3 Questions With LOCAL GIRLS Playwright Emma Goidel

In between writing emails for the playwriting collective Orbiter3, of which she is a founding member, producing A Play, A Pie, and Pint for Tiny Dynamite, making small re-writes and helping generate choreography for Local Girls, and eating a lot of snacks, playwright Emma Goidel answered a couple questions about her process as a playwright and some of the inspiration for Local Girls.

SO: This play borrows from your biography -- your dad is a musician, some of your high school friends were really into metal, you grew up in Tucker. But the play is not biographical -- you are neither Riley nor Diskit, or even Francis (another way of saying that you are all of them). Is there tension for you between drawing details from your personal experiences while inventing characters and situations?

EG: Definitely. I often find myself writing to understand something I have done or gone through, someone I have met or been changed by. My three full-length plays are fictional narratives drawn from real experiences. In A Knee That Can Bend, I was working out questions I walked away with from the semester I lived in Senegal amongst a community of underground local lesbians. In Local Girls, I see myself trying to understand my desire to make a career as an artist, as a kid of parents who abandoned their multiple music degrees because they couldn't support a family, as an art school kid growing up in a resource-poor environment with young people basically breathing aspiration, determined to make a conservatory environment out of a molding gymnasium. The Gap is about my sister, and a discovery she made that changed the way we understand our entire relationship.

Sam Henderson & Anna Zaida Szapiro Photo by Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

Sam Henderson & Anna Zaida Szapiro
Photo by Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

But that personal material is a starting point. I take such pleasure in crafting a theatrical experience. It freaking delights me to encounter a surprising play structure and then try to work out my own version of it. I really like stupid jokes, I really like coming up with stupid jokes that make me cackle while I work on them, and I like to refine, I am an insatiable editor of my own dramatic writing. I am in love with theater that bears its guts in a masterful form. I studied ballet and classical music growing up, and I have definitely taken in the concept that technique -- hard won -- facilitates the expression of beauty. Or something. I don't exclusively believe that -- in fact, I believe beauty is created through and without hard-won technique -- but I do like to pursue form in my writing. I feel like every time I discover a dramatic tool or strategy, my creative playground expands, and now I have a swing set and a diving board and I want to use one of them to kill somebody and the other as a means for two characters to fall in love.

All this to say -- I find myself simultaneously drawing on my own experiences for material that is rich and meaningful to me, that I can commit to exploring without worrying about it running out, and shaping that material with precision and a theatrical agenda. Or maybe it's not simultaneously -- I started with the material, and then I shape it, and that requires me to plumb my guts for more material, which needs to be shaped, etc until I abandon it before an audience.

SO: Now that we understand how you use your own experiences in your writing, Local Girls takes place in Tucker, Georgia, where you grew up. Can you describe the Tucker of your memory? Why did you want to write about it?

EG: Because I grew up there, I cannot separate Tucker from feeling on the verge of growing up, suspended between childhood and adulthood, but also think Tucker is a place suspended. It's an urban border neighborhood. In Atlanta we say OTP, Outside The Perimeter, meaning literally outside the expressway that marks the city's circumference, and meaning Not Atlanta, meaning excluded from the liberal hub of an otherwise red state. Tucker is just inside that highway, just Inside The Perimeter. Suspended between Stone Mountain -- a giant rock, where Kenneth Parcel from 30 Rock grew up -- and the freedom inside the city center. One way down Lawrenceville Highway took you to the center of the city, Atlanta, where there were punks and art films in French and a capoeira gym and a Shakespeare dinner theater and classes at Atlanta Ballet. The other direction took you further into flat ranch houses overtaken by grass and tress and bonsai, railroad tracks, more highway, crowded single-family homes in immigrant neighborhoods where my boyfriend lived with his NA sponsor. Tucker was also my job at the pizza restaurant, where I worked on and off for five years with lifers and drifters who introduced me and my best friend Jasmine to obscure hip hop, alcohol, and the kinds of house parties you can throw when you no longer live with your parents. I wanted to write about waiting to become something in a place that felt like it was waiting to become something.

Mary Tuomanen & Anna Zaida Szapiro Photo by Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

Mary Tuomanen & Anna Zaida Szapiro
Photo by Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

SO: Do you have any must-listen metal tracks?

EG: NO, but I do have a song to introduce you to the world of this production of Local Girls.
Listen Here!

Emma Goidel (Playwright)
Emma is a founding member of the critically acclaimed producing playwrights collective Orbiter 3 and a member of the Ars Nova Play Group. Her plays include Local Girls (Azuka Theatre, 2016), A Knee That Can Bend (Orbiter 3, 2015), The Gap (development: LAByrinth Theater Company & InterAct Theatre Company), and We Can All Agree To Pretend This Never Happened (Ensemble Studio Theatre, Òran Mór in Scotland, Tiny Dynamite/InterAct). She co-created the 2014 FringeArts Festival hit Safe Space with Apocalypse Club, a collaboration with playwrights Emily Acker and Douglas Williams and director Maura Krause. Emma was a Writing Fellow at the Playwrights Realm, Core Playwright at InterAct Theatre Company, a Core Apprentice at the Playwrights’ Center, a member of the Philadelphia Foundry, and the 2012 Dasha Epstein Playwriting Fellowship at New York Stage & Film/Powerhouse Theater. She is a 2015 Princess Grace Award Finalist, two-time Arnold L. Weissberger Award nominee, winner of the New South Young Playwrights Competition, NNPN Smith Prize nominee, and semi-finalist for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference. Local Girls was included in The Kilroys 2015 Honorable Mentions: the top 32% of plays by women recommended by artistic leaders as among "the best work they had encountered in the past year." Emma's short plays have been presented at Philadelphia Theater Company, Horizon Theater (Atlanta), SIT: Dakar, and UPenn. She received a BA with Honors in Theatre from Barnard College in 2012.