New Pages Spotlight: Val Dunn

Hello, Azuka friends and family!

Last week, Jackie Goldfinger recounted her writing history and mused on the magic of play creation. You can read her spotlight here. This week, we hear from our next New Pages playwright, Val Dunn. You may have heard an excerpt from her play O, Possum! at our New Pages reading last month, or seen work like Johnny Depp: a Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism during this year’s Philly Theatre Week. But where did it all begin? This is Val.

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“I first learned creation as the growth from seed to sapling to blossom to fruit. Growing up on my family’s farm rooted my creative spirit in earnest, scrappy, and uninhibited modes of live storytelling — after-dinner porch plays, daylong games of pretend in the woods, and tall tales whispered among the flickering shadows of a bonfire. Where I’m from taught me to celebrate beauty and wonder for the sake of beauty and wonder. But I also grew up in a community who didn’t teach me the word lesbian until they taught it to me as a slur. They also warned me that theatre was full of liberals, so heeding their words I turned to theatre when I craved narratives that reflected my own queerness. I went from farm town to fishing village, but though centered in a town even smaller than my hometown, Washington College nurtured my growth. There I decided to write the stories I needed but couldn’t find growing up by harnessing the wildness, heart and sincerity I learned from the place that raised me.

The combined mentorship of Michele Volansky and the Bearded Ladies Cabaret ushered me out of Washington College and into the city of sisterly affection. The Foundry welcomed me to the Philadelphia playwriting scene, and the folks at On the Rocks helped make it my home. I have found most of my playwriting success through self-producing in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Philadelphia Theatre Week, and Philly SoLow Fest. I’ve produced plays in my attic and in my living room; I’ve created numerous zines at my kitchen table. I love scrappy DIY theatre — I think it captures that beloved Philly heart and grit. But I’m also itching for some professional support, primarily in the form of development and productions (if anyone wants to produce a lesbian ghost story about the collision of class and queerness, I’ve got a real hootenanny of a play for you). 

Jenna Kuerzi and Val Dunn in  Johnny Depp: a Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism  (photo by Minou Pourshariati)

Jenna Kuerzi and Val Dunn in Johnny Depp: a Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism (photo by Minou Pourshariati)

I appreciate that Azuka has taken a chance on me. They’ve chosen to amplify a budding queer voice. They’ve put me in the same room as playwrights vastly more experienced than me, giving us equal attention and resources. I have previously known the feeling of being an outcast and an underdog, but Azuka’s New Pages gives me the confidence to take myself seriously as a playwright. 

Camping with Signal Fire

Camping with Signal Fire

I am currently writing a bleak comedy about climate change called O, Possum! with the help of New Pages. The play takes place at an underfunded community park in southern Arizona. Following a passionate but often ineffectual park ranger’s attempts to single-handedly stop climate change forever, the play considers themes of activism, displacement, and the necessity of finding beauty even when all hope seems lost. New Pages has helped me clarify the play’s central theme and tonal complexities. The work I have done on this play with New Pages prepared me for an April residency with Signal Fire (an arts/activist organization based out of Portland, OR), during which I camped in the Sonoran desert near the US/Mexican border (Tohono O’odham Territory). The program’s consideration of how ‘climate change is accelerating the migration of endangered plants, animals, and people’ has particularly reshaped the way I’m thinking about O, Possum!. As I continue working on this play with New Pages, I’m wondering how the play can amplify an essential issue of the immigration crisis: we need to take care of each other regardless of borders. 

With similar disregard for manmade geographical distinctions, I’m spending the summer in Bristol, England with a woman I met — and promptly fell for — randomly on a middle-of-nowhere Northumberland trail last year. (Seriously, it’s a wild story that I will doubtless put in a play someday.) August sees me heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to perform Johnny Depp: a Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism with Philadelphia champ Jenna Kuerzi. After that I’m back down to Bristol to be with my love, bee boppin around Europe, and prepping to walk 190 miles across Northern England with the aforementioned Bristolian love. In the meantime, I’m seizing a rare abundance of uninterrupted writing time and looking forward to bringing my new pages back to Philly in the fall!”

Val in Bristol

Val in Bristol

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Thanks so much, Val! We’re looking forward to having you back too. If you’re just tuning in to our New Pages highlights and want to know a little more about the group, check out what New Pages leader Maura Krause has to say here.

And keep an eye out for next week’s New Pages playwright!

- Lucas