165: Creating New Work with Mental Health in Mind with playwright, Aysia Slade

Griffin James speaks with theatre-maker and law student, Aysia Slade about her original play STATIC, creating art without causing harm to the artist, her writing process, Black theater and more. Aysia is a multi-talented artist who has such a thoughtful and nuanced approach to creating new work in theater. Enjoy this episode!

BIO:

Aysia Slade is a lover of stories and the art of theater making. She is a 2021 graduate of North Carolina State University where she majored in psychology with minors in philosophy, theater and political science. While at her alma mater she participated in over a dozen shows on and off stage, and founded the Black Artist Coalition which created a space for fellowship and advocacy for black artists in every discipline. She is currently attending Duke University School of Law. Her most recent project Static won the Creative Artist Award for playwriting at NC State.

LINKS:

Static: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CO8s3Gtnj4

Listen to Aysia on ASBX: Guess What Happened to Me Last Night (ASBX Shorts episode 2)

for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf  by Ntozake Shange

LISTEN TO ASBX AUDIO DRAMAS:

Master Builder

The New Colossus

Declaration of Love audio anthology

ASBX Shorts

CONNECT AND FOLLOW:

Artist Soapbox on social media:

Twitter: @artist_soapbox

Instagram: @artistsoapbox

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artistsoapboxpodcast/

CONTRIBUTE:

Soapboxers are the official patrons of the Artist Soapbox podcast. Get on the Soapbox with us at Patreon or make a one-time donation via Ko-fi at https://ko-fi.com/artistsoapbox or via PayPal at PayPal.Me/artistsoapbox.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please consider our non-profit Soapbox Audio Collective.

Transcript
Tamara Kissane:

This is Artist Soapbox.

Tamara Kissane:

Through interviews and original scripted audio fiction.

Tamara Kissane:

We deliver stories that speak to your hearts and your minds.

Griffin James:

Hello, Artist Soapbox.

Griffin James:

My name is Griffin James, and in today's episode, I had the absolute

Griffin James:

pleasure to talk with Aysia Slade.

Griffin James:

Aysia is a lover of stories and the art of theater making.

Griffin James:She is a:Griffin James:

psychology with minors in philosophy, theater, and political science.

Griffin James:

While at her Alma mater, she participated in over a dozen shows on

Griffin James:

and off stage and founded the Black Artist Coalition, which created a

Griffin James:

space for fellowship and advocacy for black artists in every discipline.

Griffin James:

She is currently attending duke university school of law.

Griffin James:

Her most recent project STATIC won the creative artist award for

Griffin James:

playwriting at NC state together.

Griffin James:

We talked about her play STATIC, creating art without causing

Griffin James:

harm to the artist, her writing process, black theater and more.

Griffin James:

Aysia is a multi-talented artist who.

Griffin James:

Such a thoughtful and nuanced approach to creating new work in theater.

Griffin James:

I hope you all enjoy today's offering as much as I had the pleasure of creating it.

Griffin James:

And as always thank you for your time, whether you are at home at work or in

Griffin James:

your car, whether you are a longtime listener or here for the first time.

Griffin James:

Thank you.

Griffin James:

And welcome to Artist Soapbox.

Griffin James:

Hello, Artist Soapbox.

Griffin James:

My name is not Tamara.

Griffin James:

It is Griffin, but welcome to the Artist Soapbox podcast.

Griffin James:

Today.

Griffin James:

I am talking with actress, singer, dancer, playwright,

Griffin James:

and future lawyer, Aysia Slade.

Griffin James:

Aysia, thank you so much for being here with me today.

Aysia Slade:

Thank you so much for having me.

Griffin James:

Just as a quick introduction.

Griffin James:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Aysia Slade:

Um, yeah.

Aysia Slade:

So you spoke a little bit about it in your intro, but I've been doing

Aysia Slade:

theater pretty much my entire life.

Aysia Slade:

In undergrad.

Aysia Slade:

I really used that as a time to explore what theater meant to me and how I wanted

Aysia Slade:

to be a part of my life going forward.

Aysia Slade:

I unfortunately graduated right during the pandemic.

Aysia Slade:

Um, as many people know that kind of really threw arts into a world.

Aysia Slade:

So right now I'm in law school and trying to, you know, situate myself, situate

Aysia Slade:

what I wanna do in my future and kind of find out what that looks like for me.

Griffin James:

Do you have pieces of what that might look like?

Griffin James:

Or, and it's totally okay if you, if it's still like a vague idea,

Griffin James:

because I know for me, it kind of is

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

It's definitely still quite vague.

Aysia Slade:

I've actually found that playwriting, which I'm glad that we get to talk about

Aysia Slade:

today has been one of the best ways for me to keep my love of theater alive.

Aysia Slade:

Because unlike shows there's no rehearsal schedule.

Aysia Slade:

So if I have a random idea at 3:00 AM for a play, I can work on it at 3:00 AM.

Aysia Slade:

And I've just been, trying to write as much as possible while also maintaining

Aysia Slade:

my classwork and surprisingly law school has been full of inspiration,

Aysia Slade:

which not something you would think, but there's a lot of things.

Aysia Slade:

In my life and the things that I'm passionate about in the law

Aysia Slade:

that I kind of find, have inspired me to write and inspired me to

Aysia Slade:

work those things into my art.

