Allie Costa’s new play A Moment of Silence was originally featured in the HERSTORY 2: WE RISE Festival in 2017. It was one of the plays selected for a revival in the Best of HERSTORY Festival 2019. In this interview with Artistic Director Natalie Osborne, Allie Costa discusses Leelah Alcorn, LGBT representation, and what we as theatre-makers can and should do to raise our voices. You can see this play, along with the other winners, on March 28th at 6:30pm and March 30th at 3:30pm at the New Haven Free Public Library.
Trigger Warning: Suicide, Abuse, and Misgendering
1.) How long have you been with 365 Women a Year?
I have been involved with 365 Women a Year since the first year, 2014. I connected with Jess Eisenberg on Twitter, and when she spoke of collecting new plays about historical women, I immediately threw my hat in the ring. I have contributed plays to 365 Women a Year every year.
2.) Has your approach to writing about these historical women changed at all?
Whether it’s for stage or screen, I approach each new script in a similar way: stubbornly and honestly. Stubbornly because 99% of the time, I have to think of the ending before I start typing. Before I start typing, yes, but not necessarily before I start scribbling; I still like to write scenes/drafts longhand, and I often scribble down ideas and snatches of dialogue in my notebook and on scratch paper. And honestly because I intend to communicate the truth of the characters and the story.
When I am writing something inspired by real people and real events, I do a great deal of research. I want to honor the person’s real life and experiences. In many of my 365 Women a Year plays, I have incorporated quotes, things that were said or written by the women.
3.) Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind A Moment of Silence?
A Moment of Silence was inspired by Leelah Alcorn. Leelah was 17 years old when she took her own life in December 2014. She posted a suicide note on Tumblr which went viral. Leelah was a transgender girl whose parents refused to accept her identity and her chosen name. In her note, Leelah expressed, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s *&^%ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Leelah’s suicide note was subsequently removed by her parents, but is accessible via the Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20150101052635/http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note It was also shared by City Councilamn Chris Seelbach: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisSeelbach/posts/10152890372978559:0
4.) What was a big challenge for you while you were writing this play?
I decided early on that I would base the story on what I had learned about Leelah, but I named the main character Hailey in order to allow myself to fictionalize some things, to fill in the blanks and create a similar story without feeling as if anything I wrote was false or disrespectful.
5.) Why do you think it’s important for people to hear stories about the LGBT community now?
Love is love is love. The current political climate certainly means we need to keep fighting for inclusion for all, for not only tolerance but true understanding, for open-mindedness and acceptance.
Leelah felt like she was not being heard. In death, more people know her story than ever did while she was alive. That is heartbreaking.
6.) What do you think we as artists can do given the current challenges faced by the LGBT community?
Speak up. Speak out. Support others. Include others. For example, if you are an artistic director or producer who realizes your entire season is programmed with heteronormative stories, make an effort to consider and include scripts that have LGBTQ characters. If you are a writer, add LGBTQ characters to your next script. The same can be said for producing/writing scripts that feature minorities and characters who have disabilities, and stories with an equal number of male and female roles (or more female roles, or all female roles!) Do not write stereotypes. Write something real. Create and find new works that reflect the world’s true population and situations. Use your art and your heart to give voice to people who feel like they have been silenced, who feel like they have to be silent.
7.) What would you like the audience to walk away with after watching this play?
I hope it moves them, and that they make positive moves: “Give me emotion into action,” as Sara Bareilles says in her song Parking Lot.
I hope people will reach out to those they know who might be in a similar situation and offer them their support. Having someone listen to you, having a shoulder to cry on, can make a world of difference.
8.) What 365 plays are you working on now?
This year, I’ll be writing plays about Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer; author Zilpha Keatley Snyder; and singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles.
9.) Are there any other thoughts or pieces of advice you have for your fellow writers or the theatre community at large?
Keep showing up.
Keep speaking up.
If you would like to make a donation to support the project and win some awesome prizes, click here! All money goes to support the artists in the Festival. We need to raise another $250 before the 30th, and you can help!