“Life is less linear than we have convinced ourselves it is”
An interview with playwright Lisa D'Amour
by Walter Bilderback
You came to national attention as a playwright with DETROIT. You've described CHEROKEE as a companion piece to DETROIT: how so?
DETROIT deals with two couples who feel incredibly at odds with their suburban environment. The two women in the play long to go camping, but they have absolutely no camping skills, to the point that when they try to drive to the campground, they get lost and wind up right back at home. I wrote CHEROKEE specifically as a “camping play”. If DETROIT is about being trapped in the suburbs, CHEROKEE is about trying to get back to nature, start from scratch in order to see what you might discover about yourself and your culture.
Walter Bilderback: You've mentioned that the title DETROIT doesn't refer to a literal setting for your play, but the idea of "Detroit;" what led you to set your new play in a version of Cherokee, NC?
Lisa D'Amour: The Cherokee of this play is much closer to the “real” Cherokee than Detroit is to the real Detroit. . . I’ve been fascinated by Cherokee for many years now – I have such vivid memories of camping there as a pre-teen, and I really think seeing Unto These Hills was the beginning of my obsession with site-specific theater, an obsession that has shaped my life and career. Cherokee is one of the most beautiful, complicated places on earth. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee has managed to preserve their native culture and capitalize (yes I said it) on a Westernized tourist industry in ways that seem genius to some, suspect to others. When I spend time in Cherokee . . . I feel so many complicated emotions. The sublime beauty of the Smoky Mountains, the horror of the forced evacuation of the Cherokees, the resilience of those who marched on the trail of tears AND those who stayed behind, the face that the Eastern Band must wear for tourists today, which is surely very different from the faces they show each other in private….all of this stirs productive conflict inside me, and I hope, lays the groundwork for Cherokee.
Walter Bilderback: You have a sort of dual career of writing plays for conventional theater and also site-specific work with Katie Pearl. One of your recent PearlDamour projects - How to Build a Forest – seems like it may have bled into Cherokee a little. Was that intentional?
Lisa D'Amour: I do find that both my playwriting and my PearlDamour work have taken a turn gently towards the political / real world / immediate contemporary issues. To be honest I think it has everything to do with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Watching my hometown very nearly disappear (and then, almost entirely through sheer local force of will, rebuild itself), really shook me into a new phase in my art. I don’t necessarily think my art can solve big problems like climate change or racism, but I’m more curious than ever about how it can create a space for contemplation about each individual’s personal, intimate relationship to problems that seem huge and out of our hands.
Walter Bilderback: Why should people go to the theater in this day and age?
Lisa D'Amour: Life is less linear than we have convinced ourselves it is. Theater is such a pliable form, and by going to see plays – especially new plays – one increases the chances of seeing and feeling the ragged, chaotic, idiosyncratic, dynamic process of being a human being.