Prolific playwright Christina Ham tackles many styles in her work, from her children’s musical Ruby! The Story of Ruby Bridges, to the blistering Nina Simone: Four Women, to her upcoming steampunk drama A Wives’ Tale, getting its world premiere with Theatre Unbound this spring. She is also the coordinator of the Many Voices Fellowship at the Playwrights Center, and the Playwright-in-Residence at Pillsbury House Theatre. We spoke by email.
How did you come to playwriting?
I got into playwriting by taking a Playwriting I and II class my senior year at the University of Southern California with Velina Hasu Houston. It was an elective. I fell in love with it and all ideas about going to law school went out the window.
How did you come to the Twin Cities?
I got a Jerome Fellowship from the Playwrights' Center in 2005. I thought I'd only be here for the year of my fellowship, but fell in love with the Twin Cities and decided to stay.
What's your favorite part of the process of bringing a play to the stage? Is there any part you dread?
My favorite part of bringing the play to the stage is the collaboration that takes place during the rehearsal process between the writer, director, actors, and designers. The part I dread is tech.
What's the hardest thing to explain about being a playwright?
The hardest thing to explain about being a playwright...which is the harsh reality...is that just because you want to be a playwright it doesn't mean your work will be produced by theaters just because you've written it. Most playwrights I know have a lot of plays that haven't seen the light of day.
What's your favorite metaphor for making a play – is it like baking a pie, or building a ship, or breaking open a piñata, etc.?
My favorite metaphor for making a play is that it's like raising a child. Some plays need more attention and hand holding than others
What's the best thing a theater can do for a playwright? What should they keep in mind when approaching a new script?
The best thing a theater can do for a playwright is to understand that a playwright knows their play and if they have suggestions to make their production better, or, especially if they raise concerns...they should be listened to. Theaters should keep in mind that when approaching a new play that one of the most important things to do is to accept the play on its terms. Don't try to make it something that it's not.
Why should companies do new work?
Every play that we have and take for granted in our theater canon started out as a new play. We need to keep replenishing the canon and the only way to do that is by producing new work. New work is a reflection of the times that it is being created in and if we don't have work to reflect our times then we are not serving our field.
What do you see as the future of playwriting?
I think the future of playwriting is going to continue to reflect the diversity of the population. I think there will be a shift in the audiences that are attending plays and what they look like and more of the work that is produced on stages will have to reflect that shift in our population.