The Book Club Play
ISSAQUAH MAR 3 – APR 3, 2022 | EVERETT APR 8 – MAY 1, 2022
Over the past three decades, the role of the dramaturg has expanded in the United States and Canada alongside the increasing importance of contemporary playwriting. We hope you will enjoy exploring more information about this production of The Book Club Play.
Dramaturgy for The Book Club Play is supported in part by
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Join in the ThriftBooks Book Drive to Support Local Libraries
ThriftBooks, in partnership with Village Theatre’s upcoming production of The Book Club Play, is offering a community book drive to support libraries in our community.
Bring your new or gently used books to Village Theatre during the run of The Book Club Play and place them into the designated book drop box. Proceeds from the sale of these books will go directly to benefit the library system.
Books can be dropped off in the Village Theatre’s Mainstage in Everett from April 8 – May 1st 2022.
Join ThriftBooks and Village Theatre in getting quality, affordable books into the hands of book lovers everywhere!
Thank you to Thriftbooks for partnering with us on this Book Drive!
I, Jéhan, have loved books for a very long time. Alienated as I felt in my youth, I’d, more often than not, be at the dinner table with my biological mother and brother reading rather than engaging in their conversation. My elementary school’s Book-it program cast me as its target audience. I loved to read, and we were poor so a “free” pepperoni personal pan pizza as a reward for drinking in words and worlds like they were water did more than satiate me. As I grew older, my connection to words on a page changed. I became an actor, director, and playwright. I no longer clung to them; I was paid to understand and wield them.
I, Arlene, have questioned my relationship to theatre over these last two years. In light of We See You White American Theatre, a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter, Trans Rights being boldly taken away state by state, and global warming, and and and and and and…. Spending hundreds of hours to craft and tell a story about books felt a little insignificant. However, being able to engage in providing beauty, laughter, and the solace of a little escapism, not only felt like the least I could do in the midst of this overwhelming chaos, but also provided me something to hold on to and keep me from falling into the pit of despair. I am grateful this project was full of artists, staff, designers, and collaborators who embraced a process of uncertainty and discovery, guided by the knowledge that ‘business as usual’ was not serving theatremakers in the same way white body supremacy also fails white people.
Throughout this process, we were intentional. We held each other accountable, directly addressed conflict even when it was hard, and gave each other opportunities to learn, grow and become better versions of ourselves. We used this process to facilitate change we’d long desired in the rooms we’d been in. In our circle of influence, making this work a reflection of the world we’re building was both desire and container.
We wanted this play to remind you of what you love about theatre. We’ve been away from the spaces we recognize as theatres for so long, we were desperate to remember what we loved about it, too. We hope you laugh. We hope you remember. We hope you’re jostled enough to question the worlds and words to which you cling for safety.
Thank you for spending your time with us. We hope you enjoy the show.
Arlene Martínez-Vázquez and Jéhan Òsanyìn
“When theatre works, it’s about community. And when it really works, it’s about communion.” – Karen Zacarías
My first fond memory of reading was Stone Soup. I remember making stone soup after reading the story in first grade. My parents and I brought carrots. We all drank the soup.
My first memories of writing were in fourth grade, when I was in a collective of “Comic Kids.” I remember us drawing together, writing together, imagining together, sharing things to the world together .
I have never successfully read or written anything in isolation. It has always been sending an invitation out and seeing who arrives. Seeing what holds, what sticks, what comforts, what gives, what more is there to know that you can offer when we share a word together? There are no limits to human connection in this realm.
Wondering why I turned to theatre always brings me to the same space: people. Communion. It is a form of art that requires connection. I used to joke “do I love theatre or do I love people?” Now, it doesn’t feel like a joke. I feel deeply that to choose art over people would betray everything I believe in.
To understand that people are more important than art is to reckon with artistic practices that choose art first. This takes many forms: hierarchy, gatekeeping, lack of or harmful representation, creating a system that is unwelcoming. Artificial limits that create a lack of wholeness.
The members of this particular Book Club are about to have their reckoning. In pursuit of a literary standard some will lose themselves, while others will stray away from the limited frames and scopes thrust upon them to find themselves.
All that remains is for them, and us, to make our own paths, our own connections. Allowing language to be held to one standard, and to not be open, encourages us to limit our idea of the human experience. Language, literature, and humanity is fluid, everchanging, and vast.
“A dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis… it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences.” – Toni Morrison
We must depart from this idea of a static standard of language and art. We must ask “whose standard?” We must allow ourselves to say, “this is not my standard.” Let us lean into the baffling silences and breathe together. At every opportunity, we must assert our own humanity as readers, artists, and cultural agents.
