Finding Creative Joy, from the Midwest to Pussy Riot, with Barbara Hammond

Barbara Hammond is a New York playwright, filmmaker and songwriter.
She is a New Dramatists resident playwright (Class of 2018) and is currently under commission from both the Royal Court Theatre and the Contemporary American Theatre Festival.
She is a member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild, and she was named one of the Influential Women of 2011 by the Irish Voice.

 

Playlist: Visible from Four States; The Eva Trilogy: Eva the Chaste, Enter the Roar, and No Coast Road; Beyond the Pale; Summerland; Norman and Beatrice; Paper Tigers; and a collection of three one-acts entitled: “New York in June.”

 

Film: June Weddings (with Tom Noonan and Elzbieta Czyzewska)

 

Her essays “How to Stay a New York Playwright” and “Brecht, Love and Taylor Mac” are available at HotReview.org. Her song “That’s What I Recall” (written with composer Martin Hennessey) has been performed twice at Opera America.
She is also my dear friend from childhood. We met when we were 14 at St. Joseph’s High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

 

My interview with Barbara Hammond:

 
Christine: Barbara, please describe for our curious GERM readers your current life and career direction.

Barbara: I live in NYC, and I’m a playwright with New Dramatists. New Dramatists is a home for working American playwrights. I’m currently under commission to write a play with the Royal Court Theater in London and the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV, about Pussy Riot.

 

Christine: You live in New York City but are from the Midwest. Can you describe how being from the Midwest informs your creativity?

Barbara: My parents, especially my mom, didn’t think [they were] very important and had great humility. The Midwestern piece taught me the value of being humble. The things you reject as you grow up seem obvious, but you are taking for granted the good stuff like humility that doesn’t exist everywhere. Other people have said I have real optimism and a lack of entitlement. Patience is also incredibly important…as is persistence. I feel because the Midwest doesn’t see itself as the center of the world, it gives you a more honest perspective on identity and one’s place on the planet. Being an outsider is a very helpful thing as an artist, and I have often been an outsider because of where I’m from.

 

Christine: Our theme at GERM this month is “Joy.” When you think of finding the joy in the creative process, how would you describe where you find it?

Barbara:
1. In my solitude when I have a discovery about a character or an idea.
2. When that discovery is being interpreted by an actor.
3. Finally, through the conduit of the actor, the audience experiences what I experienced in the first step. So it’s circular. It’s really a collaborative process. Here is where there’s the most joy.
Theater is so important and relevant; in a virtual world there is no substitute for real time experience. Joy has to do with desire, which is something ancient, and that desire to experience things and vibrate with life is something you can share best through person-to-person contact. One of the best reasons to write plays is to have a conversation with someone you’ll never meet. I want to share that joy as broadly as I can. Joy is not really happiness but joy in being alive. It’s a miracle.

 

Christine: What advice would you give to young women interested in creative careers?

Barbara: How to be an artist in a man’s world? It’s incredibly important to not define yourself by your time and not be victimized by the status quo. Being an artist means living outside the status quo. Accept yourself rather than demanding that others accept you. Being an artist is a privilege, and no one owes you the life of being an artist. It requires sacrifice, your own and not others. Your life begins now, and you always have the choice to be creative, so it’s a good habit to get into.

 

Christine: What are the joy crushers to look out for and avoid?

Barbara: Naysayers. Haters. Cynicism. Lies.

 

Christine: Where do you find inspiration?

Barbara: People. Happenstance and chance encounters. I am moved by the potency of ordinary lives. It’s not just the beautiful things, it’s the tougher things. And the tough things are everywhere. Peoples’ attempts at connection move me as well as people who are unimportant, those who are unseen.

 

Christine: What concerns do you see for women in the arts?

Barbara: The main thing to keep in mind, I believe, is that risking exposure feels scarier for women than for men. It’s imperative for women not to censure themselves. It’s easy to do and important not to do. You need to be okay with not being liked or understood. If you are saying something new, be okay with not being understood for some time and even relish that. I love it when women embrace the other risks that women take and don’t condemn them, even when, and especially when, you don’t agree with them. I also think women who want to be artists have an obligation to create because so many of our stories haven’t been told.

 

Christine: What are you most proud of creatively?

Barbara: The Eva Trilogy, a three part exploration of a woman from her interior looking out, from the exterior looking in, and finally from the unconscious to the surface. I was lyrically and creatively at my best and held nothing back.

 

Christine: How can finding joy be sometimes difficult as a playwright? (This question is inspired by your essay “How to Stay a New York Playwright”), and how do you overcome that?

Barbara: The sacrifices you make have to be worth it to you in life, and there’s nothing wrong with making enormous sacrifices, but you should be aware you are making them.

 

Christine: Where is your foundational joy? What 3 things do you do to set the stage for creating and creating a meaningful life?

Barbara: The answer to this question would have been different for me a few years ago and is fluid. Finding my relationship with myself was important before building a strong foundation with the people that I love. The most important thing is your relationships with your loved ones. Stability is another big one. I used to get joy from freedom, and now I find it in intimacy. I used to get it from a variety of experiences, and now it’s the depth of experience that counts.
Joy is something you can have even when you’re down. Joy has something to do with connection and being alive; you can feed it or starve it. Just being conscious and keenly seeing the world brings joy. Joy is magnified by giving to others.
Joy also comes from having made great effort. There are no shortcuts to lasting joy. Creativity comes in many forms. Making your life your great work of art is the goal. Your own life is a work of art you are always going to be in the process of creating, so looking at life this way makes the messiness easier to embrace.

 

To connect with Barbara or to find out more information, check out her website at barbarahammond.com.