Aysia Slade:

So I've kind of been, trying to find a balance between pursuing my

Aysia Slade:

passion and also just having a career, which I find fulfilling on the other

Griffin James:

hand.

Griffin James:

Just because.

Griffin James:

I love bragging about you.

Griffin James:

Can you, can you tell our dear listeners not only where you attend law

Griffin James:

school, but what your LSAT score was?

Aysia Slade:

yeah, I can.

Aysia Slade:

So I go to duke university.

Aysia Slade:

I got a 1 75 on my LSAT.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

I have to say that the LSAT has not been the predictor

Aysia Slade:

for law school success though.

Aysia Slade:

Law school has been kicking my butt pretty aggressively, but it's

Griffin James:

been.

Griffin James:

Well, I I'm glad that has been fun despite the butt kicking . Yeah, but

Griffin James:

yeah, in addition to being a, a future lawyer and a current law student and

Griffin James:

a playwright and a theater maker, you have a strong tenure and a strong

Griffin James:

history of theater under your belt.

Griffin James:

And I'm specifically thinking.

Griffin James:

How you were the 20, 20 creative artist winner for playwriting and see state

Griffin James:

university for your original play STATIC.

Griffin James:

Can you tell us a little bit more about your play?

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, so STATIC for me was a really personal story.

Aysia Slade:

I kind of wanted to tell a really intimate story of mental health and in the backdrop

Aysia Slade:

that wasn't too overwhelmingly dark.

Aysia Slade:

If that makes sense.

Aysia Slade:

I really like the balance of joy and sadness.

Aysia Slade:

And so I wanted static to kind of capture the highs of low and

Aysia Slade:

lows of what friendship can be, what lifelong friendship can be.

Aysia Slade:

The show has three main characters who have been friends

Aysia Slade:

for the whole entire lives.

Aysia Slade:

They're now freshman in college, which is a incredibly difficult time of change.

Aysia Slade:

Time of trying to find out who you wanna be.

Aysia Slade:

And I thought that that was just a really good setting to explore those

Aysia Slade:

themes in a way that felt really true.

Aysia Slade:

And I wanted it to, especially knowing what I was writing it for since I

Aysia Slade:

was writing with the creative artist award in mind, and with like students

Aysia Slade:

and other college students in mind, I wanted it to feel true to us and what

Aysia Slade:

we were going through at the time.

Aysia Slade:

And so I really wanted to basically use these three characters and

Aysia Slade:

their friendship as a way to explore the themes that a lot of

Aysia Slade:

people are going through at that

Aysia Slade:

time.

Griffin James:

And I just wanna say as a, as a person who experienced

Griffin James:

it, In the college age, I felt like you did a really tremendous and

Griffin James:

beautiful job at capturing those themes and those intimate friendships.

Griffin James:

Thank you.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And I want to applaud you for that.

Griffin James:

Cuz I have read multiple plays that try to tackle mental illness and I, I just

Griffin James:

leave feeling more angry at the play.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And I, it feel, it just, it just feels more stressful and upsetting than it

Griffin James:

does cathartic mm-hmm so, so STATIC was such a relief for me to experience.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, I really that's something that I

Aysia Slade:

really wanted to come across.

Aysia Slade:

I really wanted the actors to not be put into extremely stressful

Aysia Slade:

situations to bring the art to life.

Aysia Slade:

And I didn't wanna put a lot of stress on the audience either because

Aysia Slade:

I think these topics are so heavy.

Aysia Slade:

It's very easy to make a play that relies on shock factor and

Aysia Slade:

grief and kind of abuses those emotions for the audience's benefit.

Aysia Slade:

and I really think that the moments speak for themself and, and not much has to be

Aysia Slade:

done for people to feel the emotions that you want them to feel and to know where

Aysia Slade:

you want them to go, because they're, they are so pertinent to everyone's life's.

Griffin James:

In addition to winning the creative artist contest at NC

Griffin James:

state, it was produced as a production with NC state university theater.

Griffin James:

Can I ask how involved were you with the rehearsal process as it was going up?

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, I, I went to a couple of rehearsals, but honestly wanted

Aysia Slade:

to step back a little bit because.

Aysia Slade:

The writing of STATIC was so personal to me.

Aysia Slade:

Like these characters were based on people.

Aysia Slade:

I knew from high school on things that I experienced, things that

Aysia Slade:

my friends have experienced.

Aysia Slade:

And so I knew that if I was in there in the theater every day, I would

Aysia Slade:

get a little bit annoying probably.

Aysia Slade:

And I also wanted to see what my work could do on its own when I wasn't

Aysia Slade:

there, like standing guard over.

Aysia Slade:

Because I had watched it so carefully during the writing process and

Aysia Slade:

because I had been handling it so carefully for the four years while

Aysia Slade:

I was working on it, I wanted to give it a chance to stand on its.

Griffin James:

I think that's a good approach.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

Um, when my first play got staged reading, I was at every rehearsal and

Griffin James:

looking back, I'm just like, huh?

Griffin James:

I could have done a lot less

Aysia Slade:

yeah.

Aysia Slade:

I still think I could have done more.

Aysia Slade:

I'm not sure if it was the right choice or not.

Aysia Slade:

I just, it was what felt right at the moment.

Aysia Slade:

And I think that the play ended up being really beautiful.

Aysia Slade:

Without me being super involved, but I was there to answer questions

Aysia Slade:

whenever they needed me to, but I, I did wanna kind of let them work

Aysia Slade:

with it on their own a little bit.

