08 Jul OOB Final 30 Countdown – France-Luce Benson
It’s day three of our Final 30 countdown, and today’s playwright is France-Luce Benson!
France-Luce Benson is an honored Dramatists Guild Fellow 2015-2016, and a Lifetime Member at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Awards include: Winner of the National Play Network Award for Short Playwriting, (Risen from the Dough); The Kilroys List- Honorable Mention (Boat People); Alfred P. Sloan New Play Commission (The Devil’s Salt); Alfred P. Sloan ScreenplayAward (Healing Roots); KCATF Lorraine Hansberry Award-Honorable Mention (Fati’s Last Dance); NYTW’s 2050 Fellowship (Finalist), and a PONY Nominee. Her plays have been produced by The Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Fire This Time Festival, the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center/City Theatre of Miami, Crossroads Theatre, The Billy Holiday Theatre, and Duke University, among others. Her plays have also been featured by Classic Theatre of Harlem’s New Classics series and Victory Gardens Theatre’s Ignition Festival. She holds an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University, and is an Associate Professor at St. Johns University.
1. When did you start writing plays? If you had a moment where you realized you wanted to write, what was it?
I started writing plays in high school, fell in love with it, and never looked back. The very first play I ever wrote was an awful mess about a witch who castrates her lover. A year later I wrote a slightly better play about an interracial couple in the 1920’s. Several years later I wrote a play about the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti and my soul came alive; I felt I found my voice and my artistic mission. I knew I wanted to write plays, but when I realized that I had the power to take back my cultural narrative and challenge negative stereotypes – I realized I HAD to write plays.
2. How did you come to write your OOB play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? How has it developed?
Every Haitian Bakery I’ve ever set foot in, be it Flatbush Ave or Little Haiti in Miami – served as the inspiration for this play. However, the story came to me when my husband (now Ex) was preparing for an inspection of his Italian restaurant. As a “first generationer”, the themes around acculturation and assimilation frequently find their way into my stories – as I, personally, continue to work through those issues daily. Risen from the Dough was first produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre as part of the Going to the River Festival, and later as part of City Theatre Miami’s Summer Shorts Festival where it was awarded Best Short Play by the NNPN.
3. What are 5 words that describe who you are as a playwright?
Haitian American Woman and MORE (emphasis on the More)
4. What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?
Checkov, August Wilson, Edwidge Danticat, Haitian culture and history, American Pop Culture, This American Life, and as much as I hate to admit it – my family (the good, the bad, and the incurably dysfunctional).
5. What’s one fact someone would never guess about you?
I enjoy Top 40 pop music and the Real Housewives franchise. (sue me)
6. What are some of your favorite plays?
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson (and pretty much every play he ever wrote), Uncle Vanya by Chekov (and pretty much every play he ever wrote); Lear by Young Jean Lee, Ruined by Lynn Nottage, and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry – it still holds up.
7. Any new projects you’re working on or shameless plugs?
My play The Talk is currently running at City Theatre’s Summer Shorts Festival, and my play Fati’s Last Dance will have a production at Loyola Marymount University in L.A. this October. As a DG Fellow, I started work on a new play about the Haitian Revolution from the perspective of two women. (It is temporarily titled 2 women on the verge of a Revolution). I am also working on a musical adaptation of Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones with the amazingly talented composer and lyricist team Daniel and Patrick Lazour. Finally, EST is developing my play The Deportation Chronicles. T.D.C. was commissioned by Judy Rabinovitz at the ACLU, and is based on true stories of American Immigrants unjustly detained and Deported, and the families that were torn apart in the process.
Her play Risen from the Dough will be performed on August 11th at 6:30pm. In a small, rustic, Brooklyn bakery previously hit with several code violations, two sisters prepare for the NYHD’s next inspection. Leonide struggles to convince her sister to break tradition in the name of survival. But on this day, of all days, Maryse believes that tradition is all she has left. As the two sisters bake and bicker, they eventually come to terms with grief, identity, and the complicated realities of immigrant life.