Who’s Next: Madeleine George, Playwright and Author

Playbill Pride   Who’s Next: Madeleine George, Playwright and Author
As part of Playbill Pride 2016, we set our sights on the next generation of LGBTQ artists. Meet playwright and author Madeleine George.
Madeleine George
Madeleine George Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Madeleine George, playwright and novelist.

It’s rare for a family to boast one Pulitzer Prize nominee, let alone two. Even rarer still is having two family members nominated for a Pulitzer in the same year. Enter Madeleine George and wife Lisa Kron, whose The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence and Fun Home, respectively, took in nominations for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013. George taught playwrighting in New York City public schools and penned two contemporary YA novels, Looks and The Difference Between You and Me, the latter of which deals with a complex teen lesbian romance.

How has your sexuality and/or your coming out process shaped the pieces you've created?
It’s my pleasure and privilege to write in a time when most audiences assume that queer characters are human. By which I mean most audiences understand queer characters to be complicated creatures, concerned with many mundane and grand things and operating out of many frames of reference, only one of which is their queer identity. But I think this moment is still pretty young, and audiences are still getting comfortable with this assumption. So I take it as a charge to write stories in which queer characters occupy themselves with the full spectrum of human affairs, including, you know, politics, ethics, ambition, despair, climate change, pet care, struggling to make ends meet, acts of cruelty, acts of kindness, acts of pettiness, etc. In many ways I think this is the best political—and artistic—work theatre can do: to expand and deepen what audiences understand as human, as worthy of their care.

What is your earliest memory of theatre?
Amahl and the Night Visitors, the Christmas opera by Menotti, at the local light opera in Western Massachusetts. I was very little, but I remember knowing that the boy character was played by a girl actor. I was extremely intrigued by that.

Who has been especially crucial in your creative development?
The late great Lynne Alvarez was my playwriting teacher when I was an angry young graduate student. She did me the favor of convincing me to throw my life away on the theatre by implying that I had basically already ruined myself for any other career. And in 2002, the great Rob Handel rallied me and eleven other playwrights to form the playwrights’ collective 13P. Over the course of ten years and 13 productions, our company offered living proof that playwrights can be in charge of their own artistic process.

Who do you regard as a mentor?
I take many cues on writing and life from Northrop Frye, a dead straight white cis male Anglican Canadian literary critic, who seems to me to know more about how stories work—at least in the Western canon—than anyone else who ever lived. I read him for insight and for companionship. If I grow up to be half as patient, far-seeing and witty in real life as Frye is on the page I'll be lucky.

What's one thing that surprises people about you?
I was a competitive tap dancer as a kid.

LGBTQ theatrical moment that most impressed me?
I saw Millenium Approaches from the front row of the Walter Kerr when I was 18 years old, surrounded by a group of other young writers. When the Angel plunged through the ceiling, the whole theatre shook. We clutched each other and wept; we were speechless with wonder. It’s hard to imagine anything ever topping that perfect convergence of youth, hope, and high theatricality. The Great Work Begins!

Untapped talent ready to make it big:
I'm hot right now on writers Gabrielle Reisman, Mashuq Deen, Amina Henry, Rehana Lew Mirza, MJ Kaufman, Monet Hurst-Mendoza, Bryna Turner, and many more—the world is so packed with talent, it’s hard to list just a few!

I wish the theatre had more...:
...ten-dollar tickets.

Favorite artist of all time and why:
Look, it’s uncool, but I have to say Shakespeare. How did he do it, that liquid mind, pouring itself into bodies and brains of a thousand imaginary others, letting itself be absorbed into their consciousnesses until it disappeared completely, again and again...?

The next challenge I want to take on is:
I have a pipe dream of writing a passion play about contemporary electoral politics to take place on a flatbed truck in the parking lots of supermarkets...probably shouldn’t admit that in an interview.

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