Aysia Slade:

And like

Griffin James:

you said, it was what you felt was best in the moment.

Griffin James:

And I think as we are in those current moments, it's best to

Griffin James:

just honor what we are feeling.

Griffin James:

and if we learn later that we wanna try it a different way,

Griffin James:

then we know for next time.

Griffin James:

But yeah, in that moment, I think it was very wise.

Griffin James:

Just honor what you were feeling and how it would help the play develop.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, definitely.

Aysia Slade:

I think that's honestly, one of the things I love the most about playwriting

Aysia Slade:

as opposed to other forms of writing.

Aysia Slade:

like, I don't think STATIC is ever gonna be full, like fully finished where I'm

Aysia Slade:

like, I'm not gonna make any changes.

Aysia Slade:

I'm not gonna do anything else to it.

Aysia Slade:

Like if I get another staging of STATIC, I already know the

Aysia Slade:

things that I wanna change.

Aysia Slade:

I already, I did edits of the script after opening night for the production.

Aysia Slade:

Like I, I like the idea.

Aysia Slade:

It's one of the things I love about theater in general is that

Aysia Slade:

the art is always living and breathing and it's always changing.

Aysia Slade:

So you never have to like step away from it and be like,

Aysia Slade:

okay, like I'm wipe my hands.

Aysia Slade:

I'm done.

Aysia Slade:

Cuz even once you're done, there's someone else who's there for the next step who

Aysia Slade:

will breathe new life into it, you know?

Aysia Slade:

So it's.

Aysia Slade:

It's like, it's always evolving, always changing, even if I did say

Aysia Slade:

like, okay, I'm done editing it.

Aysia Slade:

I'm not looking at it anymore.

Aysia Slade:

There's someone else there who will look at it and who, even if they're

Aysia Slade:

not changing the language will bring something different and something new.

Griffin James:

Yes.

Griffin James:

I loved hearing you say that.

Griffin James:

Cuz a lot of it resonated with me.

Griffin James:

I was also making revisions during shows.

Griffin James:

I didn't give them to the actors.

Griffin James:

I'm not that kind of person but um, I, yeah,

Aysia Slade:

I, Mia had to tell me like, Hey.

Aysia Slade:

The show is like, very soon you cannot bring any more edits.

Aysia Slade:

And I was like, no, that's fair.

Aysia Slade:

That's really

Aysia Slade:

fair.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

I was definitely making those edits as well.

Griffin James:

And after the show, I continued to make more edits mm-hmm and

Griffin James:

yeah, and I feel like that's something a lot of playwrights.

Griffin James:

Deal with, is the idea that it's not where you want it to be yet, or

Griffin James:

always finding something to change.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm and I think about lovesick by John Cari, who has had, I don't know,

Griffin James:

16 additions that number's made up.

Griffin James:

Don't fact check . But like it's premiered on Broadway and he's still revising it.

Griffin James:

Yep.

Griffin James:

And then, you know, they'll have revivals of shows that are totally different and

Griffin James:

mm-hmm, , the script has changed and I,

Aysia Slade:

yeah, I, I really love the fact that, you know, you never

Aysia Slade:

really, the show is never really over.

Aysia Slade:

Yes.

Griffin James:

It's a new life every time.

Griffin James:

For the rehearsals you did sit in on, what was it like to hear that out loud?

Griffin James:

And did it like change how you saw the work or the trajectory

Griffin James:

you wanted to take at all?

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, I think it definitely did.

Aysia Slade:

I think, especially with the type of play that STATIC was where I'm trying

Aysia Slade:

to present this lifelong friendship.

Aysia Slade:

I think the language that you use when you're close to

Aysia Slade:

someone is really important.

Aysia Slade:

and that you talk with lifelong friends differently than you would

Aysia Slade:

talk with someone that you just met.

Aysia Slade:

And so making sure that it was dialogue that basically

Aysia Slade:

rolled off the actor's tongues.

Aysia Slade:

And I think being an actor myself, definitely informed how I wanted to

Aysia Slade:

do this, but it was important to me that like none of my actors had a line

Aysia Slade:

where they were like, I really don't know how I'm supposed to say this.

Aysia Slade:

This is not something that my character would say, this feels so unnatural.

Aysia Slade:

I wanted it to flow because I think that flow was so important for establishing

Aysia Slade:

this relationship in a way that is not just telling the audience that, oh,

Aysia Slade:

they're lifelong friends, but showing it through their language and how easy it

Aysia Slade:

is for them to converse with each other.

Aysia Slade:

Part of that is the actors and physicality, but a large part of

Aysia Slade:

that is the text itself, giving them the room to have that closeness

Aysia Slade:

and to have that chemistry.

Aysia Slade:

And so when I was watching life performances and there were lines that

Aysia Slade:

if I heard like one or two readings and that one line felt awkward every time

Aysia Slade:

I was like, okay, the problem is me.

Aysia Slade:

mm-hmm and the problem is the text.

Aysia Slade:

Not just like, oh, that was an awkward reading.

Aysia Slade:

No, the problem is me.

Aysia Slade:

I need to fix this line in particular.

Aysia Slade:

To make sure that my actors can actually work with.

Aysia Slade:

And also, I remember one specific moment in the rehearsal process, cuz there

Aysia Slade:

are a few curse words in my show and I was listening to the rehearsals and I

Aysia Slade:

was like, wow, they've set the F word like 17 times in the last six minutes.

