Is it really impossible to make a living writing for the theater?

From the lips of playwright-TV writer Tanya Barfield to our ears, via magazine writer Christopher Henley:

by Christopher Henley

tanya-barfieldThe Call by Tanya Barfield is one of those rare plays that puts the most intimate of situations into a compelling global context. It’s the story of a white couple in the U.S. who decide to adopt a child from Africa. The intersection of the couple’s personal struggles and the international implications of the transaction makes for a play that engages its audience on several different and provocative levels. Theater J’s production of Barfield’s play runs through May 31st and is being presented not at the troupe’s home base at 16th Street’s DCJCC, but at Atlas Performing Arts Center in Northeast.

John Stoltenberg wrote about the production on DCMetroTheatreArts.com: “Tanya Barfield’s play The Call…tackles a topic with vast global consequence and humanizes it on stage such that we in our western comfort zone may take a hard look at it and not avert our eyes. In Theater J’s handsome new production…Barfield’s worthy ambition is well served. The Call comes through clearly with both gravitas and grace.” In The Washington Post, Nelson Pressley praised “Barfield’s hard-nosed realism” and ”tough-minded insights,” continuing, “The playwright plainly knows what she is talking about…you hear some honest and deeply unsettling things…There is heat on Barfield’s fastball.”

D.C. audiences will remember Pecan Tan, an earlier Barfield play, from its 2005 ACTCo production. TV viewers will see her work on the FX series The Americans. During an email interview, Barfield talked about The Call and a range of other topics:

I’d like to begin by asking you to talk about your choice of title. It sounds as if you intended to have the word “call” operate on more than one level.

Tanya Barfield: Every adoptive parent waits anxiously for the call letting them know that they have been matched with a child. So, on the most basic level, that is what “the call” refers to. The other call in the play is the “deeper calling” or the “call to courage.”

Was there any specific experience that was a catalyst for the play?

Barfield: A friend of mine went through severe postpartum depression. I wondered if the whole thing was entirely hormonal – or was there a psychological component too? And, if so, you don’t have to have given birth to experience it.

You’ve said that you didn’t want to write this play and that it is very personal and close to you. When writing a play whose situations overlap your own experiences to some degree, do you worry about the play being perceived as autobiographical?

Barfield: Most of my plays deal with issues or topics that I either (a) think will make a terrible play or (b) am afraid to write because they feel too personal. Usually, both. In all cases, I never end up writing autobiography because fiction is so much more dramatically compelling than my real life – and after living my life once, I don’t feel the need to re-live it in story. But, there is often a seed of personal experience in what I write about. I wrote The Call after adopting two children. People almost always think my plays are MUCH more autobiographical than they are. This used to frustrate me because I couldn’t actually get credit for the storytelling. But, now, I just take it as a compliment.

Things have and are changing very rapidly, as regards some of the subjects that your play engages. Do you feel as if it will retain its power and relevance in five or ten years?

Read it all at DC Theatre Scene