When requested who she is and what she does, Martyna Majok will typically simply say that she’s a playwright. Nonetheless, when contemplating what playwriting means to her, Majok offers a unique reply.
“I’m any person who has a variety of questions and needs to stay a fuller model of her life,” she informed me over a Zoom name. “So I write performs that I can collaborate on with different artists to determine my questions.”
These questions typically result in performs that includes frank discussions of identification and sophistication—all associated to the experiences of herself, her associates, and her household. Majok was born in Bytom, Poland, and moved to New Jersey together with her single mom at a younger age. Practically all of the performs she’s written comply with immigrants residing throughout the New Jersey space, and merge starkly stunning imagery with a practical, dry wit.
A graduate of the Yale Faculty of Drama, Majok first launched herself to DC audiences in 2015 with Spherical Home Theatre’s world premiere manufacturing of Ironbound, a play she says tells her mom’s story. It was solely three years later when Martyna Majok definitively entered the theatrical canon by successful the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Price of Residing.
Now, Majok is able few playwrights obtain: having two main productions enjoying concurrently on the East Coast. Price of Residing, following two disabled characters and their caregivers, is on Broadway. The present is making Broadway historical past by that includes disabled actors Gregg Mozgala and Katy Sullivan in advanced lead roles. Sanctuary Metropolis, a play following two undocumented People as they arrive of age, is now additionally enjoying at DC’s Enviornment Stage.
Collectively, Price of Residing and Sanctuary Metropolis type a portrait of America that’s outlined by financial precarity and private grief, but additionally by aching vulnerability and communal care. I spoke nearly with Majok about her playwriting course of, how she writes about household, and discovering hope in not possible conditions. Our dialog has been edited for size and readability.
You’ve been writing and dealing on each Price of Residing and Sanctuary Metropolis for prolonged durations of time now. Price of Residing had its world premiere in 2016, and also you began writing Sanctuary Metropolis round 2017. What’s it like spending so a few years of your life with these performs?
It by no means actually looks like spending that a lot time, as a result of I’ll develop them over totally different durations. What I’ve found concerning the playwriting life is that it’s a steadiness of various phases of writing on the identical time, together with making area for brand new issues to come back. With Sanctuary Metropolis I used to be engaged on one other play, queens, when the thought of that play got here, and I simply needed to take a full three days to cancel every part and write Sanctuary Metropolis actually rapidly as if this type of “buddy” wouldn’t go to me once more.
When it comes to engaged on Price of Residing, I began engaged on it in 2014. I used to be nervous going into the primary rehearsal for Broadway, a lot in order that I didn’t re-read it! I used to be afraid. Would I be over this play? I used to be like, “Oh it’s from a unique time, will I not really feel as related to it as I did?” And so I waited till the primary day of rehearsal, and really with that play, I discovered it was extra affecting this time. I feel a part of it needed to do with the pandemic, and what we type of collectively had all gone via. I used to be writing from a specific place of loss, and I feel we shared a way of loss. There’s lots in that play that feels extra related to my life, however possibly that’s as a result of the performs are all the time smarter than us in any case! We would not be sure issues, however the performs know, and so I used to be catching as much as what my play knew in 2014.
One thing shared between Price of Residing and Sanctuary Metropolis is their structural inventiveness. In every play, there are two elements that might virtually perform fully on their very own. In Price of Residing, audiences watch scenes of a lately paralyzed girl, Ani, and her husband, Eddie, alternate with scenes of John, a person with cerebral palsy, and his new caregiver, Jess. In Sanctuary Metropolis, for the primary 40 minutes, audiences watch the undocumented characters B and G undergo highschool in over 80 scenes. Nonetheless, the remainder of Sanctuary Metropolis takes place years later and in a single scene over the course of 1 night time. What attracts you to writing performs in such distinct elements?
