An Interview with J. Lois Diamond

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Playwright J. Lois Diamond discusses her play MOUNTAIN DEW, part of the HERSTORY Festival this weekend, April 29th and 30th, 8pm, at the Silk Road Art Gallery in New Haven, CT.

Q: How did you hear about 365 Women a Year?

A: I believe I first saw it listed on the NYC Playwrights website, but I was initially reticent about participating. Jessica had put a limit on the number of Caucasian women one could write about. I was intimidated about the prospect of writing about a woman of color and felt that not only would I get it wrong, but also that somehow I didn’t have the right to do it. That all changed when I went to a reading of 365 Plays at The Sheen Center last April (2015). I saw a lot of great work but was especially impressed with two plays about African Americans that were written by White women. I came away feeling, if they could do it, I could too. But I didn’t know who to write about.

Q: Why did you choose Hannah Reynolds as one of your historical woman? What drew you to her?

A: The very next day I heard a story on NPR. It was the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox, which led to Lee’s surrender and the end of The Civil War. There was an interview with a minister who had written a eulogy about Hannah Reynolds, a slave and the only civilian casualty of this battle. I don’t wish to give away what he discovered, but it was extraordinary.  I had been thinking a lot about racism and other forms of bigotry. And all this was a week before Passover, which celebrates social justice and specifically, freedom from slavery.  I was very moved, and knew I had to write about her.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of adapting a persons life for the stage? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together?

A: One of the challenges was capturing the setting.

I haven’t spent much time in the south but my boyfriend and I had planned a road trip to North Carolina with over night stops in Virginia.  While I had done some research and made notes, I didn’t actually start writing the play until I had returned from the trip. I wanted the speech and manner of Southerners to wash over me. I had known a Black woman from Virginia when I was young. As I listened to Southerners, her voice came back into my head, and it helped me to write the part of Hannah.

There is always a danger of preaching when you address moral issues like basic human rights.

I was very fortunate in the fact that there was a little bit of information known about her but also a lot of unanswered questions for me to explore. One of these was why she stayed behind when her master had fled. It was known that she was married. I put myself in her place, and felt in my gut that the only reason she would have stayed would have been to be with her husband.

Q: In the play, the character of Hannah Reynolds returns from beyond the grave in order to speak with a young, contemporary, girl. What made you choose this route? 

A: I decided from the beginning that she would be a ghost. I had her visit Tanya, a teenager who was bored with the history she was being taught in school, because it was fundamentally flawed, and because it didn’t have any relevance to her own life.

As I worked on revisions, it dawned on me that I needed to clarify why Hannah was haunting her. I realized Hannah was disturbed because she felt misunderstood and needed to tell her life’s story the way it really happened. Once she was able to convey her truth to Tanya, Tanya, in turn became empowered. Only then was Hannah free to go in peace.

Q: What are you most excited about for the reading on the 29th and 30th? What are you most nervous about?

A: I’m excited to see my work read for an audience of people who aren’t familiar with my work, but am always nervous when I haven’t had any prior contact with the director or actors.

Q: Are there any playwrights that inspired you while you were working on this piece, or who inspire you in general? 

A: I don’t recall having been consciously influenced by other playwrights while I wrote this specific play, but I adore Tina Howe’s work and had the incredible opportunity to study with her briefly. I have also been inspired by Wendy Wasserstein’s early work, Lanford Wilson, Elaine May and Tennessee Williams.

Q: What has been your favorite aspect of working with 365 Women a Year? 

A: Being part of a community of like- minded theatre artists and making people aware of important women in history. It has really changed the way I approach new subject matter.

Q: Do you have any advice for the playwrights joining 365 Women a Year for the first time? 

A: Go out and see some plays that are part of this project. Then don’t be afraid to take the plunge and write one yourself. You never know whom you might inspire!

J.Lois Diamond is a playwright, poet and performer. Her full length, one-act, and ten-minute plays have been performed at various off-off Broadway venues, including Theater for the New City, The West Bank Cafe and The Hudson Guild.  Her work has been produced regionally and as part of The InspiraTO Festival in Toronto. She has been a featured poet at The Cornelia St. Cafe. She is a member of Polaris North and The Dramatists Guild.

An Interview with Allie Costa


Allie discusses her new play Little Swan, premiering as part of the HERSTORY Festival at the Silk Road Art Gallery in New Haven, CT, April 29th and 30th.

Q: How did you hear about 365 Women a Year?

A: I first crossed paths with Jess Eisenberg on Twitter when the 365 Women a Year project was in its early stages and she was seeking submissions. I immediately asked how I could be involved, and the rest is history.

Q: Why did you choose Anna Pavlova as one of your historical woman? What drew you to her?

A: The idea for Little Swan came to me in March 2013 as I was preparing to write a new play for PlayGround-LA in honor of Women’s History Month. I wanted to write about someone who made an impact on society and history, and as that was all percolating in my brain, I was at an audition studio where I saw a replica of a piece of art I like – the statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Degas – and thought, “Perhaps a dancer.” Anna Pavlova came to mind. I researched her life and discovered her last words, and I knew her story was one I had to tell.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of adapting a person’s life for the stage? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together?

