Inspired by Georgia native Carson McCullers’ iconic novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” the new play “fml: how Carson McCullers saved my life” presented by 7 Stages draws parallels with that famous work. In it, a lesbian teenager learns how to survive her high school years and appreciate who she really is. It’s directed by Heidi S. Howard, the theater’s artistic director, and written by out playwright Sarah Gubbins. We caught up with Howard recently to ask about “fml.”
How did this show wind up at 7 Stages?
Sarah was commissioned by Steppenwolf to create this show in 2012. She knew she was wanting to write about a young lesbian struggling with her identity, learning how to fit in, using art to express herself. I came across the script and fell in love with it. I was identifying with the lesbian journey of coming out, my history and what it felt like. There are lots of really great gay boy things out there and I was looking for something that lent itself to a woman’s journey as well as dealing with young people. My Youth Creates ensemble program focuses on coming-out stories, not always LGBTQ stories but coming into one’s identity and embracing that truth to finding their voices. These young people go through this identity crisis and deal with judgement and others being mean to people.
Tell us about the young girl’s journey.
A girl in a Catholic high school avoids being noticed. She suffers from hate crimes, and is the victim of bullying. A new teacher embraces her and offers her support through the process of creating a graphic novel to express her story through art. The young girl knows she is a lesbian but doesn’t talk about it. Her best friend is a gay boy. They both know. In school, she doesn’t feel accepted. She feels alone. The two of them are starting to figure out they are closer friends.
Was it hard casting young people for these roles?
Several of my young people wanted to be involved. I had audition after audition. There was lots of interest. What I ultimately did was cast a professional cast who are young-,looking and an alternative cast with teenagers for my matinee cast.
Where all has the play been staged?
Sarah created it with a teen ensemble in Chicago. Then last year around the same time I found it, Patrick McColery with the Alliance Theatre found it. His teen ensemble did it as a workshop presentation. We have moved forward where the Alliance left off with it.
What’s it like working with Sarah?
I just really like her courage and her clarity looking at identity. She has been inspired by lots of different artists. It’s not just a straightforward, linear show. It’s fun to see how it continues to go. Sarah has been present in the process, working with us. She is coming down for preview night and the opening weekend.
Tell us about some of the events surrounding the production.
We’ve been working on this since September. We presented some scenes from the show at the Decatur Book Festival. We also received the NEA Big Read Grant which allowed us to hire a teaching artist to go into schools and read “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and have students create artistic responses to it using visual art, poetry, singing, dance, performance from these young people. We will be reading some of those on the 14th. It’s been wonderful to work with the young people and allow them to say “Hey, I’m different.”
We were at Pride with free books. We’ve been doing a book club at the Decatur library. On Sunday, February 15th at 2 p.m. we are doing “The Art of Activism.” It’s a continuation of the queer panel we did last May with Sean Dorsey looking at bullying. We’ll have a panel discussion and some breakout panels. It’s a full day. And in conjunction with (French-language theater) Théâtre du Rêve, we are presenting the play “Jane, the Fox and Me,” which deals with bullying for little ones.
• On Wednesday, Feb. 18, 7 Stages will be hosting a private play night as a benefit for Lost-N-Found Youth. For more information, click here.
“fml: how Carson McCullers saved my life” Through Feb. 22 7 Stages 1105 Euclid Avenue N.E., Atlanta, GA 30307 USA www.7stages.org