Spotlight on playwright Terry Gomez for CARBON BLACK

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Welcome to our first of several spotlight posts centered around our retreat and festival participants. Taking a cue from American Theatre Magazine, we asked our participants to answer a series of ten questions meant to probe their minds about the process of new play development, their own lives as artists, and Native theatre in general. Some answered more candidly than others and all were very generous in taking the time to fill out our simple questionnaire. To them we say thank you and to you, our reader, we say welcome to Native Voices 2009 Playwrights Retreat and Festival of New Plays! Happy reading!

First up is Terry Gomez (Comanche), playwright for Carbon Black. Terry is a published and produced playwright, writer, director, actor, educator, and painter. She's directed for the Two Worlds Native Theater Festival and the Cool Side of Hell Theater Troupe, Institute of American Indian Arts and is a member of the planning committee for the Native Theater Festival at The Public Theater.

Her play, Carbon Black, is about a young boy (Carbon "Inky" Black) who's witnessed a horrific murder while sleeping on his balcony. With an agoraphobic mother to care for and a school system that's leaving him behind, Inky finds he has no one to turn to in his time of need.

Native Voices: Briefly describe your play.
Terry Gomez: Carbon Black is a story about the effects of violence on a family. In addition, even though our lives are touched and changed by violence; the media also plays a role in how the world is perceived and tries to gauge what is important and what isn't. The play examines fear and how it can control your life if you let it.

NV: What do you hope your play will elicit?
TG: That even though we go through traumatic events we can continue. The world can be a dangerous place but most people are good and want to help each other make it through.

NV: Since you began developing this play for our Playwrights Retreat, what has been revealed to you that you didn't know when you first submitted the play to Native Voices?
TG: I liked the suggestion that the television could become a character as well. I think it helped to clarify one of the scenes that I have been struggling with.

NV: What drew you to the profession of playwriting?
TG: We haven't been visible to the general public in regard to telling our own stories and histories as Native people. We are in every aspect of the work force yet I'm constantly meeting people who are surprised that Native people are still alive and live in the contemporary world. When we are recognized, we are usually contained and relegated to preconceived notions of what we're supposed to be. I am awed and humbled by our precious culture as individual nations and as a collective whole. Some elements of Native America should be shared with the world as a reminder that we are survivors and that we are here to stay. We should share this in our own words from our own points of view.

NV: Which plays or playwrights have you been influenced by?
TG: August Wilson. I am keen on the idea of a play for every decade. He wrote about the Black experience with a specific time frame in mind. I also like his writing style. As Native people we seem to be constantly changing but many of us are determined to hold on to our culture and traditions as well. I feel that I am recording some of these changes though my plays are fiction.

NV: If you could go back in time, which era would you visit?

TG: I don't know. The eighteen hundreds would be when we were living free and I would have liked to experience that even though there were many hardships. However, I also had such a beautiful great-grandfather and relatives, I wouldn't mind being a child again during the l960's and knowing this time to pay closer attention to them all. Those were very hard but happy times. I really miss my relatives. They all spoke their language fluently and...well. I have to stop, I'm getting too melancholy.

NV: What's the longest standing item on your "To Do" list?
TG: I have several new plays that I need to start. I can already hear some of my characters speaking and need to get to it.

NV: What is your greatest indulgence?
TG: Reading what I want to. Spending time with my family.

NV: As you may know, our 2009-2010 Season marks Native Voices' Tenth Anniversary at the Autry. Where do you think Native theatre will be in the next ten years?
TG: I'm hoping that we will have more Native theater companies, plays, and stories. I hope that we can form an even greater network to where we can pass the work around the globe so that a playwright can be heard in many different venues and their words shared with many different cultures. I know we are starting to see the beginning of this. If Indigenous nations and colleges could see (and some have) how this is a device for letting all Native voices be heard they would find that they have a powerful tool within their grasp and encourage Native theater to be present in our colleges which could keep Native playwrights coming forth. By having my voice heard, I feel competent in helping others who have important things to say about and for our Native culture. There is a freedom you receive when you know that someone is listening and that your thoughts and voice are validated.

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