Aysia Slade:

And it seemed natural when I was the F word as in the four letter one.

Aysia Slade:

But they were cursing a lot and I realized that's not natural and it

Aysia Slade:

felt natural while I was writing it, but it really stood out.

Aysia Slade:

And so I think there are some things that you cannot tell from paper alone.

Aysia Slade:

You need to hear to see if it'll flow and to see if it flows in the wrong way.

Griffin James:

I think it's really important.

Griffin James:

So that was really, really helpful.

Griffin James:

To hear things out loud, leading up to the contest deadline.

Griffin James:

Did you have any informal readings of your own along the way?

Aysia Slade:

Honestly, before I submitted STATIC for the deadline, I honestly only

Aysia Slade:

had two other people, maybe three other people read it prior to submitting it.

Aysia Slade:

I.

Aysia Slade:

Very nervous about, and I think this is one of the things that I think I'm gonna

Aysia Slade:

try and do better next time, but I was very nervous about having people handle

Aysia Slade:

such what was essentially my artistic baby and my child and hearing their feedback.

Aysia Slade:

But I think that I will need to be braver with that going forward.

Aysia Slade:

But prior to the submission, it was really just trying to check for that flow that I

Aysia Slade:

told you about and having, you know, maybe me and one friend or me and a partner

Aysia Slade:

reading scenes out loud, just to see if we can back and forth feeling going,

Aysia Slade:

but never like a true reading, which I think I, I probably should have done.

Aysia Slade:

Because once I got to do them as part of the creative artist contest,

Aysia Slade:

it was really, really helpful.

Aysia Slade:

No, that

Griffin James:

makes com complete sense.

Griffin James:

I know for myself, I, I didn't really show it to anyone it being my play.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

I didn't show it to anyone.

Griffin James:

I didn't have anyone read it until I was told that I was getting a staged reading.

Griffin James:

Because I'm like, oh, oh no, no, no, no, not ready.

Griffin James:

What do you mean

Griffin James:

? Yep.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And it's like, okay.

Griffin James:

I gotta actually I actually gotta do

Griffin James:

the work now.

Griffin James:

yeah.

Griffin James:

But yeah, no, I totally understand though, what you were saying about

Griffin James:

it being your artistic baby, because for me as well, it was my first play.

Griffin James:

It was.

Griffin James:

It was based on family history.

Griffin James:

So it's a, it's a very personal piece for me.

Griffin James:

And I think that's part of why I was lingering in the rehearsal so often.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

I just felt so protective of it and I, and yeah, it's a very brave thing

Griffin James:

just to write a play at all, but I think it's an even more brave thing

Griffin James:

just to share that with the world.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, I definitely agree.

Aysia Slade:

I remember sitting in opening night actually and being like, oh my God, like

Aysia Slade:

all these people are here, basically getting the inside of my like high school

Aysia Slade:

diary and they're gonna think it's awful and cringy and they're all gonna hate it.

Aysia Slade:

And it's too close to home and just having all that anxiety.

Aysia Slade:

That's why I only went to see opening night and closing night because

Aysia Slade:

I just, it was too much for me.

Aysia Slade:

And I loved it and I'm gonna keep writing place, but it was very painful because I

Aysia Slade:

think writing can be very, very personal.

Aysia Slade:

And so it's a lot to take in sometimes.

Griffin James:

What was your process like as you were first developing your script?

Griffin James:

Do you self-imposed deadlines at all?

Griffin James:

Or do you have any structures in place to help you just get through

Griffin James:

the first script and revisions?

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

So usually I'll start with an outline.

Aysia Slade:

Once I have that first spark of an idea, I'll start trying to make an outline.

Aysia Slade:

I.

Aysia Slade:

But the idea for STATIC really was STATIC was like seven different

Aysia Slade:

plays before it became what it is.

Aysia Slade:

I changed who the main character was several times

Aysia Slade:

I changed their relationship.

Aysia Slade:

The plot, the storyline, all I knew was I had a few specific scenes that were

Aysia Slade:

sparks in my head that I knew I wanted to.

Aysia Slade:

and I had specific characters that I wanted to see on stage.

Aysia Slade:

And so weaving them together is kind of what I used the outlining process for to

Aysia Slade:

decide like which story actually allows me to best bring out the themes that

Aysia Slade:

sparked the idea and, and best allows me to put these, put these characters on

Aysia Slade:

show in a way that feels honest and true.

Aysia Slade:

So once I get the outline done, then it's really up to God TBH

Aysia Slade:

I , it's really outta my hands.

Aysia Slade:

And it's a very slow process.

Aysia Slade:

I've never been blessed enough to be able to write full time where I'm

Aysia Slade:

not doing something else during the day and writing when I have time.

Aysia Slade:

And I was quite literally writing static for four years,

Aysia Slade:

which it is barely 50 pages.

Aysia Slade:

So that says something, but I, once I had that first spark, I wasn't

Aysia Slade:

very disciplined about like getting stuff on the page until it got

Aysia Slade:

down to when it was time to submit.

Aysia Slade:

And I was like, okay, if I'm gonna write this, like it's

Aysia Slade:

now or never, I need to do it.

Aysia Slade:

And I need to like stop dilly ding about.