I feel I’m all the time going to be enjoying with time indirectly. Content material and type are all the time sure, and after I began writing the primary a part of Sanctuary Metropolis, I noticed I used to be writing in reminiscence, in affiliation, in fragments of those two peoples’ lives. I didn’t understand till we had been creating the play in rehearsal that I had type of created this type of “snow globe” of friendship. They’re protected, it’s their sanctuary, they’re collectively, they’re on this little world that they’ve created for themselves which then will get shattered partly two. I used to be like, “I feel we’ve to sit down with them within the actuality of what their lives really appear like now.” It’s not going to be the flashing colours and the romance and fantasy that they existed partly one; it’s the chilly laborious info of their existence.
All my performs shuttle in time. Not flashbacks, however really residing in these totally different instances. Perhaps it’s as a result of I’m fascinated by befores and afters. Perhaps it has to do with being an immigrant and likewise watching my mom’s life, the place it looks like there’s such a transparent earlier than and after. The road is so away from, “Oh I lived there, and now I stay right here, and I’m totally different folks.” I’m actually fascinated by these scenes of a life in relation to one another: the seeds you sow in a single a part of your life, and what grows in one other a part of your life.
One other commonality between each exhibits is the presence of mom characters although they aren’t bodily onstage. Why do you assume motherhood performs such a big position in your work?
An important relationship in my life has been and all the time might be my mom. We got here to the nation collectively. It was her alternative to come back right here that made me have a really totally different life. I imply, she gave me a reputation that sounds totally different within the language through which she gave it to me than the one I’m really referred to as in America now. That’s turn into who I’m.
I’m fascinated by her story of coming to the nation when she was 28 years outdated. She had by no means spoken English, and it was a time when there wasn’t Skype, there wasn’t Fb, it was more durable to take care of contact with the place that you simply had been leaving. I simply discover that alternative and that journey so fascinating. Additionally, she doesn’t inform me a lot about her life, so I really feel like I’ve to pursue the solutions in writing! I assume what I discover attention-grabbing about playwriting is you must occupy a variety of consciousnesses. It’s a must to stay in lots of people’s experiences. I’ve to ask a really particular query to get a solution from my mom, and I wouldn’t even know what inquiries to ask her about her life and about her experiences. So I feel I type of stay as a model of her to attempt to perceive her, and myself.
One thing I recognize about each Price of Residing and Sanctuary Metropolis is that they comply with such slice-of-life moments. Many instances when there are representations of disabled folks, working-class folks, immigrant folks, they’re held up as inspirational figures or activists making an attempt to vary the world. Why is it necessary so that you can put a highlight on characters who’re simply going about their on a regular basis lives, simply making an attempt to make issues work?
Once I first began writing performs, I didn’t have it in my thoughts that I used to be writing performs about “immigrants,” or performs about “girls,” or performs about “poverty.” I used to be writing about my family and friends, and other people from the surface had been like, “Oh you’re writing about all these points!” I assumed, effectively that’s not unfaithful, however for me it was all the time private.
For lots of my family and friends, coverage and political realities had been simply inherent to our lives, immigration points had been inherent to our lives, being in low-income conditions knowledgeable how we moved via the world, what selections we make, and what we’re ready or not capable of do. So it all the time got here from a private place. It by no means felt like placing a highlight on them.
What do you hope immigrant audiences, disabled audiences, queer audiences, and working-class audiences get out of seeing their tales onstage?
The primary “immigrant fiction” I learn was Jhumpa Lahiri. I learn The Interpreter of Maladies and I used to be so moved. That is an writer who was writing about Bengali People, Bengali Brits, and I noticed myself a lot in her tales, and I noticed my household in them. I simply felt invited to the desk, and I felt like there could be area for me, which was very encouraging. I felt as if my story did have worth as a result of I noticed what this story did to me. And so, among the finest experiences are when any person from not-Poland comes as much as me and says, “Oh that’s my mom, that’s my cousin, and I related to that.” It’s the best feeling that you simply’re accessing one thing truthful, and we will all type of commune with the realities of our lives in hopes of being seen and having different folks see us.
