A Conversation with the Creative Team Behind Packing
During the rehearsal process for Packing, About Face Artistic Director Megan Carney sat down for an interview with writer/performer Scott Bradley and director Chay Yew.
MEGAN: It’s been very exciting for About Face to bring this project to the stage. Scott, how did this play come about?
SCOTT: I was in my first year at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and I was catching up with one of my mentors there, Lisa Schlesinger, and just talking about our lives. And she challenged me to write something autobiographical for a night of short performance pieces.
The seed of the idea came from this experience I had going back to Iowa and feeling compelled to hang these old family heirlooms, these guns, on my wall. I was so conflicted about it! I was like, “Why am I hanging these guns on my wall? I’m not a gun advocate!” And yet it felt really important to me. So I started writing about that feeling, and in process it brought me back to this one incident that I’d buried for a lot of years, which had made me leave Iowa. But here I was, living back in the country again, and it started me wondering about what had compelled me to return, like this piece of me that had been missing but was now coming into focus. That’s when I knew I wanted to investigate this further, beyond just this short eight-page workshop piece.
So for me, the journey of this show has been about getting to embrace these pieces of ourselves that we thought we couldn’t have any longer.
MEGAN: Chay, you expressed interest in this project at a very early stage. What drew you to this piece?
CHAY: I think it’s very rare to find a piece of theatre about LGBTQ issues told from the point of view of someone who is older. A lot of stories we hear are youth-focused, or coming out stories, but I think Scott’s life has a huge scope. If you match his life against the milestones of American history and gay history, you’ll see his story is woven against a backdrop of all these major events that have happened. So in that way, it’s historical.
And also, it’s a play that not only affirms how far we have come, but also how much more we need to do, how much history has repeated itself. We live in a society where memory is short and narratives can be twisted or forgotten, so we need to tell our histories. It would be a deep, deep shame for our community if the stories and histories of the past were not articulated to the next generation.
MEGAN: It seems you two have found a lot of synergy in the development of this play. What drove you to take this piece to the next level?
SCOTT: I knew I had a foundation of something and I was interested in where it could go. It didn’t feel like a complete piece to me—it felt like fragments, like a collection of short stories. I was really excited that Chay was interested in working with me to craft this into something performative. Because what I wrote was much more like a memoir. And so for me, us getting to work together that first week, over a year ago—Chay really helped break the story open for me and helped me see where this play could go. He really challenged me to dive deeper into the truth that was under the events that I was documenting. Each draft of it has gotten it closer to its essence.
MEGAN: Chay, you’re known for directing a lot of solo work. What approach did you use to crack this open and find the deeper layers of this text?
CHAY: What I like about solo shows is that there is no barrier between the audience and the storyteller, so you cannot lie, you cannot embellish, you cannot make up things. What is really complicated—and I told Scott this—it must cost you every night to tell this story. It’s like ripping your heart out and presenting it to the audience—not for them to judge it, but for you to share it.
Through the actualities of telling of one’s life, are you digging deeper, are you being honest, are you being brave enough to go to the place where you may actually encounter some emotional triggers? These are the huge costs of telling a story that’s truthful, as truthful as it can be. So when you encounter a project like this, you’re actually getting to the nitty-gritty, the bowels, the guts, the heart of this person whose sharing the story with you.
MEGAN: Who is this show for?
CHAY: I think what’s crucial here is that this is an American story. And being Americans, we need to understand that in the 21st century, we belong to everyone, and everyone belongs to everyone else. So their stories and histories are our stories and histories. I think there’s a lot of people out there who need to hear this story, particularly people who are not part of this specific community.
When we encounter a story like Scott’s, we realize, “Wow, we’re not alone.” It’s an opportunity for us to dig deeper within our lives to ask those same questions. It also gives us a sense of whence we’ve come, the history of being an American. We did not realize that certain rights had to be fought for, certain epidemics have happened when countless lives have been taken and the government has done nothing—is there a similarity to what could be happening in the future or in the current circumstances? The more we tell these stories, the more change will occur.
SCOTT: For me, I want to share this with people in their twenties, because that was a time when I was questioning everything, when I was the most self-destructive and felt like I didn’t fit into the places I thought I should be fitting. Suicidal thoughts afflict so many of us and we don’t talk about it nearly enough. A lot of people take their lives from their teens into their twenties and then once they get older, in our fifties, due to isolation.
This play is a way for me to say, “Hey, stick around.” It’s a reminder. We’ve seen a lot, we’ve survived a lot already and we should own that and honor that and celebrate that we’re still here. There are many who would like to see us die off and legislate against us. It takes a lot of strength to show up each day and I want to celebrate that resilience.