Aysia Slade:

I think one of the things I struggle with is once I have the outline and I

Aysia Slade:

write my favorite scenes, it's harder for me to fill in those details.

Aysia Slade:

And I think that's where I was dragging my feet a little bit, but once it came down

Aysia Slade:

to it, it was kind of like, okay, I have to fill in these holes and I have to add

Aysia Slade:

some gravitas to it and add some weight to the play so that it's not just these very

Aysia Slade:

striking moments and nothing in between.

Aysia Slade:

I remember in a couple of the first readings actually, after I submitted

Aysia Slade:

it, one of the main things I got it back as feedback was, there

Aysia Slade:

are a lot of really good moments, but we don't know what's going on.

Aysia Slade:

And I was like, that's, that's really fair.

Aysia Slade:

And that is my fault because I don't like telling you what's going on

Aysia Slade:

and I need to get better at that.

Aysia Slade:

So I just kind of.

Aysia Slade:

Do an outline, hit my favorite things and then fill in the blanks.

Aysia Slade:

I'm probably gonna try and do better at that.

Aysia Slade:

And actually going in like a chronological order.

Aysia Slade:

That's a lie because in the plays I'm writing right now, I still have

Aysia Slade:

only written my favorite scenes, but yeah, that's, that's my process.

Aysia Slade:

No deadlines.

Aysia Slade:

Just vibes, I

Griffin James:

guess.

Griffin James:

I mean, if I can just say, I feel like the more writers I talk to, the more I realize

Griffin James:

very few of us write chronologically.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And I don't think it's necessarily.

Griffin James:

Bad thing.

Griffin James:

I think just writing any scene at all is better.

Griffin James:

Cuz if writing chronologically is gonna just stump you and you

Griffin James:

don't get any writing done, cuz you don't want know what happens next.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm I feel like that's a little bit worse than just writing out of

Griffin James:

sequence and patching it together later.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, that's probably true.

Aysia Slade:

I think I just need to get.

Aysia Slade:

More proactive about patching it together and instead of dragging my feet on it.

Aysia Slade:

Um, but yeah, I definitely do not write in a chronological order.

Aysia Slade:

I write in order of inspiration is most accurate.

Aysia Slade:

I

Aysia Slade:

definitely feel you with.

Aysia Slade:

The idea of that deadline, really just expediting the, the entire process.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm yeah.

Griffin James:

I think about Mike Wiley, who, who once said the quickest way to get

Griffin James:

work done is to book it . Yeah.

Griffin James:

Cause like, I, I know I can set deadlines for myself.

Griffin James:

and then I can ignore them.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm who the hell am I?

Griffin James:

like, I, I know I won't punish myself.

Griffin James:

Are you?

Griffin James:

No.

Griffin James:

Yeah, the moment it's something external, it just clicks something

Griffin James:

different in my brain and I'm just like, oh, I gotta get into them.

Griffin James:

I need it.

Aysia Slade:

I actually have to get this done now.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, it definitely, definitely kicked me into gear a little bit.

Aysia Slade:

And it was also like my junior year.

Aysia Slade:

So I, I wasn't less stressed, but I was more focused and I felt

Aysia Slade:

more prepared as a theater artist.

Aysia Slade:

Once it got closer to the deadline to actually take on the work that

Aysia Slade:

I wanted to do, because I was more sure of myself as a writer and

Aysia Slade:

what I wanted the show to be about.

Griffin James:

You may have already touched on this a bit, but is there

Griffin James:

anything you wish you knew before or anything you learned along the way that

Griffin James:

you wanna share with anyone who might be interested in writing their first play?

Aysia Slade:

Uh, yeah, I would say you really just gotta do it.

Aysia Slade:

because whatever you write first, you're probably gonna hate anyway.

Aysia Slade:

That's just, or at least let me not push my insecurities on other people, but if

Aysia Slade:

you do write something and you do hate it, you have the opportunity to revise.

Aysia Slade:

You have the opportunity to go back.

Aysia Slade:

But getting that first step done and putting pen to paper and actually

Aysia Slade:

taking steps towards completing it is the hardest step and the most

Aysia Slade:

important step in the process.

Aysia Slade:

And then once it's complete, you can go back, you can revise, you

Aysia Slade:

can have your friends, look at it, give their advice, have them talk

Aysia Slade:

to you about what they need, but all of those steps are a lot easier.

Aysia Slade:

Once you have actually completed what you're working on.

Aysia Slade:

So I think just kind of allowing yourself to be scared at first that

Aysia Slade:

you're gonna write something that you don't like, but not allowing

Aysia Slade:

that fear to stop you from writing.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

I think that's the advice, not a single writer wants to hear,

Griffin James:

but they need to hear is that they just need to write . Yeah.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

It's as simple and as hard as that

Aysia Slade:

mm-hmm, it really is.

Aysia Slade:

I feel like once you have that spark of an idea, Or inspiration.

Aysia Slade:

You can't let it go.

Aysia Slade:

Or at least I've never found a writer.

Aysia Slade:

Who's able to have an idea and just let it go.

Aysia Slade:

So either you're gonna write the play or you're gonna go in saying,

Aysia Slade:

thinking about how you wish you had written the play mm-hmm . So

Aysia Slade:

you might as well write the play.

Griffin James:

Another fun fact about you is that you have a degree in psychology.

