Interview with Angela Weaver
Lorraine : How did you [come to] build the technology link [to contemporary African-American women playwrights]?
Angela: I was in library school and one of our class assignments was to build a website and the instructor said, "Look out on the web. See what’s out there. Think about contributing something that is unique." And because I was a playwright, because I was an African-American playwright, I thought, okay, I’ll go and see and see what’s out there on the web about female writers and there was nothing. There was maybe one site at that time on Caryl Churchill and there were about a zillion sites on Shakespeare; you could find stuff on Stoppard, find things on David Mamet, but you could hardly find anything beyond…maybe Lorraine Hansberry might have been mentioned on a couple of websites at that time. That was, like, 1996, which was still pretty early for websites and so, I thought this is a niche I can fill: providing information about these playwrights. So that’s how I began….
Lorraine Brown: So your technology skills were already in place…..?-
Angela:-No. I actually learned as I did the website. We didn’t have any instruction on how to do the website; he said, " I don’t care how you do it: just do it." [laughs]
Lorraine: …So you were launched into cyberspace, right? What…[is]…most intriguing….about working in that medium?
Angela: I think the multimedia aspect of it is very exciting because it appeals to me visually to go onto the web, and go to websites and explore the layout, the look of it, the feel of it—it’s hard to explain. It’s like reading a really, really good book and you’ve got sound and animation and all these different art forms coming together in one place. I think that is really exciting about the web. And also just the communication aspect of it—that you can reach all these people who live in different places, who share the same interests and build a community online around these websites around different ideas and that’s really exciting. That’s kind of been, probably, one of the best experiences of doing the website. But also because I like graphic design, I like multimedia design and I had kind of a semi-art background and liked doing things like that and never really had a chance to really do anything with the art because I didn’t really pursue it. So this was a way to bring all of my interests into one place.
Lorraine Brown: Does that aspect help you …?
Angela: I think it’s interesting, because working on the web, to me, is like being a librarian and like being a writer because you’re constantly thinking about structure—or at least good websites have good structure and librarians are very concerned with structure and classification. And as a writer, interested in structure and dramatic structure. It kind of reinforces that thinking about structure and what good structure is even if, within their separate domains their structures look very different. A play doesn’t look like a website, which doesn’t look like a library, but you’re forced to think about their unique structures.
Lorraine Brown: That’s wonderful, really. That really is interdisciplinary work. And for you, with all those interests in place it’s a natural home, isn’t it?
Angela: And the psychology, too. I mean bad websites have bad psychology for me.
Lorraine Brown: What do you mean by bad psychology?
Angela: They don’t engage their site visitors in a very good way and you immediately feel off-put by what’s there. And sometimes it’s not the content. Sometimes it’s the actual way that it looks on the page, the way that they’ve structured their pages, the way you move around on their website, and it’s because they haven’t taken into consideration the structure and how people are interacting with their website. So there’s a psychological dimension to it as well—as to how people are actually coming to your site, what they’re getting from your site—not only information-wise, but maybe an emotional or an aesthetic feel from it.
Lorraine Brown: "....Is cyberspace colorblind?
Angela: I think it—well it is, it’s sort of identity blind because you never know who you’re talking to because that person puts forth an identity that may or may not be who they are, and you don’t know because you are only interacting with them over the web. One of my experiences was talking with a playwright whom I thought was an African American woman and she turned out to be a white woman. I had no idea because we were talking about African American theatre and you make these assumptions about them based on what they say which may or may not be correct, which is kind of dangerous, and yet very nice because you’re not having to deal with—unless they tell you—what their race is or what their gender is; they could pretend to be a guy and they could be a woman. You’re having to take them as they present themselves without any other baggage along with that—whereas if you met someone face to face then you immediately start building assumptions based on what they look like and how they move and how they interact with you. Cyberspace kind of erases that a little bit.
Lorraine Brown: It’s scary, too.
Angela: It’s very scary because you never know. You really don’t
Lorraine:: Well you’ve been very patient with all of the questions, so now I’d like to give you a chance to talk about anything that I haven’t had the wit to ask you…
Angela: . . . .If I had to talk to playwrights and say, "Here’s something to do," or "theatre to do," it would be to be open to things outside of what you think is theatre, because my background is so very different, because I didn’t work in the theatre before I did theatre; I did other things. Bringing different skills—I read literature, I read poetry, I listen to music, I work on the web, I look at all these different things and think about how they impact what I do and I think if theatre is to remain viable or be able to draw in more people that we’re going to have to start looking at the world outside of theatre. And it’s kind of ironic because theatre began as being in the middle of culture, bringing culture together, bringing people together to celebrate a common culture; and now it seems that theatre’s in the corner, and culture is going on outside of theatre and that we’ve lost touch with what’s happening in the world. And being able to look at different disciplines, being able to say, "Okay there might be something useful or something valuable in a film. What’s happening positively in a film that could be imported into theatre--that we could use that we could look at, that we could put our own spin on?" Or what’s happening in the culture that can be reflected in theatre.
And I think we have to get back to the culture almost because I think that theatre has—it’s just moved so far away from what’s happening everyday that the everyday person doesn’t see anything of their life in theatre—and that’s not true: there are great plays out there that really do speak to people’s lives, but until the general perception of theatre changes, you’re not going to get people in to actually watch a play, to have that kind of experience…I wrote a thesis play—I wrote a play about a gay hustler, and my mom saw it and she said, "You know, I really understand how he felt. I’ve felt trapped like that sometimes," and I thought, "Oh my G—This is what you want…" and, but how do you get—but she’s my mom so she had to come see my play—but how do you get the person on the street to think, "Oh, there might be something useful in seeing a play" the way they say, "Braveheart’s coming out next week, I gotta go see it." No one says, "Oh the America Play’s coming next week—I gotta go see it."
And also, I think the web might help in terms of just numbers because a movie opens, millions of people see it in one day. Or a TV show airs and you reach millions of people. A play opens—it could run for ten years and might get…So how do you make that singular experience that happens in one time or place something that everybody can share so that you start to begin to build these common experiences across the culture. And I think the web may help with that. People are broadcasting films on the web now, shorts; that might be something that theatre can do. Maybe they could broadcast live cast plays so that people across the country could see something so that you’re not having to always depend on the show making the rounds on the regional theatres. And there might be more room, then, for new plays, maybe on the web, or new plays being developed in a theatre if there’s some other means of disseminating what you’re doing.
So I’m very excited about the technology in those kinds of terms that we may be able to re-connect with what’s happening in the culture. And I think, the way the Internet has taken off, I think theatre cannot ignore that, because that’s a very real kind of community that’s built up, that’s cross-cultural—because you can be in Oakland—you can be a Black woman in Oakland, conversing with an Asian guy in New York City, conversing with these other different kinds of people, and you’re having shared experiences, you’re finding things of shared interest: for theatre to somehow tap into that and not have to depend on the subscription audience in downtown DC is very exciting. It’ll be great when that happens; when we can tap into that community that’s out there across boundaries.
Transcribed by Sean Johnson Andrews for ://english matters, 6/02
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