Saturday, October 6, 2018

Spotlight On...Deya Danielle Drake

Name: Deya Danielle Drake

Hometown: Oh boy! We moved a lot growing up so this has always been a tough question to answer.  I was born in Carson City, Nevada and then spent time in Texas, Nebraska and Illinois and I went to college and started my career in California. I guess I consider wherever I’m currently based to be home.  Which, right now, is Jersey City. 

Education: University of California, Berkeley.  I studied Philosophy.  I remember very little of it other than a lot of reading, writing and existential confusion.  (Not that different from now, I guess.)

Favorite Credits: My first professional theater credit was as an actor in Romeo and Juliet: Antebellum New Orleans 1836.  Many, many years and lifetimes ago but I still think about the experience and the people involved all the time.  I even have literal dreams about it! It was the inaugural production at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. I played Rosaline and was in the ensemble (so, yeah, no lines) but it was such a wonderful experience. I was so young and just felt so incredibly lucky and energized to get to go to work in a professional theater everyday and hang out with cool theater people. I got chills during every performance. The best memories!

Why theater?: Initially I think it was the sense of camaraderie you get from creating something from nothing with a group of unique individuals who share a likeminded goal.  I imagine it’s similar to the feeling one gets from playing on a sports team (though, I’m not an athlete, so this is just a guess). As I’ve gotten older my drive to make theater goes far beyond that.  I don’t even know where to begin.  There’s truly nothing like it—the sense of play, exchange of energy, exploration of humanity, power to connect with other people and (hopefully) make them feel something surprising. I think the potential impact of theater, on an audience, is boundless – it can be entertaining, healing, resurrect long forgotten memories, shine a light on a new part of oneself, help problem solve, open connections, spark conversations, ignite new ideas and new perspectives, provide an escape ;)…etc etc etc…I’ll stop now. (P.S. it’s super fun to make.)

Tell us about Escape?: Escape follows a female airline CEO and female flight attendant who battle to control the narrative of a sensational news story following a violent incident onboard a commercial jet.  It’s about the constant and overwhelming noise of the modern news media, the dubious impact of social media, and the unique struggle women face when trying to reach/maintain positions of power. It’s a fast moving play that’s fun and kind of wild and I think everyone will leave with a different opinion about who’s right and who’s wrong. 

What inspired you to create Escape?: An amazing actress named Rhonda Ayers whose work I have admired for a long time.  I’ve never seen anyone like her and I think more people need to see her work.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about when I sat down to write this play, but when I decided that I wanted to create a vehicle for her, Escape is the story that followed.  (I hope I’ve done her justice.) Rhonda plays the airline CEO and she is incredible.  Complex, smart, with a biting wit and fearlessness, and deep internal life that she teases on and off throughout the show until she’s ready to serve it all to us piping hot. 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I was just talking to another writer about this.  I love the kind of theater where all the actors end the performance sweating through their clothes, completely exhausted, and in that strange state of bliss that comes from leaving it all out on the stage. When an actor is required to give that much of themselves, physically and emotionally, to a performance, it is nearly impossible for the story not to have a lasting impression on the audience (in one way or another).   Vulnerability. I’ve been in an improv based acting class called Ballistics with Kelly Kimball at Kimball Studio in NYC for a long time. It’s a class for actors and non-actor creative type people, and it is so much more than just an acting class. It teaches you to use and challenge the bounds of your imagination by pulling back the layers you’ve built to protect yourself in the world and get to the core of who you are so that you can find yourself as an artist. And you can’t be successful in doing that unless you take risks. People share a lot in class.  The courage to share and be seen by other people is truly amazing.  Watching other people do that is beyond inspiring. I wouldn’t have the guts to be a writer without this class, it’s really shaped who I am and who I hope to be. 

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: The list is long, but I would say my top three at the moment are: 1. Marin Ireland, 2. Elizabeth Banks, 3. Viola Davis. 

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Hand to God. Such creative storytelling and epic performances. Since becoming a mom sixteen months ago, I read more plays than I see.  There are so many incredible writers out there.  There isn’t a play that I’ve read that hasn’t taught me something about storytelling. 

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Cate Blanchet.  Because who wouldn’t want Cate Blanchet to portray them in a film?  It would be called Late Bloomer (oh, God, that’s so cheesy). 

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I regret not seeing the original cast of Hamilton on Broadway.  Lots of FOMO about that (does FOMO make sense in the past tense?).  And I’d really like to share a cocktail with Tennessee Williams and talk writing and life.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sweets. Wine.  And I discovered the true (and kind of dirty) joy of reality TV over the summer.  I didn’t miss an episode of Bachelor in Paradise.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: In a dream universe I’d be traveling the world and doing a lot of eating and drinking and sleeping in.  In a realistic universe I think being a nurse would be really fulfilling and I have a ton of admiration for nurses.  They’re badasses and help us during our most vulnerable moments -- sometimes the kind of moments that are life-altering and life-shaping. And they are mostly really lovely humans. 

What’s up next?: I’m working on a play about a married couple who goes on vacation to one of those over-the-top romantic retreats in the Poconos.  It’s a fun play that explores modern romance and the connection between sexuality and creativity while challenging what we mean when we talk about a “traditional” marriage. 

Fore more on Escape, visit