Griffin James:

So with your background in psychology, I'm wondering if you did any specific research

Griffin James:

to help shape the world of static.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

So STATIC for me was really centered around mental health because I wanted

Aysia Slade:

a way to combine psychology and the importance of mental health with my love

Aysia Slade:

of theater, cuz I thought that would be a really good avenue to explore that.

Aysia Slade:

And so I was a, a research assistant with the Black Health Lab on NC

Aysia Slade:

state's campus for a semester.

Aysia Slade:

And there we just kind of learned.

Aysia Slade:

The effects of living in a racialized society and how that can

Aysia Slade:

affect the mental health of young Black people and Black juveniles.

Aysia Slade:

and being a Black juvenile and being a young Black person who had experienced

Aysia Slade:

mental health problems firsthand, I think combining that greater social

Aysia Slade:

awareness with my own personal experiences kind of brought static to life.

Aysia Slade:

You know, I, I think STATIC was my first play.

Aysia Slade:

It was really, really personal and more informed by my own personal experiences

Aysia Slade:

and the people that I've known.

Aysia Slade:

And the ways that I've seen mental health issues and depression present itself in

Aysia Slade:

a variety of ways throughout my life.

Aysia Slade:

The character of Jay who is the main character in the show

Aysia Slade:

deals with depression.

Aysia Slade:

And in a way that I think is very unique where he's a very

Aysia Slade:

bright, happy going person.

Aysia Slade:

And I had a friend in high school who was just like that and super

Aysia Slade:

outgoing, super talkative all the time.

Aysia Slade:

And one day they just didn't come to class were like, A couple of weeks.

Aysia Slade:

And then they came back and said that they were hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

Aysia Slade:

And I remember everyone being so shocked because this is the happy go lucky person.

Aysia Slade:

This is the person who's not supposed to feel sadness and not

Aysia Slade:

supposed to have all these burdens.

Aysia Slade:

And so it was really important for me, that STATIC was informed by these

Aysia Slade:

real people and informed by these real stories, which impacted me.

Aysia Slade:

But also aware of different societal issues and different impacts that I

Aysia Slade:

had studied and researched in my lab.

Aysia Slade:

Um, so it was really a combination of those that kind

Aysia Slade:

of brought static to where it is.

Griffin James:

I think what I'm curious about is, as you were

Griffin James:

researching and writing, did you do, like, was it simultaneous process

Griffin James:

or did you do one before the other.

Aysia Slade:

For me, it was kind of, I went in with the idea of

Aysia Slade:

what I wanted static to look like.

Aysia Slade:

And when there were moments that my personal experience failed me, because I

Aysia Slade:

wasn't writing about, you know, a Black young woman experiencing depression.

Aysia Slade:

I was writing about a Black young man.

Aysia Slade:

And so then I would fall back on, I, I took time to notice where my

Aysia Slade:

personal experiences did not reach.

Aysia Slade:

and where, what I've experienced was not accurate or would not be able to

Aysia Slade:

accurately express that point of view.

Aysia Slade:

And that's when I would fall back on my research really as a way to fill in those

Aysia Slade:

gaps in my own personal understanding.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

So it was kind of a simultaneous or really more of like an in and out

Aysia Slade:

process between writing and having a flow and going what I know, and then

Aysia Slade:

taking a step back and being like, okay, is this an accurate representation?

Aysia Slade:

Of what someone in this position would feel right now.

Aysia Slade:

And I'm actually writing a play right now, which is about criminal, the

Aysia Slade:

criminal justice system, which I'm handling in a completely different way,

Aysia Slade:

because there's so much research that has to be done with it's a bit more

Aysia Slade:

technical or static was so personal.

Aysia Slade:

And so I think for a play like the one I have in mind, I want to do all

Aysia Slade:

the groundwork first and then build the story from there because there is

Aysia Slade:

so much technicality underlying it.

Griffin James:

Part of why I was asking that was, um, admittedly selfish because,

Griffin James:

um, I, I have an idea for a play and I, I was like, I gotta do my research, but

Griffin James:

I find, I just keep getting stuck in research and I'm not actually writing,

Griffin James:

but I'll research and call that writing even though it's not the same thing.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

I definitely feel that right now.

Aysia Slade:

I think for me, I always get pulled back to writing because writing is

Aysia Slade:

what I'm actually like excited about.

Aysia Slade:

And so whenever I'm trying to, and I just kind of gravitate towards

Aysia Slade:

the part that excites me the most.

Aysia Slade:

So I think I have the opposite problem where I know I need to

Aysia Slade:

do more research, but I want to like, just jump in and write.

Aysia Slade:

But I honestly don't think that doing too much research could

Aysia Slade:

possibly be a bad thing because.

Aysia Slade:

When you're writing about like other people's lived experiences, I think

Aysia Slade:

accuracy is so important or else the work can be really harmful.

Aysia Slade:

So I think, I think as long as you write, eventually no harm in research.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

But one thing I, I am curious about is given the contents of your play, I'm

Griffin James:

curious what measures you took to care for yourself as you were writing it.

Aysia Slade:

So it was really important to me and I think this was informed

Aysia Slade:

by the fact that I was an actor first, before I decided to try playwriting

Aysia Slade:

and get into that, that STATIC handled these really heavy topics in a way that

Aysia Slade:

was thoughtful towards the actors and thoughtful towards myself about the amount

Aysia Slade:

of grief that I was putting myself into while I was writing and what I was asking

Aysia Slade:

of my actors while they were performing.