I all the time attempt to write with an energetic invitation and generosity. I attempt to do two issues. I wish to invite people who find themselves not from the world of the present to really feel welcome in it. On the identical time, for the oldsters which are from the world, I don’t wanna pander, I don’t wanna over-explain. I would like somebody who’s from Jersey, from my highschool, or with their mother and father to say “that’s proper!” and never really feel like I’m educating about my expertise; it simply looks like shorthand. I would like each of these viewers members to really feel welcome in these tales. If I aspect come what may, I’ll write in my shorthand [laughs] of how I grew up and hope folks meet me, and I assume that’s an act of hope. I hope that they do meet me. And for the oldsters which are onstage, for the individuals who these are their tales, I would like them to really feel seen and know our tales matter. I would like them to share all of the epic magnificence and humor and frustration and complexity that we stay and that I really feel we deserve.
I really like this concept of “an act of hope.” I used to be enthusiastic about hope in relation to each Price of Residing and Sanctuary Metropolis. In your characters, few issues systematically or politically change from the beginning of the present to the tip of the present. Nonetheless, I discover hope in simply seeing how deeply the characters take care of one another. Is hope one thing you wish to give your audiences?
I’m about to publish a joint assortment of Sanctuary Metropolis and Ironbound collectively, and I used to be pondering, “Do I wish to make any edits?” And I assumed, “I’m going so as to add a observe to each performs that these characters are preventing this difficult as a result of they love this difficult.” It’s as a result of their love is that this robust and this significant that they’re working so laborious. And I assume therein is the hope, is inside that love.
It sounds mad corny, however for Price of Residing, on the finish of that play, each of these folks have been battered by life, and the act of hope is continuous to achieve out to a different particular person. They may surrender, however they’re nonetheless going to pursue some higher model of their lives. They’re nonetheless going to pursue human connection as a result of it’s so important. I don’t know what’s going to occur within the morning for them, however I do know that no less than tonight they’re going to be okay. And the subsequent morning the wrestle continues, however hope could be, they’re good for tonight, that may be hope. They discovered any person to share the night time with.
For Sanctuary Metropolis, although the character on the finish of the play is dealing with a few years of a sure type of limiting coverage, they’re nonetheless questioning, they’re nonetheless going at the same time as time strikes previous them. The need and the dream nonetheless proceed, which can be work. Maintaining that alive, and watering that dream, takes work. Particularly when life and coverage have been so unkind and unfair to that particular person. It’s an act of hope, of, “possibly it’ll be higher.” Some folks might imagine it’s delusion, however what else are you able to do?
Sanctuary Metropolis performs via November 27, 2022, within the Kreeger Theater at Enviornment Stage, 1101 Sixth Avenue SW, Washington, DC. Tickets (56–$72) could also be bought on-line, by cellphone at 202-488-3300 (Tuesday–Sunday, 12:00-8:00 p.m.), or in particular person on the Gross sales Workplace at 1101 Sixth Avenue SW, Washington, DC (on efficiency days, beginning 90 minutes previous to curtain).
Operating Time: One hour 45 minutes, no intermission.
This system for Sanctuary Metropolis is on-line right here.
COVID Security: Enviornment Stage requires that patrons, employees, and volunteers put on facial masks contained in the Mead Middle, until actively consuming or ingesting, no matter vaccination standing. These situations are topic to vary, and Enviornment continues to seek the advice of with medical professionals, monitor authorities finest follow suggestions, and interact in business trainings to make sure the well being and security of our patrons, artists, and employees. For up-to-date info, go to arenastage.org/security.
Price of Residing performs via Sunday, November 6, 2022, at Manhattan Theatre Membership, performing on the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West forty seventh Avenue, NYC. For tickets ($74–$298, together with charges), go on-line. Masks are required for everybody contained in the theater, besides whereas actively consuming or ingesting.
The trauma of two undocumented teenagers in highly effective ‘Sanctuary Metropolis’ at Enviornment (assessment by Amy Kotkin, October 27, 2022)
The necessity for connection and caring in MTC’s ‘Price of Residing’ at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (assessment by Deb Miller, October 7, 2022)