make most of my money playwriting. The past four years I've been building my career, I've had around eight day-jobs and, at every single one of them, I've found a way to steal away minutes at a time to write plays. A life in the arts has me traveling, quitting and moving jobs pretty consistently. But, when I'm shopping for a new job, the first thing I make sure I've got is a computer and time alone.
Plays begin in my notebooks that I scribble in on the subway. Maybe those scribbles grow up into a Google doc of ideas, which maybe grow up into a properly formatted word document that I carry back and forth every day on a thumb drive. This is the true story of the gestation of Love and Contracts.
Doug Wright, a veteran playwright, said something stunning, that I'll have to paraphrase, about the thrill of being a scrappy, young writer, unburdened by expectation, who can write like an outlaw and carry her story close to her chest, knowing it'll be what could break the world tomorrow. I'd like to live that while I can. Being a known entity with more financial support will be lovely, and it's, of course, what I'm after for myself in the long run, but while I'm in this phase of my journey, I can live on the romance of creating in less-than-ideal environments.
Didn't J.K. Rowling get fired for writing at work? Isn't that f**king insane? That someone told her she had to stop writing? Jesus Christ. What jackass supervisor has stopped the next War and Peace from being created by insisting someone needed to "only use the computer for work-related activities". I mean not like the jackass would know that, so maybe that's not fair. And the poor jackass is just trying to make a buck. But it's totally wild to think about.
What stories did you read as a child in secret?
Oh my God, I swear I didn't look ahead. This whole interview is gonna be about secrets!
I'm leaving out the title because I'm going to absolutely trash this book and I believe in karma. It was this deeply sexist "romance" about a "sweet and funny poor girl" who was blackmailed into being this rich guy's pretend-girlfriend and then, of course, fell in love with him. I know. Oh also, there was this terrible almost-rape-sub-plot with this other guy and then it turned out her brother wasn't actually her brother and that he wanted to bone her too and it was all so, so bad. Looking back, the only way it could pass as anything but ridiculous sexist schlock is if you think of it more as a list of common female-centric sexual taboo-fantasies than a "story".
But I remember thinking it was: 1) really sexy and 2) just so good! I was 12 and any story that made me feel like a grown-up, who was ready to learn about sex, was the story for me. I loved (and still love) romances, but was embarrassed to admit it, especially as my teenaged-brand evolved into "smart, feminist geek girl who don't need no man." I definitely went through a phase where I yelled, "no more romantic subplots! They're stupid and cliche!", while in my heart, I whispered, “Don't listen to me, please keep writing them, I'm just scared of what my friends will think!'”
When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?
I wrote my first play when I was 21 and studying acting at British American Drama Academy. I resisted every person who said, "You're so smart and funny, you should try writing", because I internalized it as, "You're not beautiful or good enough at acting so you should consider your options, fuggo." But while I was in school, I was inspired to write a play. And I loved it. And I loved sharing it with actors. And I loved writing more plays. And I loved writing class. Eventually, I spent all my free time writing. It was about the moment I graduated college that I finally gave in to the inevitable.
What play changed your life?
Kin by Bash Doran. I hope one day I get to meet her and tell her why.
The PPF reading of Love and Contracts is Friday, April 20, at 4 p.m., on the Segerstrom Stage.