This is not an easy reckoning. It’s one that many of us have already grappled with in order to feel whole. After all, we all deserve wholeness, especially in communion.
We hope, with us, that you remember why you made the turn to art and theatre in the first place.
KAREN ZACARÍAS was recently hailed as one of the most produced playwrights in the US. Her award-winning plays include The Copper Children, Destiny of Desire, Native Gardens, The Book Club Play, Legacy of Light, Mariela in the Desert, The Sins of Sor Juana, the adaptations of Just Like Us, Into The Beautiful North, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent. She is the author of ten renown TYA musicals and the librettist of several Ballets. She is one of the inaugural resident playwrights at Arena Stage, a core founder of the Latinx Theatre Commons, and a founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater. She was voted 2018 Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine for her advocacy work in the arts.
You can learn more about Karen Zacarías upbringing and philosophies in her Ted Talk: The Green Tailed Monkey Story. Some notable bits include that Zacarías was born in Mexico City to a Swedish mother and Mexican father, her family moved to the U.S. as her father pursued medicine, and her father eventually joined the CDC as the AIDS epidemic exploded. She cites her experience with watching her father work with public health initiatives to change the culture around AIDS as an inciting incident to her becoming a playwright.
“Colonization is forcing the world to fit your needs. Evolution is about changing yourself to fit the needs of the world. And that is what I learned and that is why I write plays. Theatre is not about offering solutions, but about setting a stage. It’s about listening. And it’s about, really, at its core, about not being alone. When theatre works, it’s about community. And when it really works, it’s about communion.”
THE (so-called) LITERARY CANON
Put simply, the “literary canon” is a grouping of books that certain literary scholars consider to be the standard of literature. The word canon comes from the Greek term “measuring rod.” Concurrently, several literary movements during the 19th and 20th centuries and beyond sought to legitimize the Humanities as a subject comparable to others. Art, of course, has its place in the world, but methods included going so far as to compare and create a science (of a sort) to analyze language. These movements elevated certain works of literature to be the best, or in other words, the way literature should be. For the characters in The Book Club Play, this becomes a major sticking point. “What is worth reading?”
In theory, it sounds productive to have a standard to which to compare works, to reference and be inspired by them. In practice, it has created barriers, borders, and gatekeeping, all created by “certain” groups of scholars who write and then go on to legitimize themselves and marginalize others. The canon has always been overly Western, in its conception and continuance. The simple fact that literary scholars work primarily in the English language already excludes the majority of literature and art in the world.
The enforcement of a literary canon is also a positive feedback loop. For example, many of us who have gone through the U.S. Education system have read many of the same books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare, so on and so forth. What a group reads, studies, and talks about reinforces sets of values, norms, and even styles of thinking and writing. Some scholars have even connected the proliferation of the novel to the idea of policing.
Consider hearing from Toni Morrison about this question, from which she uses the term “dead” and “looted” language to interrogate “limiting” language. Click here to read Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture, on the power of language, both oppressive and liberating
“…a dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis. Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences. Official language smitheryed to sanction ignorance and preserve privilege is a suit of armor polished to shocking glitter, a husk from which the knight departed long ago.”
In an article about the literary canon, English professor Stephen Berendt says, “Canons disempower. Only by empowering or re-empowering readers can any of us begin to disempower the canons themselves and put individual judgment back in charge.”
Representation, at its core, is the act of being seen or having kinship with characters/places/situations in media. Representation is not a matter of surface level aesthetics – diverse and inclusive media fosters belonging and is an active deterrent of stereotypes. The issues with the canon, a grouping of books elevated by a certain group (largely cis-white-male), bleed into issues of representation. If a book club chooses to only read “the canon” or “the classics” and those books are also chosen by an elite, gatekeeping force… the issue of representation gets compounded.
There is also a burden of representation often placed upon Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who exist within predominately white institutions (PWI). Not only does this place the onus of individuals to try and capture the representation of an entire demographic, it is also forcibly limiting – people comfortable with whiteness get a range of expression, while BIPOC individuals asked to represent themselves and their community must balance these concerns. Lily runs into this issue in the Book Club Play.
THE DOCUMENTARY FORM & OBJECTIVITY
The characters in The Book Club Play are being recorded for a documentary film directed by someone named “Lars Knudsen.” The camera cannot be turned on and off – they have no control over the editing. In the script, Karen Zacarías prefaces the play with: “This play is stylized like a film documentary. The characters know that they are being filmed but forget sometimes.”
In general, the documentary film is known for portraying reality, documented as is. In other words: an objective view of life. However, many factors lead to this objectivity being broken.
This editing process is an overt understanding that the director of the documentary, Lars Knudsen, or in our case, Arlene Martínez & Jéhan Òsanyìn, have a hand in crafting what is real and what is not. This boundary, like the others in the play, becomes obsolete.