Aysia Slade:

So for me, after writing, you know, heavy scenes, I honestly found it

Aysia Slade:

very cathartic the same way as writing in a journal, or just getting the

Aysia Slade:

thoughts that I've had before or thoughts that I've heard before, or the

Aysia Slade:

inspiration out of me and onto the page.

Aysia Slade:

Was really a, the, a therapeutic process for myself.

Aysia Slade:

Just, it allowed me to make use of those negative emotions in a way that could help

Aysia Slade:

other people or entertain other people.

Aysia Slade:

Hopefully.

Aysia Slade:

So when I was writing those scenes, it was really important to me that I was doing

Aysia Slade:

it with the actors in mind and keeping in mind what I was asking them to do.

Aysia Slade:

While I want to reach the audience, and while I want them to understand the

Aysia Slade:

themes that I'm trying to portray and to feel the emotions that I want them

Aysia Slade:

to feel, I am a theater maker first and it's important to me that audiences

Aysia Slade:

are not being reached at the expense of my actors or at the expense of myself.

Aysia Slade:

And I think that one of the main ways that I did that and static was just

Aysia Slade:

trying to avoid grossly visceral scenes, even though they are such visceral

Aysia Slade:

moments, still allowing the actor's room to breathe within those scenes while

Aysia Slade:

portraying the grief and while portraying the anger and the hurt, still giving

Aysia Slade:

them room to not be fully immersed in.

Aysia Slade:

To where they feel like they themselves can't breathe.

Aysia Slade:

So for me, that was one of my main goals with STATIC, outside of just what

Aysia Slade:

it does for me, but what it does for the actors as well, just to be able to

Aysia Slade:

portray those things in a healthy way.

Griffin James:

I really, really love that answer.

Griffin James:

And I really appreciate that you wrote with, with the actors in

Griffin James:

mind and just their wellbeing, having their wellbeing in mind.

Griffin James:

I think about a lot.

Griffin James:

Plays that I've seen or have worked on.

Griffin James:

And there are moments that just feel like, like trauma porn and, uh, yes, exactly.

Griffin James:

And you said it best earlier, how it is just included more for the sake

Griffin James:

of shock value to elicit a reaction out of the audience rather than to

Griffin James:

serve a greater purpose in the play.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm . And, um, not to name names, cough, cough, Hairspray,

Griffin James:

cough, cough, Ragtime . Yeah.

Griffin James:

Sometimes that that shock value is meant to serve the purpose

Griffin James:

of a white savior complex.

Griffin James:

Mm.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And I just, I really appreciate that you are.

Griffin James:

Questioning the, the structures that are currently in place and

Griffin James:

trying to reconfigure how we create art in a way that is beneficial.

Griffin James:

Not only for the people who create it and the audiences, but the story itself.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, exactly.

Aysia Slade:

And I think.

Aysia Slade:

My perspective on this is really informed by Black theater, because I think that

Aysia Slade:

the history of African American theater, that just like you said, the idea of

Aysia Slade:

seeing Black pain on the stage to serve white audiences and me being a Black

Aysia Slade:

playwright and knowing that I want to have people of color on my stage.

Aysia Slade:

Even if, as the main characters, as the happy characters, the sad characters,

Aysia Slade:

I want to have people of color.

Aysia Slade:

I want to have diversity and gender and sexuality and race.

Aysia Slade:

I, and I don't ever want to use the pain of my actors, of my Black actors, of my

Aysia Slade:

minority actors to serve, especially the audiences that we have in North Carolina

Aysia Slade:

, which are usually older white audiences.

Aysia Slade:

And I want them to leave with something substantial.

Aysia Slade:

But the history of abusing these viewpoints and these minority

Aysia Slade:

viewpoints, just hoping that the audience might maybe be able to understand

Aysia Slade:

what real minorities go through.

Aysia Slade:

That's simply not worth it to me to go that far and to hurt my actors.

Aysia Slade:

I want acting in my shows to be an experience that is like you

Aysia Slade:

said, beneficial on both sides.

Aysia Slade:

And I think there's just a long history of a theater that features minority

Aysia Slade:

characters abusing them and giving them tragic ends and tragic beginnings.

Aysia Slade:

And I don't think that that's necessarily necessary.

Aysia Slade:

And so when I was writing static and it's so heavy, and I knew that I would

Aysia Slade:

be dealing with, you know, suicide, which is such a tragic topic, it was

Aysia Slade:

important to me that I wasn't asking.

Aysia Slade:

My actors to put themselves in incredibly compromising physicians or have to

Aysia Slade:

strip their souls bare, to be on stage and bear it all for people who at

Aysia Slade:

the end of the day, even, even though my hope is for them to understand.

Aysia Slade:

And my hope is for them to leave feeling like.

Aysia Slade:

They feel the pain that my actor was trying to portray at the end of the

Aysia Slade:

day, they there's a good chance that they'll leave and they won't feel any

Aysia Slade:

differently about minorities, about students, about the actors, about the

Aysia Slade:

characters and that they won't be changed.

Aysia Slade:

And so I'm not willing to risk their safety for the hope of that.

Griffin James:

I'm just snaps to all of that.

Griffin James:

because you mentioned it earlier.

Griffin James:

I'm just interested.

Griffin James:

What are some of the black theater pieces and playwrights who have inspired

Griffin James:

you and what would you recommend for listeners to read or watch or study up on?

