Theater-Beat(s), An Interview with WMG Playwright Marilyn Campbell

The only war that matters is the war
against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it…
The imagination is not only holy, it is precise
it is not only fierce, it is practical
men die everyday for the lack of it
Diane di Prima (Rant)

LeadSheet: Theater Beat
The WMG Community Report
By Jamie O’Reilly

Playwright/Radio Host Marilyn Campbell chats with Jamie O’Reilly

The Beats
is at the 16th Street Theater
Berwyn, Il through February 6, & receiving well-deserved accolades.

Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun Times says The Beats,
“might just turn out to be one of the finest productions
of the winter season.”

Marilyn is also the Host of The Feminist Lens, the exciting new radio magazine series  produced on WFMT Radio. Here she talks about her collaboration with director Ann Filmer and her no-nonsense mission to shine a light on women writers.

J: Marilyn, tell us about some of the women-centered plays and
projects you’ve been involved in.

M: Most of my plays are adaptations that center on the female voice.
It is my passion and my mission to shine a light on women writers who
have been marginalized throughout history. I co-adapted a play based
on the writings of Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Anne Sexton called
My Own Stranger which has had numerous productions including
Off Broadway in 1981 and twice at Writers’ Theatre. I currently have
a commission at Writers’ to adapt a new play based on the story of
Mary Shelley, her mother Mary Wollstonecraft and her sister Fanny
Imlay entitled The Monster’s Lullaby.

Other women I have brought to the stage are the voices of the Women
of the Left Bank (H.D. Doolittle, Janet Flanner, Margaret Anderson, Jane Heep); and George Sand, Diane di Prima, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Margaret Atwood are also favorites.

Campbell’s script also illuminates the boys-only machismo that defined the Beats. Amid the pile-driving sound and fury of Ginsberg, Kerouac and Co., female voices were barely evident.
—Catey Sullivan, Pioneer Press

J: Tell us about some of the women in The Beats.
Any sign of second wave feminism looming there?

M: The women that were around during the beat generation were mostly still pouring coffee for the men. Only Diane di Prima was actually writing at the time. Other female voices such as Hettie Jones, Joyce Johnson and Carolyn Cassidy
were there but didn’t really find their voices until the 1970s.

As Joyce Johnson so eloquently says in her book “Minor Characters”.

I see a girl, twenty-two, with her hair hanging down
below her shoulders, all in black like Masha in The Seagull
but, unlike Masha, she’s not in mourning for her life.
How could she have been, with her seat at the table in the exact
center of the universe, where so much is converging?
As a female, she’s not quite part of this convergence.
A fact she ignores, as the voices of the men, always the men,
passionately rise and fall. Merely being here, she tells herself,
is enough. It’s only her silence that I wish finally to give up.


J: Tell us about your creative relationship with director
Ann Filmer, and how you two approached this show at this time.

M: Ann and I first met 15 years ago when she came to work at Writers’ Theatre (where I am a co-founder), first as an intern and then as our first administrative assistant. I was very active as an actress then and Ann served as assistant director on three of my major projects there including Dear Liar (Ms. Patrick Campbell and GBS), Neidecker by Kristine Thatcher, and The Beats, directed by Kate Buckley.

In 2003 and 2005 Ann and I co-produced Estrogen Fest at the Storefront Theater in downtown Chicago. A variety show comprised of women in theater, comedy, music, dance, poetry, performance art, political satire and even visual art.

In 2009 Ann produced Mixing It Up for her Words and Motion Festival at 16th Street Theatre. The show was an original piece that my daughter, Maria Merrin, and I started developing for Estrogen Fest in 2005, and by 2009 we had an hour’s worth of material and Ann produced it and directed it. In 2011 Ann decided to remount The Beats for her Season of Change and the result has just been totally unexpected and thrilling. I also serve as an Artistic Associate at 16th Street Theater and on the Board.

J: What’s next for you and “The Beats”?

M: Well hopefully we will get a second home as Hedy Weiss recommends in her wonderful review in the Chicago Sun Times. It is an adaptation whose time has come. It seems we are experiencing a revival of the “angelheaded hipster” and with the advent of Hip Hop and Poetry Slams audiences seem to be more in tune with the Beats in 2011 than when we first produced the show in 1997. I would also love to see it get a home in New York. I think we could run it forever in an off Broadway setting in the Village.

So let’s keep our fingers crossed that someone sees that potential and finds us a home. It would also be nice to make some money for these wonderful writers who are still very much alive and still working.

Poets like Diane di Prima (77), (pictured)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (92),
Gary Snyder (80), Ed Sanders,
Leroi Jones, Hettie Jones, Joyce Johnson

Read more about the show:

“The script is a primer in effective stage adaptation. Writers’ (Theatre)
cofounder Campbell crafts the words of the Beats into a light narrative
without onerous dramatization.”
-Ryan Dolley, Time Out Chicago

Posted by on Sunday, January 23, 2011