A: Little Swan is set backstage before the first performance of The Dying Swan, a ballet choreographed by Mikhail Fokine as a solo piece for Anna Pavlova. Without giving too much away, the encounter she has in this piece is imagined, but some of the lines in this play were spoken by the real Anna Pavlova. I wanted to incorporate real quotes because the statements she made about life and about dancing were so powerful, so telling, and I couldn’t say it better than she said it herself. Those quotes really inspired the story, from start to finish.

Q: You’ve been involved with 365 Women a Year since the original incarnation. Has your experience in the first year influenced your writing the second time around?

A: So far, I have written five pieces for 365 Women a Year:
Little Swan, a Pas de Deux (Anna Pavlova)
The View From Here (Anna Christina Olson, subject of Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World)
She Walks (Ada Lovelace)
She Was Never Lost (Alice Liddell, inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
A Moment of Silence (Leelah Alcorn)
….and this year, I will be writing about Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn.

The first year, I submitted pieces to the project that I had already written, whereas for the second year and now the third, the project was what motivated me to write the pieces. I enjoy doing research because I’d like to be as accurate as possible and truly honor their lives and accomplishments.

Q: What are you most excited about for the reading on the 29th and 30th?

A: I am so flattered that Little Swan was chosen for this reading! I hope you all enjoy it. It will be the first time my work has been presented in Connecticut, so that is exciting.

Q: Are there any playwrights that inspired you while you were working on this piece, or who inspire you in general?

A: I love a good story. I appreciate good storytellers. I am an actress, a playwright, a screenwriter, a singer, and a director. When I’m not performing someone else’s work, I’m writing my own. I am constantly reading books, scripts, and screenplays, watching TV, films, going to the theatre, listening to music – those are my favorite story streams.

Lin-Manuel Miranda inspires me. I’m going to work with that man someday. I am so glad that Hamilton is getting the recognition is deserves. #yayhamlet

Q: What has been your favorite aspect of working with 365 Women a Year?

A: I enjoy seeing, hearing, and reading all of these stories and learning about women I didn’t know about before as well as learning new things about familiar names. I also like meeting new playwrights, directors, and actors in the process!

Q: Do you have any advice for the playwrights joining 365 Women a Year for the first time?

Pick someone you think is awesome. It doesn’t matter if she is famous, if she’s a household name or not. All that matters is that you think she’s story-worthy – so jump right in and tell her story!

Allie Costa works in film, TV, theatre, and voiceover as a writer, director, actress, and singer. Her original works have been produced internationally, including Femme Noir (Best Script, 2015 One-Act Festival), Safe Distance, Who She Could Have Been (LBDI semi-finalist), A Taste of the Future (Lakeshore Players semi-finalist) and Can You Keep a Secret? Her play Little Swan, a Pas de Deux, inspired by the life of ballerina Anna Pavlova, was named Best of PlayGround-LA 2014 and subsequently published. Tofurkey Day has been staged in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, the UK, and Florida, where it was named Best of the Fest, Audience Choice.

Allie is an accomplished stage and screen actor whose credits include Spring Awakening, Hamlet, 90210, Wake, and You Me & Her. She has lent her voice to video games, appeared in commercials, and narrated audio books. She is a proud member of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, the 365 Women a Year Playwriting Project, PlayGround-LA, and SAG-AFTRA. She always has energy to burn and a song to sing. Occasionally, she sleeps.


The official press release for HERSTORY, one of NOplays’ new work festivals coming this April!


When it comes to documenting his-tory, men have always had the upper hand. Until now!

NOplays presents: HERSTORY, two evenings of staged readings by emerging female writers about women who shaped our world.

About the Project:

HERSTORY is NOplays fourth production. We’ve produced festivals across New England from Bennington College in Vermont to Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY, to right here in New Haven. Our mission is to promote and produce the works of underrepresented voices in the American Theatre, specifically emerging female writers. We want the wild, fun, and unique stories told by these writers to be heard!

The plays featured in HERSTORY are part of 365 Women a Year. This international playwriting coalition involves over 200 women across the world who have signed on to write one or more one-acts about extraordinary women in history. The project’s ambitious yet focused goal is to write women back into the social consciousness as well as empower and promote female playwrights, and plant seeds of herstory around the country.

HERSTORY will take place at the Silk Road Art Gallery in New Haven, CT, April 29th-30th at 8pm. Plays include Mountain Dew written by J.Lois Diamond and directed by Teresa Langston, Little Swan written by Allie Costa and directed by Brooks Appelbaum, and Making Frankenstein written by Natalie Osborne and directed by Moira Malone. Coffee, tea, and dessert from Koffee? will be available free of charge. Doorprizes will be given out to the first audience members to arrive, including gift cards to Rainbow Gardens Restaurant and Cloud 9 Day Spa. There is a $5 suggested donation for entry. Tickets are available at the door, first come first serve. We hope to see you there!

If you would like to support this and other NOplays projects, consider making a donation.