The Paper Hangers by Emily Brauer Rogers
I am so thrilled with this show!
Years ago in grad school, I got a notion in my head that I wanted to do a stage adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I remember reading the short story in high school and then tracking down a film version of the piece. I loved how it spoke to mental health and specifically the bias developed by doctors when it came to diagnosing and treating "female disorders".
My first semester in grad school, there was a production of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play which could have been the not too subtle suggestion to my subconscious and reminding me of my love of the short story. It didn't happen when I was in school, but it got put on the proverbial back burner. I knew I would eventually come back to it someday.
A few months back, Emily Brauer Rogers emailed me a screenplay she and her writing partner had worked on as a modern take of this story. I was so excited! Emily is a great writer and I suggested we talk about the stage version I have been dying to do. Not to mention that any opportunity to work with Emily is always a priority and I am so humbled that she asks my opinion on her incredible writing.
She was open to the discussion of a stage version and because she had visited the source material for the screenplay, had a few ideas about transferring it to the stage. We talked about how so much of the book is psychological and that we are sorta living in the unnamed protagonists' head.
Emily went back and almost immediately had a full script with incredible characters and hyper theatrical scenes. I was in love! I urged her to submit for the Project La Femme Playwrights Festival that happened in August 2019. I was on the reading panel with 3 other readers and we all agreed that we felt the play was working on several levels. We slotted it as the first script we chose of the 5 for the festival.
I directed the reading for the festival and was lucky to cast a diverse group of actors to take on the roles, as well as, having Emily in the rehearsal room to discuss ideas in real time. It very much felt like a true collaboration, something I attempt to bring to all my projects (with varying degrees of success!).
There was a discussion about the final moment of the play and we made a few alterations. But I am so grateful to be able to work with people who are eager and open to have these conversations, even if we don't have solid answers. Together, the playwright, director, assistant director and actors had a discussion about the last scene and what it meant. We then talked about the intention and how we could keep the integrity of the book while giving the audience a visual cue of the finality of the story.
If I had a specific aesthetic for theater (spoiler: I pretend I don't, but I totally do) this play would be IT. High concept design, big theatricality, large questions about society without moralizing or solutions, addressing a taboo, female protagonist, dark comedy. It's all the elements of theater I become giddy about. What a joy to jump into this process and have such an incredible collaborator as Emily.
I am eager to see this script take off. Besides the staged reading that Project La Femme produced, the script has already had TWO additional readings, one across the country and one international. It's not just me who it resonated with. I know it will have a life beyond the staged reading we did and I am excited to see when it goes next.
I am also super eager to work on the next project with Emily and know if will be just as rewarding!
Find out more about Emily's work and other plays here.