Danille Winston’s new play Ida and Leonor will be featured along with four other plays in HERSTORY 2: WE RISE. In this interview with Artistic Director Natalie Osborne, she discusses the lives of Ida Lupino and Leonor Fini, as well as the importance of solidarity among women on the path to discovering our true potential. You can see HERSTORY 2: WE RISE, March 10th and 11th at the Silk Road Art Gallery in New Haven.
1.) Have you written plays for 365 Women a Year before?
Yes. Last year I wrote a one-act play called, Stitches In Time about the former slave folk artist, Harriet Powers. I hadn’t heard of her until I was assigned to write her story. Harriet was a natural storyteller who wove elaborate tales into her quilts. Today her bible quilt hangs in the Smithsonian. Unlike my play, Ida & Leonor, Stitches was a recreation of an actual event that occurred in two women’s lives. There was a staged reading of the play in Harlem this past summer, and Stitches was well received.
2.) Tell me more about what drew you to Ida Lupino and Leonor Fini?
I chose Ida Lupino and Leonor Fini because I wanted to learn more about them. In addition to being a writer/director, I’m also an artist myself. Often I write stories about artists, and/or paintings are featured somehow. A while back, I attended an art exhibit about little known female surrealist painters at Sotheby’s in Manhattan. It was mind-expanding… The works were so imaginative and unique! Yet, it felt tragic that many of us had never heard of these artists. I was struck by Leonor Fini’s work. Many of her images were half-animal, half-woman. They were sensual, vibrant and supernatural… I had to know more about the woman who created this world. The 365 Women a Year project seemed like the right opportunity to begin.
As a woman filmmaker, I’m in awe of Ida Lupino, and grateful for what she did to pave the way for women in the film industry. She’s a true unsung heroine. Many know her as a stage and film actress. They don’t realize how radical she was, writing and producing films about subjects other people weren’t touching with a fifty-foot pole. Imagine, in 1949, she co-wrote a film about a young woman who considered having an abortion! Let that sink in… Even now that subject is pretty taboo. And that film, Not Wanted, turned out to be the first film that Lupino directed. She’s such an important woman in film history, a real role model. And proof that you can be in charge and not surrender your femininity. I’ve been wanting to write about her for a while.
3.) One thing I found interesting about this play is that this is a fictional conversation, so what inspired you to put these two women in a room together?
Well… To be honest, part of that was, I had a deadline for 365 Women a Year. I was working on my other scripts, a feature screenplay and full length play. Suddenly my deadline for 365 Women was approaching and I had three historical women to write plays about! Since Ida and Leonor were alive at the same time, it seemed reasonable they could have crossed paths in their theatrical circles. I began to think of what might happen if they had met: how each woman might influence the other… And I loved the idea of such intense strong-willed creative women meeting at pivotal times in their lives. Sparks began to fly in my mind as I heard their voices talking to each other. I see Ida & Leonor as the start of something bigger. I truly appreciate the opportunity to have this play in Herstory Festival. It’ll be the first time the play is read before an audience.
4.) Ida Lupino was one of Hollywood’s first female directors, can you tell me more about that?
There were very few female directors. Alice Guy-Blanche in 1896, Louis Weber is credited as the first American woman film director at the turn of the century, Dorothy Arzner in the 20’s, there were more I’m sure, unfortunately we rarely hear about them. However, Ida Lupino is credited as the first director, male or female, to have ever directed themselves acting in a film for The Bigamist (1953). Two years earlier she had actually directed, On Dangerous Ground (1951) also. Because it occurred out of necessity when her director Nicolas Ray had a nervous breakdown, she took over but was never credited. Think about how difficult it is to direct and act… to see through the camera lens, the entire world of the film, shape the performance of each actor, and at the same time also embody a character yourself. Personally, I think it’s one of the hardest things to do well.
Before the term, “glass ceiling” existed, Ida Lupino didn’t ask for permission to make her films. She created meaningful pictures, took on a massive amount of so-called “men’s work” and was an unstoppable cinematic force. Ida was a writer, producer, and eventually a film and television director. Her passion for telling the kinds of stories she wanted to see, naturally led her to directing, which is touched on in my play, Ida & Leonor. She was constantly evolving creatively, and an expert on the individual parts that go into making a film. Woman or man, that kind of ability is rare, even today.