Directors of documentaries have often embraced this slippage of objectivity, and leaned into putting themselves as a filter for the documentary. One form this takes is the personal doc, a form of memoir; the docudrama, a fictionalized version of real events that uses documentary techniques; or perhaps most relevant to The Book Club Play, the mockumentary.
The mockumentary is defined as a fictionalized tale presented in documentary form, often used to comment, satirize, or explode both the documentary form itself but also the subject of the tale. The distance of fiction but the closeness of a documentary creates a dynamic tension that also turns the idea of objectivity inside-out.
As Orson Welles puts it in his own docudrama, F for Fake: “Art, [Picasso] said, is a lie — a lie that makes us realize the truth. To the memory of that great man who will never cease to exist, I offer my apologies and wish you all, true and false, a very pleasant good evening.”
COMEDY OF ERRORS
“THIS IS NOT A FARCE; IT IS A PLAY ABOUT REAL PEOPLE. THE FUNNY SHOULD COME FROM THE HUMANITY OF THE CHARACTERS.” – Karen Zacarías
This play is not a farce, but in many ways, we can consider it through the lens of a comedy of errors. A comedy of errors deals with the clash between juxtapositions: inside & outside, high & low, high class & low class, private & public. The characters struggle with knowing how to act in front of a camera, what to hide, and how to present. Keeping true to conventions of the genre, this failed struggle ultimately reveals their true feelings, desires, and wants. The pressure of putting up a front is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
If having an example is helpful, perhaps the most well-known and easily identifiable comedy of errors is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
This genre is also known for showing how silly and limiting binary thinking is. For example, characters clash on what is “good literature” vs. “bad literature” (or in other words, high art vs. low art), the characters that play pundits are often marginalized individuals not considered “worldly” (read: low class) but read high literature (read: high class).
Breaking down the binaries allows us to accept the wholeness of every person and the world itself. The genre often pushes to break down these binaries and accept contradictory truths or nuance: that good people can do bad things, that bad things happen to good people, that class (or goodness) is not inherent, that our systems we have held as truths are actually folly.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
- Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Paradise Lost by John Milton
- Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
- Sounder by William H. Armstrong
- The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- Black Like Me by John Howard Griffith
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosely
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- The Search for Love by Nora Roberts
- Chicken Soup for the Soul by the Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment Group
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías (play, comedy)
- The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (play, comedy of errors)
- Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (novel, mixed genre)
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (novel, mixed genre historical fiction)
- Ethnic Notions dir. Marlon Riggs (film, documentary)
- The Watermelon Woman dir. Cheryl Dunye (film, personal doc blended with mockumentary)
- Shirkers dir. Sandi Tan (film, personal doc)
- The Tale dir. Jennifer Fox (film, personal doc)
- Close Up dir. Abbas Kiarostami (film, fiction-documentary hybrid)
- F for Fake dir. Orson Welles (film, docudrama)
- Best in Show dir. Christopher Guest (film, mockumentary)
- Spinal Tap dir. Jim Di Bergi, Rob Reiner (film, mockumentary)
Fruits Basket is a Japanese manga (Japanese comics) series written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya. It was serialized in the semi-monthly Japanese shōjo manga magazine Hana to Yume, published by Hakusensha, from 1998 to 2006. The series’ title comes from the name of a popular game played in Japanese elementary schools, which is alluded to in the series.
Fruits Basket tells the story of Tohru Honda, an orphan girl who, after meeting Yuki, Kyo, and Shigure Sohma, learns that thirteen members of the Sohma family are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac and are cursed to turn into their animal forms when they are weak, stressed, or when they are embraced by anyone of the opposite sex that is not possessed by a spirit of the zodiac.
Fruits Basket has 23 issues total. In addition to an anime (Japanese animation) adaptation in 2001, Fruits Basket has an anime reboot that aired from 2019-2021 which you can find on Hulu. Fruits Basket is one of the top-selling manga in both the U.S. and in Japan.
Fruits Basket’s inclusion in The Book Club Play is a collaboration between the playwright (Karen Zacarías), the directors (Arlene Martínez-Vázquez and Jéhan Òsanyìn), and the dramaturg (Brian Dang) to use in substitution of a book series turned international-hit movie series that did not align with our creative team’s values.
A dramaturg is a dedicated person on the creative team whose primary task is to support the play’s development by asking key questions, starting conversations, researching, providing context, and helping the artists as they work together to tell the intended story.
Since each piece of theater is unique, the role of a dramaturg is further defined on a project-by-project basis. Each process requires a customized approach that begins with a deep understanding of the play and of the generative artist’s goals.
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Saturday: 1:00 & 8:00 pm
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