In 2009 I began writing "Finding Alice," a full-length play based on my maternal grandparents' relationship. By 2013 the play, and it's title, evolved into something far from autobiographical; it's become less a play about finding my grandmother between the lines of correspondence between the husband who left her with a small child and more a study on women, women's roles in a pre-feminist art world.
How did all of this change occur? It started when I decided to put some actual letters into the text of the play. As I typed in my grandfather's condescending and self-grandizing words, I realized how two-dimensional he would be as a character (my feelings on how he was as a man are evident, I'm sure). I realized the character I was already developing and writing was far more interesting and layered. I realized I had only enough empathy for the man to get me so far and to write about him at this time was not going to make a great play.
I also thought about my grandmother and my incessant need to "rescue" her from his more flashy, larger story (we all know it: the male artist who gets to go forth in the world: travel, be bold, be an ass, be praised for his work, and, often, for being an ass), to bring her into the spotlight and show us the woman left behind, the woman who doesn't get the chance to chuck it all on a whim and hitchhike across the country living an adventure (well, not in the late thirties/forties, anyway).
But through rewrites (dictated by plot/structure/and basic storytelling) I realized I wasn't telling her story, the story of Alice; I wasn't ready. But I was ready to tell the story of women who battle the male narrative in art and life . So, I freed myself from the guilt of what I saw as abandoning my grandmother (like he had) and gave myself permission to write this new story.
I have these letters. I have these grandparents. I have these ideas and thoughts and goals of making "Finding Alice" a reality. And I will. But right now, I am loving the play that is. I'm loving the characters Ava Bartim and Jefford Huso, and Perlita Antagan, Johnnie De La Cruz, and Fernando Cagampang. And I hope you will, too.
You can catch my the play, now titled, "Killing Jar," in development at Dragon Productions' New Play Development Factory May 26th, June 1st, and June 7th.
In the meantime, here's the synopsis:
1962. Ava, a young painter and curator, arrives in the Philippines to convince artist Jefford Huso to exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair. But first she must battle Jefford’s resistance, his friends’ suspicions, and her own conflictions on whether she can really pull it off. Her desire for a mentor and his addiction jeopardize the show and Ava's career.
Ava Bartim has traveled over twenty-one hours to meet with an incorrigible, American ex-patriot artist with a penchant for booze and self-destruction. There’s little time for sleep as she quickly realizes she’s been set up to fail. The stakes are high: If Ava doesn’t deliver the artist, her career, which hinges on this rare opportunity in a typically, male dominated field, will be ruined before it’s started. But Ava is at risk of losing more than a job; she’s at risk of losing her Self, her art, and her family.