5.) Leonor Fini was an immigrant, as well as a bisexual woman, I feel those are two groups that aren’t represented often in the media or on our stages, can you tell me more what it was like writing her as a character?
In America, unless we’re American Indians, we are all descended from immigrants. Born in Argentina, raised in Italy, and living in Paris as an adult, Leonor Fini was multicultural in every sense. As a woman who didn’t stay stagnant in any one place, her heritage made me understand her nonconformist ways and wildly original way of seeing the world, reflected in her art.
Leonor seemed to have a fluid sexuality, involved with both men and women and was often polyamorous; Like Ida, Leonor was a woman who wasn’t playing by anyone else’s rules, inventing life as she went along, doing the unimaginable.
In my films and plays, I usually write about fictional characters so writing real people is an intriguing challenge. My stories are very psychological though… so with Leonor and Ida, I learned about each woman’s life and tried to imagine her motivations and feelings. My process is part fact, part imagination… It merges on the page and becomes a kind of new discovery.
6.) What does it mean to have stories about women like Ida and Leonor, who are outsiders and groundbreakers, told given our country’s current political climate?
As a woman it’s easy to feel triggered by our current leadership for obvious reasons. It sometimes feels as though we’re in a time machine going backward. Instead of shriveling up and becoming weak, women are banning together. In turn, our voices are growing more powerful, which is inspiring. I was interviewing a writer/producer recently and she was talking to me about this uprising of female energy and power… And It’s clearly happening now in massive numbers. Women are refusing to be complacent which is a beautiful/powerful thing.
51% of the human race is female and yet, so little of how women changed the world is known to us, that there needs to be a term called, “Women’s History.” That’s pretty wild! Women need to discover other women of influence and power so they can emulate them. Seeing stories like Ida & Leonor, and the ones in HerStory and 365 Women a Year, I hope will inspire women to make their own voices heard.
Ida & Leonor is about two women who don’t realize their own power, until each woman becomes a kind of mirror that brings the other’s strength to light. When we see stories about women doing miraculous things, we have a chance to identify with these women. Not only do we gain role models, but something clicks in our heads and we think, “well, if she can do it, maybe I can too!”
7.) What do you see your role as a writer and a theatre-maker being in America today?
I’m working on plays and screenplays now that feature juicy, wildly complex roles for women and men. It’s my goal to direct and continue to write stories driven by exciting unconventional women that reach a wide audience. Thats the best way I know to challenge and hopefully change female stereotypes.
8.) What role do female friendships fill, both in your play and in the world today?
Ida and Leonor illustrates how a spontaneous friendship between two women can alter each one’s destiny.
The female friends you surround yourself with can teach you to become your truest self. There are women who embrace their own strength and uplift their female friends. That creates the best kind of growth… In a perfect world this would always be the case. However, some women feel threatened by other women’s successes, which in turn depletes their own energy and creates weakness and deprivation. Now, more than ever, I think it’s essential to empower and uplift the women in your life. It’s the only way to become stronger and experience happiness. Widening your circle of female friends is a way to do that. Also, social media, if used positively, creates a tapestry of interconnectedness.
9.) Is there anything else you would like to share? Any advice for your fellow writers and theatre makers?
Tell your stories however you can. Plays are great because unlike films, you don’t need a fortune to stage them. And one-acts are a safe way to explore seeds of stories you may want to expand later on. I’ve written feature films and TV pilots from stories that began as one-act plays. For women… Make your voices heard. View your friend’s success as yours. Read your friends stories, listen to them. Listening is severely underrated and essential for creative growth. One last thing: we need more women working in theatre and film. Women, hire other women to work with on your creative projects. It’s incredibly important!
To learn more about Danielle Winston and her work, please visit www.daniellewinston.com.
If you would like to support HERSTORY and NOplays efforts to bring women’s stories onto our stages, please consider making a donation. Remember to check our blog for more interviews with our playwrights!