Q: Skirt is very much a story of adaptation and survival - how we adapt to trauma, how we do or don't cope with the truth, how love survives or doesn't when circumstances change. Is this Darwinian reality - survival of the fittest - something many of us skirt around in life?
A: From what I know of Darwin, his theories focused on physical adaptations, not the psychological changes that seem so necessary today to function well in the world. Society defines what is fit. The definition has changed over the years (let’s not forget that it used to be commonplace in Western culture to marry a girl of 15), but it’s not the definition itself but the way individuals respond to it that I find interesting. In Skirt the two teachers have inclinations that are not socially acceptable, which are the antithesis of today’s definition of fit. Yet, neither man thinks of himself as a monster at the beginning of the play. They don’t consciously sweep it under the rug. Instead, they rationalize their behavior in order to live with themselves. As a society, I believe, we are more open to accepting individuals outside the norm and embracing their differences; but there are places we will not go.Skirt explores one of those places.
Q: At the center of this play is Bethany Gallagher - a fierce, daring, tough, complex young woman who is all of 15 years old. Are there many more Bethany Gallaghers out there than we acknowledge? Do we too often dismiss how adult adolescents really are?
A: Teenagers can be pretty savvy, particularly today when technology allows them access to so much information and so many role models. In the case of Bethany, she’s been asked to function like an adult from a very early age. Although we see her at 15, her family has been distant her whole life and she has made the choice to pick up the slack. It doesn’t surprise me that she would act beyond her years at times, nor am I shocked that she would find the relationship with Michael a comfort. We all need it from somewhere.
Q: There are some stunningly powerful and poignant moments in Skirt, and great intimacy and conflict among these four characters. They share a history; they've grown up in this small town that - socially - might amount to a hermetically sealed environment. People tend to think of small towns as great places to grow up, but is that the case for kids like Del and Bethany and Michael?
A: I spent my middle school and high school years living in a rural area, and later I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania similar to the one these characters inhabit. It can be a great place to grow up, but the illusion of protection can also be misleading. Like any place, it’s not the physical location but the support of others that makes a place great. Del, Bethany, and Michael don’t have that, so their small town hasn’t protected them from anything.
Q: You went through the MFA program at Carnegie Mellon University. How did that hone your approach to playwriting?
A: Carnegie Mellon has an immersive and thorough training for theatre artists, and I am proud to have survived grad school there. It was time in a fishbowl where I could explore craft, beef up my knowledge of the canon, question my assumptions, and get my head spun around on its axis. It also led to my career as a screenwriter. I currently write film adaptations for a publishing company. The biggest advantage of any training program, though, is the people you meet, and at Carnegie Mellon I made some great relationships. It’s a gift to find people who can help a writer see a script for what it is and take it to the next level. Scripts are blueprints. It’s that time in the room bringing those words on the page to life that fulfills the writing’s intentions. It’s a gift to have that opportunity, and I’m thankful to OC-centric for giving me the chance to see the work come alive.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Other than the adaptations I do for work, I have two screenplays and an opera in development. The opera Orphan Train, which I am writing with composer Douglas Levine, was born as a ten-minute play during a playwriting workshop at the Kennedy Center. Microscopic Opera Company in Pittsburgh has championed it, and we’ve already had one developmental workshop with them. I can’t say much about the two screenplays at this point. One is an adaptation of a book I optioned and the other is an original. I’m excited to see where each project goes with the teams already on board, and might have more to say about them both in a few weeks.
Catch Julie Tosh's Skirt August 17 @ 8pm, August 18 @ 2pm, and August 22-23 @ 8pm in the Moulton Center Studio Theatre at this year's OC-Centric.