SAFE: An Interview with the Playwright
Hello Dear Reader!
Opening night for the world-premiere of SAFE with An Other Theatre Company is finally here. We are so excited to share this story with you! Playwright Chelsea Hickman shared her a few of her thoughts and experiences in writing SAFE. You can read her interview below.
Q: What has the drafting process been like for Safe?
A: “SAFE has been a long time coming.
I started working on Sam and Aubrey’s story in November 2015 while in graduate school at the University of California, Riverside. At that time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just announced policy changes to Handbook 1, a manual for Church leaders concerning church disciplinary guidelines. Members who entered into a same-sex marriage were now labeled apostates. Children living with those same-sex couples would be barred from baptism until age eighteen and would first need to disavow their parents’ marriage and lifestyle in order to receive those essential covenants for salvation.
I was in the middle of my first semester when the policy changes were announced. Social media exploded. My colleagues, professors, friends, and family members all wanted to know what I thought about the policy changes and if I would write something about it. I was known as the Mormon playwright. What was I going to write? What was I going to do?
In addition to feeling an immense amount of outside pressure to write this story, I was also feeling a great deal of internal pressure to do this story right. At the time, I had only come out to my husband about my bisexuality. Taking on this story seemed like I was opening a door I didn’t know if I could close again. It was terrifying opening that door and taking my first step outside. But I’m so glad I did and trusted the process! It was incredibly freeing!
My first stab at telling this story was as a short fiction piece. Eventually, that short story morphed into a play. The next few drafts came very fast. I quickly realized this play would be my thesis. My thesis, Failing Hearts, was a play about same-sex attraction, the disintegration of two LDS marriages, and the couples’ encounters with a doubting Bishop. It was, at the time, what I thought Sam and Aubrey’s story was supposed to be.
At the end of my last semester of grad school, we read the complete draft of Failing Hearts. Questions arose from my male colleagues, questions I had heard before from those same colleagues over the course of two semesters:
“How are the male characters treated in the play? Are all men villains? What are your intentions with the men?”
Now, first and foremost, all of these questions are and were completely valid. In fact, they helped me flesh out Jensen and Ethan’s character arcs; they helped me develop more empathy, more compassion, and more love for Jensen and Ethan--even in their imperfections. Overall, I believe the play greatly benefited from these questions and critiques in beautiful and fulfilling ways.
However, I started noticing parallels between the questions asked by these male playwrights and my life-long interactions with male leadership in the Church. I respected the hierarchy of the Church. I respected the priesthood. I respected the authority of my male professors and colleagues.
Often, for me, that “respect” translated into submissiveness. Silence. Fear.
In church, I bowed my head. Folded my arms. Closed my eyes. In workshop, I apologized. Avoided eye contact. Nodded silently as I scribbled critiques in my journal.
It was a learned response to swallow my true opinions, thoughts, and feelings in fear of seeming too angry, too prideful, or too wicked. I didn’t want to be seen as an angry woman. As a unrepentant feminist with an agenda. I sat very still and very silent in workshop that day. My spirit died. My heart broke. My throat tightened. And, suddenly, it was like I was sitting in sacrament meeting, or Sunday school, or Relief Society. I felt invisible. Does God see me? Hear me? Are my questions too prideful? Too demanding? Too impatient?
Will I ever be enough?
My thoughts were interrupted by a question from a female colleague across the table. It was like she was in my head. “Chelsea. Is this a story about two failing marriages or about the two women and their love story?”
That one question gave me permission to write what I actually wanted to write. I wanted a love story. A love story about two women, grappling with their faith and their place within that belief system. And that was how SAFE was born. Pretty neat.”
Q: What has the rehearsal and production process been like for Safe?
A: “It has been absolutely WILD seeing this play come to life with An Other Theatre Company. We did a staged reading of SAFE in July 2018. After the overwhelmingly positive response to the staged reading, I was approached about putting SAFE in the company’s third season. And it’s been a joy ever since.
Actors Maddie Smith, Laura Chapman, Tyler Fox, and John Valdez have put so much heart and soul and dedication into their characters. It’s amazing! I couldn’t ask for a better cast. Their work is smart, motivated, and intentional. I am a sobbing mess every time I watch them work.
Liz Whittaker, our fearless director, has been the very embodiment of female strength, power, guidance, and compassion. She has respected her actors and the rest of the production team by creating safe spaces for all. She is trained in intimacy choreography and has crafted these intimate moments in the play with care, precision, and thoughtfulness. What a gift. What a treasure.
We did it! We made a play!”
If you enjoyed that interview, stay tuned! In depth interviews with each of the actors, director, and members of the production team will be forthcoming.
SAFE runs Jan 24 - Feb 15 (Friday and Saturday nights @ 7:30; Sunday matinee 2/9 @ 5pm). You can get your tickets here. We hope to see you in our golden pew benches very soon!
An Other Theatre Company