(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)
TCG Blog Salon
Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc
Mixed Race/Culture Theatre
JACQUELINE LAWTON: In your work as a theatre artist, do you self-identify closer to one race/culture over another? If so, why do you think that is? If not, how are you able to live in both worlds?
JESSICA LEWIS: I guess so far, and I’m still at the beginning of my career and the beginning of my thoughts on this so I’m giving myself some leeway in terms of allowing my perspective to evolve, as we all must give ourselves the permission to inwardly and outwardly battle over the identity we identify with, but…so far…I feel I wrap my racial/cultural identity into a context. Sometimes the context is an opportunity offered to a group I feel a part of and sometimes the context is a responsibility to express who I am and be an advocate for the group.
In some ways I feel like I’m blundering around with my identity – making it a logo I wear on my shirt. Sometimes my identity doesn’t feel honest, because if I can choose to identify a certain way – if I can identify in multiple ways and my behavior adjusts depending on a given scenario, then where’s the me in that?
I realize how scattered this all must sound, that I could easily just list off my identities as separate things and then a person looking in could identify them self as being in relationship to those separate things after I categorize. Categorizing, I think, is to help others understand who you are as opposed to me understanding who I am – well, that’s how it feels a lot of the times, at least. [I’m currently fixated on the U.S. Census and how questionnaires and surveys identify me in a cultural and racial group and the political consequences of a checkbox.]
I feel my racial and cultural identities are at odds with one another and I reap the benefits and the consequences of each in a way this is both unique and common. Well, some of the time. Sometimes I put my racial and cultural identity on the back burner of my thoughts, because I can’t focus on it all the time and I get tired of feeling in conflict and others aren’t really challenging me about it and I’m just trying to do my job and I feel my work doesn’t have to do with THAT.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not talking about anything when I talk about my racial and cultural identity – that I’m talking about a mythical creature – and I feel like, that I feel this way, is a privilege no one should have. There’s also the part of me that is defensive about where I come from, who my family is, the complexities of my life story, the struggles I’ve faced along the way, the ways I am unique, the ways that my history affects me to this day and how this all bundles up into cultural and racial identity that is integral to who I am. And I express this – I write about it, I feel proud and I feel like I don’t need to explain myself to anyone because I made a contribution in this gesture (even if no one reads it, you know?).
So, to sum up, that’s how I currently live in my racial and cultural identity as a theatre artist.
Jessica Lewis is Artistic and International Programs Associate at TCG and graduated from NYU’s MFA program in Dramatic Writing. She created Those___Daughters for the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival, developed her short plays Woman Connected to Button and Cashing In at Intar Theatre and presented work at Truffle Theatre Company and St. Francisville Transitory Theatre. She received the Rita and Burton Goldberg Play Award for What I Learned About Myself Secondhand, which explores multi-cultural identity and what it means to be “white”. Jessica’s play Knock Off was selected for the 2014 Great Plains Theatre Conference PlayLab and she will co-produce her play Man and Coconut at IRT Theater this spring.
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com