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I really appreciate Playscripts and their work toward creating better theater and theater experiences for all. Jay Muldoon Theater Teacher, Fairfield, OH
General Information
We chat with Naomi Iizuka about her new play, “Good Kids”

Set at a Midwestern high school, in a world of social media ubiquity, Good Kids explores a casual sexual encounter gone wrong and its very public aftermath. It is the first work of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium New Play Initiative dedicated to commissioning female playwrights. We talk with playwright Naomi Iizuka about tackling a subject like sexual assault, choosing a title, and her advice for aspiring playwrights.

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What was the inspiration behind Good Kids?

Like many people, I had been following different cases of sexual assault that had been reported from Steubenville onwards, and not just the stories, but also the online comments and larger cultural dialogue happening around these different cases. I was struck by what I perceived to be these strangely retrogressive and toxic attitudes around gender roles and female sexuality that were coming to the surface in how people talked about sexual assault, how they framed the subject, how they talked about the young women and men involved. It was these assumptions and attitudes that were the starting point for me. I wanted to look more closely at the attitudes that lead to an environment in which sexual assault happens with disheartening frequency.

How did you approach the challenge of writing about such sensitive subject matter?

Carefully. It’s tricky. It’s a hard and painful thing to look at. This play is not polemical, however. Nor is it an op ed piece or an editorial or an academic essay. If anything, it’s a kind of mirror reflecting back some unexamined cultural assumptions and biases in ways that may be uncomfortable for an audience. I don’t purport to have the answers, nor does the play purport to speak for everyone’s experience. I think of this play as one contribution to a larger and, at times, uncomfortable conversation that I believe needs to happen. If audience members leave a performance thinking and talking about this subject, I consider that a good thing.

Good Kids puts an emphasis on being atmospheric, with settings being suggested rather than literal and action being fluid rather than perfectly linear. What drew you to this aesthetic?

I wanted to put the focus on the characters and the story. I think a simpler aesthetic allows for that. There’s also a way in which the actors are building the world. There’s a chorus and they figure prominently in creating both the internal and external world of the play through their words.

How did you come up with the title (it’s a great title!)?

It’s a phrase you hear so much, often after something bad happens. You have a neighbor or a teacher pondering why these young people did what they did, whether it was sexual assault or some other crime, and falling back on this idea of how they were “good kids.” That idea of what it means to be a “good kid” fascinated me.

How did you get involved in the Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Play Initiative?

Alan Macvey who chairs the department of Theatre Arts at the University of Iowa asked me to write a play. That’s how it started. Alan and his colleagues at the other Big Ten schools wanted to commission a woman writer to write a play which featured substantive roles for young women. It was important to me that I write a play that dealt with subject matter that students at the Big Ten schools were dealing with in the present moment. I feel really honored to have been asked to participate in this New Play Initiative. I think what the Big Ten Theatre Consortium is doing is truly visionary. I know Kirsten Greenidge is the next playwright they’ve commissioned. I love Kirsten’s work, and I can’t wait to see what she writes.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep writing. Find people you want to work with who inspire you. Keep asking questions, keep pushing yourself. Stay curious. The world is big and strange and wondrous. Explore. And as you do, try to be kind to yourself and to others. Also, be patient. Writing is a lifelong process. There will be times of great motion and times of stillness. My son plays baseball, and there is a fair share of failure. He’s learning that lesson and it’s a hard lesson. But he’s also learning what it feels like to hit a triple or turn a great double play. Most of all, he’s learning the sublime rhythm and beauty of the game, he’s learning about all the greats who played the game before him, and the privilege of being part of that tradition. I think baseball and playwriting are not so different from one another.

 

Naomi Iizuka‘s most recent play, 17 Reasons (Why), was produced at Campo Santo + Intersection for the Arts and published by Stage and Screen. Her other plays include 36 Views; Polaroid Stories; Language of Angels; War of the WorldsAloha, Say the Pretty Girls; Tattoo GirlAnon(ymous); and Skin. Ms. Iizuka’s plays have been produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville; Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Campo Santo + Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco; the Dallas Theatre Center and Undermain Theatre in Dallas; Frontera@Hyde Park in Austin; Printer’s Devil and Annex in Seattle; NYSF/Joseph Papp Public Theatre, GeVa Theatre, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Soho Rep, and Tectonic Theatre in New York; San Diego’s Sledgehammer Theatre; Northern Light Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta; Alternate Theatre in Montreal; and the Edinburgh Festival. Her plays have been published by Overlook Press, Playscripts, Smith and Kraus, Dramatic Publishing, Sun and Moon Press, and TCG. Ms. Iizuka is currently working on commissions from the Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Kennedy Center, the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis, and the Mark Taper Forum. She is a member of New Dramatists and the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Rockefeller Foundation MAP grant, a Gerbode Foundation Fellowship, an NEA/TCG Artist-in-Residence grant, a McKnight Fellowship, a PEN Center USA West Award for Drama, the Stavis Award from the National Theatre Conference, Princeton University’s Hodder Fellowship, and a Jerome Playwriting Fellowship. Ms. Iizuka has taught playwriting at the University of Iowa and the University of Texas, Austin, and currently teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Read Full Bio.


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