Saturday, August 8, 2015

Spotlight On...Sarah M. Duncan

Name: Sarah M. Duncan

Hometown: Normal, Illinois (really)

Education: Bradley University, AADA, Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive

Favorite Credits: Working in/producing in: The Wild Project, The Cherry Lane Theatre, Silent Barn, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, W.O.W. Café Theatre, Baruch Performing Arts Center, The Living Theatre, Judson Memorial Church... and public spaces throughout the city!

Why theater?: Theatre demands you show up, in more ways than one.

Tell us about Come Back Up: Come Back Up was born out of a writing exercise during a workshop with the wonderful Kirsten Greenidge at the Kennedy Center’s Summer Playwriting Intensive program, back in 2011. From that one scene, the play unraveled piece by piece. The more it stretched in front of me – this was not a play that was born linearly, it came in pieces – I realized there were big, big topics laced within it. In a play where the characters have committed atrocity, questions around what defines atrocity and how to forgive it – can it be forgiven? -- bubble up to the surface almost immediately. Additionally, I realized that as a white writer writing characters of color, I had a responsibility to examine my own privileges and biases in order to write as truthfully as I could. This examination ended up informing and molding the play itself, rather simultaneously. The writing of the play prompted many multifaceted discussions around forgiveness, accountability, systemic racism, white supremacy, violence, white fragility, and silence – and in response, these ideas worked themselves back into the play. What does silence really do, directly and indirectly? Does intention matter? Does apology? Who suffers the most from such silence? What is too much to ask for in terms of accountability? What constitutes an accident? What, in actuality, is forgiveness, really? Come Back Up inspired me to ask these questions, and I did so, through the play.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m inspired by raw, vulnerable, often political writing that has an understanding of itself and its purpose. I’m inspired by rhythm. I’m inspired by playfulness, painful humor, by artful conflict, by writing that surprises me, by boldness, by theatre that makes grand, sprawling use of space. I’m inspired by poetry that is percussive, seamlessly woven, and deeply personal. I’m inspired by what that makes me uncomfortable and isn’t too shiny. I’m inspired when plays are not predictable. I’m inspired by writing – and art -- that is open to everyone even if everyone doesn’t want it. I’m inspired by queerness and queering and art that isn’t choking under normativity and tropes. And failure, too-- sometimes there’s real beauty in it.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: The Greenpeace activists that hung from a bridge recently to block arctic drilling. There is so much art in protest, in extremity, in risk! Them, or Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins. Or just teenagers. All of them! I really dig working with youth. Truthfully, I’m really blessed to know and be working with so many brilliant artists already. I simply want to work with them more!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: An Octaroon. And anything by Monica Hunken or Eboni Hogan or Kia Corthron or Naomi Wallace or or or or... Also, do you know The Oneness Project? I saw their festival a few nights back -- they are amazingly cool. They are really doing it right. And all of the artists they’re working are fantastic. Oh, and anything Poetic Theatre Company does. I really could go on and on...

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Probably Anne Hatheway, because I’ve been told I look like her my whole life, or perhaps Mary-Louise Parker. I actually hope its Mary Louise Parker, I greatly prefer her. It would be called... "Mad-Dash: The Queer Who Wouldn’t Sit or Slow Down".

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Oh, everything, everything. Angels in America, Into the Woods, How I Learned to Drive, The Colored Museum, A Raisin in the Sun, all the original productions of those would be wonderful to see. And more. More!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: The internet. Burritos. Both at the same time.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be_____?: still a poet/writer, arts organizer, trouble maker, teacher, lover of people and places! Or... an astronaut.

What’s up next?: A lot! I’m currently in the beginning stages of co-organizing a large performance and activist organizational event focusing on the intersections of climate change and global capitalism. In terms of poetry, I’m looking forward to studying one on one this fall with the fantastic poet and musician Shira Erlichman, in a poetic exploration of “madness” and neurodivergence. I’m working on a paint project with the French artist Anne de Beaufort... and lastly, I’m beginning to brainstorm about a play exploring the way domestic workers are treated both in the country and in individual homes. Also, I’ll be curating and hosting four poetry and music nights in 2016 as part of Judson Church’s BailOut Theatre nights. I certainly stay busy, and I’m grateful for the many communities that support me in the city that help make it all gloriously possible.

For more on Sarah, visit and For more on Come Back Up and Sanguine Theatre Company, visit


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