21st Century Voices Interview with Playwright Crystal V. Rhodes

 December 31, 2018

As 2018 comes to an end we’re looking forward to kicking off the new year with new plays! Our 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival will run January 3rd-6th featuring five staged readings and talkbacks with playwrights from all over the country. Here’s an interview with Indianapolis based playwright Crystal V. Rhodes whose play THE DIARY OF ANNIE MAE FRANKLIN will be presented on Saturday January 5th at 8pm.

Synopsis of THE DIARY OF ANNIE MAE FRANKLIN

The Franklin family lives in the small town of Jerome, Arkansas, during World War II where the United States government has imprisoned Japanese Americans in “Relocation Camps”. Some of the black residents in Jerome helped build the camp, but the people imprisoned there are completely foreign to them. Yet, the racial injustice that has put them there is all too familiar. When fourteen year old Adam Sato escapes from the “camp” he encounters a twelve year old black girl named Annie Mae Franklin. Without her family’s knowledge, she hides him. When Adam is discovered the family faces a dilemma. Should they hide him and face treason charges or turn him in and be complicit with his immoral imprisonment? While the debate rages, tragedy strikes. Annie Mae’s fifteen year old sister, Maggie, kills a white man who tried to rape her. He is the son of the town’s most prominent resident, and the best friend of Otis Franklin, Annie Mae’s father.The death spells disaster for the Franklin household. With their backs against the wall, the family’s solution is escape, as its members—and their unexpected guest—become forced migrants and head North.

What are you most looking forward to about 21st Century Voices?

I am looking forward to hearing the voices of the  characters I’ve created come to life under the interpretations of the various actors and the director’s vision.  I’m also looking forward to interacting with other creative artists who attend the Festival.

What inspired you to write this play?

The Diary of Annie Mae Franklin was created as the result of my having read an article about several of the “Japanese Relocation Centers” having been built in the south during WWII.  That little known fact prompted me to conduct research regarding the two camps located in Arkansas. During the course of that research I ran across a short blurb recounting a brief encounter between a young Japanese American boy who had escaped from the relocation center and a young girl standing in front of her house on the side of the road.  The conditions under which she lived were so bad that the boy mistook the girl’s home for an outhouse. The account motivated me to write The Diary of Annie Mae Franklin, a play that would examine the parallels between the social injustice endured by African Americans and by Japanese Americans during World War II.

What has the life of your play been like thus far?

The play was submitted to the 2017 National Black Theatre Festival Readers Theatre and selected to be read at that Festival in August, 2017. Comments from the audience resulted in a few rewrites and the script is now ready for the 21st Century Voices staged reading and further development.

What do you hope to gain from having a director and actors work with your piece?

I hope that by having a director and actors work with The Diary of Annie Mae Franklin that it will help me assess the strengths and weakness of each character.  Staged readings also assist me with finding what I call the holes and gaps in the script. In other words, areas that I might have overlooked when creating the piece.  Hearing the dialogue read aloud by actors in character lets me know how realistic it sounds. I can hear if the dialogue is stilted or preachy and then make a decision as to what improvements are needed.  Play readings are essential to the development of a good play.

What would you like to gain from having an audience hear your play?

I like to see audiences react to the characters and storylines in my plays. How they react lets me know whether they “get it” or whether I have more work to do.  My favorite thing to do when one of my plays goes up as a production is to sit in the audience, anonymously. Sitting there I can feel the energy of the people around me, sense their emotions, evaluate their reactions and hear their comments.  It’s then that I know for sure whether I’ve made them laugh, cry or go to sleep.

What do you want people to take away from your play?

I hope that people will leave The Diary of Annie Mae Franklin with a better understanding of the ravages of racism and poverty, and how they can leave one feeling powerless and vulnerable.  I also want people to remember the history the play conveys. People need to understand that unless we remain vigilant, history can repeat itself, and that’s not always a good thing.

What are your hopes for the future life of your play?

It‘s my hope that The Diary of Annie Mae Franklin will enjoy staged productions in theatres throughout this country and beyond.  I hope that the play will not only entertain audiences, but educate them about a period of time in our history that should not be forgotten. The Diary of Annie Mae Franklin is the first in a trilogy of plays that I plan on writing that will follow the characters in this story. My next two plays will be a One Act that tracks the treacherous journey of the characters in this play who flee southern oppression and then a final Two Act play will take place in Harlem where they will face new challenges.  That being the case, I’m ready for an agent who can help carry this work as far as it can go. So I’m putting that out there!

Do you have any advice for aspiring playwrights?

The best advice I can give to any writer is the simplest advice– keep writing.  Learn as much as you can about the writing process and about the business of writing, and be as versatile as possible.  I’ve written well over twenty-one plays that has led to me to writing theatre and movie reviews, an entertainment column and  producing a radio show, writing voice over scripts for museum exhibits and being the author of fourteen published novels. Aspiring playwrights might want to keep their options open.  Doing so can enhance their creativity. Plus, it can be a whole lot of fun!

Visit americanstage.org/new for more info and tickets to our 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival.

Individual Tickets: $10 per reading

All-Access Pass: $40 General Public | $30 American Stage Subscribers & Act 1 Club Members*

*Subscribers & Act 1 Club Members need to call box office for offer.