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, I think that my favorite show of all time is for colored

Aysia Slade:

girls, which is kind of a stereotypical favorite show, but is, but it's forever.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah.

Aysia Slade:

Like it's, I think the

Griffin James:

stereotypical for a reason,

Griffin James:

because it's good.

Griffin James:

It's very, very good.

Aysia Slade:

And I think it, again, captures what I was talking about.

Aysia Slade:

The stories that the women tell in that show are very traumatic and very heavy,

Aysia Slade:

but it's surrounded by so much life.

Aysia Slade:

And the poetry gives so much life to the words into the women,

Aysia Slade:

and it allows the joys of being black to show through the pain.

Aysia Slade:

And I think that's really important.

Aysia Slade:

And so that balance of telling these dark, dark stories, but still showing

Aysia Slade:

that even through the pain, it's worth it, even through the grief it's worth it.

Aysia Slade:

And that there's joy somewhere in that is really important to me.

Aysia Slade:

And it's why I love that show so, so much.

Aysia Slade:

So I think that's a great example of an author or a playwright who's handled

Aysia Slade:

Black grief with just such tender hands.

Aysia Slade:

It really feels like a play that was written by Black women for Black women

Aysia Slade:

and invites by audiences and invites other racial groups and other genders

Aysia Slade:

to come in and be a part of the story.

Aysia Slade:

But it doesn't prioritize those audiences over the women that it's about.

Aysia Slade:

And I think that's the opposite of stories, which trivialize grief.

Aysia Slade:

Or perpetuate black tragedy solely for the benefit of audiences who are mainly white.

Griffin James:

That was a beautiful answer.

Griffin James:

Thank you.

Aysia Slade:

thank you for letting me talk about it.

Aysia Slade:

Oh no, I'm trying to get tickets to see it in on Broadway right now.

Aysia Slade:

Oh my God.

Aysia Slade:

I love that show so much.

Aysia Slade:

Did you say

Aysia Slade:

they, they moved up the closing date.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah,

Aysia Slade:

I did.

Aysia Slade:

That's why I'm like stressing out, trying to get there.

Griffin James:

Right.

Griffin James:

I want to see it.

Griffin James:

That's a show.

Griffin James:

I don't want to leave this earth without having seen at least once

Griffin James:

mm-hmm because like, I've read it.

Griffin James:

Like I, I want to see it set to

Aysia Slade:

dance.

Aysia Slade:

Exactly.

Aysia Slade:

Exactly.

Aysia Slade:

I think it'll yeah, I think it's gonna be so beautiful.

Aysia Slade:

I was like telling my mom, like let's just hop on the plane right now and go see it.

Aysia Slade:

We can make

Griffin James:

it happen.

Griffin James:

I do wanna ask if you have any final thoughts or points that you

Griffin James:

wanna bring up before we close.

Aysia Slade:

I think the main thing that I want people to walk away with

Aysia Slade:

is that when you're writing to consider the impact, your writing will have

Aysia Slade:

not just on audiences, on the actors who will portray your characters.

Griffin James:

Thank you so much for agreeing to do this and to speak

Griffin James:

with me and for sharing so openly.

Aysia Slade:

Yeah, this again.

Aysia Slade:

SuperDuper fun.

Aysia Slade:

I love, love talking about the artistic process.

Aysia Slade:

It allows me to procrastinate participating in the artistic process.

Griffin James:

Ooh, I feel that

Tamara Kissane:established in:Tamara Kissane:

studio based in North Carolina.

Tamara Kissane:

Artist soapbox produces original scripted audio fiction and an ongoing interview

Tamara Kissane:

podcast about the creative process.

Tamara Kissane:

We cultivate aspiring audio Dramatists and producers, and we partner

Tamara Kissane:

with organizations and individuals to create new audio content.

Tamara Kissane:

For more information and ways to support our work check out

Tamara Kissane:

artist soapbox.org, or find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Tamara Kissane:

The artist soapbox theme song is ashes by Juliana Finch.

Artist Soapbox

Artist Soapbox is a platform for original scripted audio fiction and an opportunity for artists to discuss their creative work in their own voices. We do this through our interview podcast, our blog, and original audio dramas.

Artist Soapbox is an anti-racist organization. We believe Black Lives Matter. In addition, as an audio production company, ASBX has signed the Equality in Audio Pact on Broccoli Content.

Artist Soapbox is more than just an interview podcast.

We lead writers groups, accountability support, events, and workshops. We create and produce audio dramas too! Listen to the Master BuilderThe New Colossus Audio Drama, Declaration of Love, and ASBX Shorts. Stay tuned to hear about more projects written by the Soapbox Audio Collective Writers’ Group.

Artist Soapbox is about Empowerment & Connection.

Artist Soapbox was founded on the belief that if we (humans/artists) talk with each other, and if we LISTEN to each other, then we’ll make better art. We’ll form a stronger community. We’ll feel more empowered and less alone.

Artist Soapbox goes deep into the creative process.

On Artist Soapbox podcast, artists in the Triangle are invited to put words around their creative journeys and processes.

Artist Soapbox explores all artistic mediums.

We believe we can learn from all artists. Artist Soapbox is open to the full spectrum of art-makers and has interviewed creatives in theatre, dance, visual, literary, craft, administration, film making, photography, music, design and more.

Scroll to Top