Nedra Pezold Roberts is the playwright behind Wash, Dry, Fold, this week’s Bare Essentials reading, a play in which themes of loss and family secrets unfold in a laundromat run by two sisters as a bad loan threatens their livelihood.
Tell us a little about yourself.
As a native New Orleanian, I passed my childhood and early adult life falling in love with my city, a love affair that hasn’t diminished in over 40 years away from that home. A former English and drama teacher, I’m now an emerging playwright based in Atlanta. Several of my plays have won competitions over the past couple of years, including THE VANISHING POINT in the 2013 Southern Playwrights Competition and the 2013 AACT NewPlayFest—which won seven Elly Awards, among them Best Script, in the 2014 awards announced by SARTA, the Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance. In 2014 I had plays in California, Alabama, Ohio, and New York; so far in 2015 I have had productions in Houston, Tampa, and New York, and staged readings in Montgomery and Asheville. I am a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Working Title Playwrights, and I serve on the board of the Atlanta Writers Club. For additional information about my writing projects, please see my website, www.nedrapezoldroberts.com.
What can you tell us about the play we’ll be hearing Tuesday?
The characters are straight out the New Orleans I know, especially wise and crazy Uncle Slack. Sisters Trudy and Enola don’t get along; they talk at each other instead of listening to one another. But when a sudden disclosure springs open the long-locked door to repressed and fanatically religious Enola’s emotional prison, she finds an unexpected ally in her ex-convict sister. Together, the two women use humor and unvarnished truth to battle shame and guilt and cross the threshold into redemption.
What inspired you to write this play?
New Orleans is in my blood; it’s the touchstone for my soul. But every one of my plays begin with voices in my head, snatches of conversations or gnomic utterances that won’t leave me alone, so then I have to go in pursuit to find out who these people are and what they want of me. In other words, character is the starting point and story is the vehicle; abstract concepts and themes must be incarnated in the lives of people. In that way, characters make visible what is hidden or disguised. If I get lucky, my characters and their struggles will build a bridge to the audience that allows emotion to be shared, assumptions challenged, and the audience will leave the theatre with a shift in perception, perhaps an enlarged sense of what it means to be human.
How did you get into playwriting?
I taught English (and lots of plays!) for several decades, at the college level and then at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. I’ve written and published in the academic arena, including two textbooks, one a critical anthology of plays. But I’ve always been in love with theatre and always wanted to try writing your own plays. I finally decided the only way to go after it seriously would be to take early retirement from the classroom. So I did.
What is the importance of staged readings in your own creative process and the development of your play? What do you hope to get out of this Bare Essentials reading process?
Writing is a lonely and isolated endeavor, but theatre is made in community. Hearing my characters emerge from voices of actors is crucial. A staged reading distills those voices, letting them focus on the words in the script divorced from the distractions of costumes and props. It presents the script in its purest form and lets me hear if my words ring true. I can also tell from an actor’s delivery if I did my job in creating the characters as I envisioned them in my head. But sometimes the luck of theatre happens and the actors give me wonderful new insights, or show me where revision is needed.
This play has already had two staged readings—Dayton Playhouse (Ohio), and Nora’s Playhouse (NYC). I learned a lot each time, and I’m sure that will happen again now.
Where else can we see your work?
2015 has been busy, with four play productions and four staged readings, spread over five states, but ironically I’m now moving into a clear space on the calendar. The next full production currently scheduled is in fact WASH, DRY, FOLD—this play has just won the AACT 2015 NewPlayFest and the premiere will be at Chicago Street Theatre in May-June 2016.
Excerpts from several plays can be read on my entry at the National New Play Exchange (https://newplayexchange.org/. Just search using my name). One full-length play, THE VANISHING POINT, has been published by Dramatic Publishing Company so it can be read in its entirety (AACT NewPlayFest Winning Plays: Vol. 1, 2014, ISBN 978-1-58342-714-9).
Wash, Dry, Fold will be read at the West End Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, August 18 at 7:30pm. Directed by Barbara Hawkins-Scott.
All readings are free and open to the public, donations gladly accepted.