Interview With A Playwright – Ginna Hoben
Ginna, tell us how your writing journey began.
My writing grew out of my acting. I got a BFA in Acting as an undergraduate at Wright State University in Ohio and then later, got my MFA in Acting from Penn State. (I joke that I have the most redundant education possible.) There were plenty of differences in the programs, but each happen to assign a very similar final thesis project: the performance of a solo show. Neither program required that the show be self-written, and in fact, I was told in undergrad that I was “not really a writer.” But I was determined. And I wrote my own play both times, learning (and stumbling) as I went.
Between the writing of those two solo shows, I wrote three plays (two ten-minutes and one full-length) that were good enough to place in contests, and one ten-minute play was published in a collection. I was not interested in leaving acting for writing, but as opposed to my acting career, which seemed like a lot of “no’s”, playwriting seemed to receive a lot of “yes’s.”
I’m a self-taught writer which sometimes leaves me feeling insecure. But I keep going because that thing I’m writing, whatever it is, draws me out of bed in the morning and keeps me going at night.
I become a little infatuated with each play I write; I just can’t stop thinking about it.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I was touring with American Shakespeare Center when I got the idea to write The Twelve Dates of Christmas. I was going through a breakup and found myself thrust back into the dating world. I started to accumulate some good stories, and simultaneously, started to pay attention to how many solo or two-hander holiday plays there were for written with male characters as opposed to female characters.
Even Christmas Carol is heavily weighted toward male roles. Where was the solo female holiday comedy that I could perform? I couldn’t think of one, so I wrote one. My goal had been to perform the play myself, and then get it out into the regions, where I figured there must be many small theatres who have some thirty-something, smashingly-talented-yet-underutilized female actor to do the show. And there were.
I did a ton of emailing to small professional theatres, many of whom didn’t have submission policies. My husband (in fact, the guy that broke up with me and thus inspired the whole play) helped, and even my parents chipped in to help sort through the various submission requirements. As a result of that effort, eight theatres signed on to do the play in 2012. Shortly after that Playscripts, Inc. published the play. And now, women all over the country play a lead role during the Holidays. Yay!
Much of my work comes from personal experiences, relationships, things that make me furious or frightened. I want to work it out on the page.
The play I’m working on currently is inspired by Shakespeare, and the Renaissance plays I was performing in rotating rep when I was performing at the American Shakespeare Center last year. But I could broaden that to other forms of literature from ancient Greek to contemporary books on the best-seller lists. Sometimes while I’m reading, I automatically start to visualize a story on a stage, so I try to follow the impulse.
Talk to us about your one-woman play The Twelve Dates of Christmas. Why do you think it resonates so well with audiences?
Gosh, I hope it does! When that is the case, I imagine that it’s because I’m willing to put words to those (my) awkward experiences so you don’t have to. You can keep your embarrassing one-night stand or cringey moments private and just sit back and laugh at mine (I mean, Mary’s.)
Secondly, I like to say that I’ve made a career out of being average. And that’s great! I love average! What makes Mary relatable is that she falls in the middle in a lot of ways. She also confides in the audience, and they in turn feel like her friend.
Lastly, I suppose I am not the only one who has put her heart on the line, full of hope, many times, only to have those hopes sorely crushed.
I think lots of people relate to that. And I think the holidays are not 100% joy. There are some pretty big expectations surrounding Christmas time. And I’m probably not alone in feeling let down in little ways or big ones.
What’s next on your horizon? Should we be looking out for anything new from you?
I wrote another solo show, No Spring Chicken based on my experience getting pregnant at 40. Like Twelve Dates, It gets a lot of laughs, but it has a true tender side. That’s the finished play I am trying to push out into the world now. But the play I’m writing is totally different from my solo work. As a ten-minute play, Balthasar! placed as a finalist in Red Bull Theatre’s recent ten-minute play contest. It’s a massive cast of Shakespearean characters and super silly. I’m working on the full-length version now, so… yeah. Wish me luck.
Is there a piece of advice you’d like to share with our readers?
First of all, finish. Sometimes I think finishing may have more value than talent. Wonderful, suspenseful, hilarious plays will go unproduced if they are unfinished. Secondly, but equally important: do not judge while you are writing. You can go back and judge later when it’s time to edit. But in order to finish a story, one needs to believe in the story. If we criticize or question ourselves every step of the way, we can lose confidence, and it’s really hard to keep going without confidence. Everyone has a good story to tell, probably infinite good stories.
We’ve got to remember that to stay confident, and stay confident to complete the play. Finish.
Ginna Hoben is an actor/writer based in Astoria, NY. Her most recent play, No Spring Chicken premiered at NextStop Theatre as part of D.C.’s Women’s Voices Theatre Festival in 2015, and evolved from a solo show to a two-hander when it was produced by Transylvania University and Project SEE Theatre in 2016. Ginna’s play, The Twelve Dates of Christmas has enjoyed over fifty productions nation and worldwide. Other produced plays include The Wind-chill Factor, Telephone, and Spit Spat Splendor Spite. She has also been a writer/producer for the Emmy nominated TV show, Brain Games.