Before joining the Port City Playwrights’ Project (PCPP) in February 2017, Elizabeth Gordon was established as an award-winning poet, with one short play (2016’s “Splat!”) to her name. By April 2017 her second short play, “Wake,” already was being performed with PCPP. Having comfortably made the transition from poet to playwright in 2020, scribing over a dozen short plays and monologues, Gordon has found new strengths off the written page she didn’t even know were possible.
“A play can’t complete its journey without a slew of people to help it: actors, directors, technical personnel, not to mention the audience,” Gordon says. “I find the collaborative nature of theatre exhilarating and messy and challenging in ways that are almost the antithesis of poetry.”
The Port City Playwrights’ Project exemplifies the joint experience of theatre with “Ten-Minute Miscellany,” being performed on February 18-19 at Thalian Hall. During the production, seven plays with vastly different tones will be performed. The lineup includes Alfreda Marshburn’s “Even Me,” a monologue about faith and its ability to change lives. Richard M. Trask’s “The Lake-Ness Monster” is described as “a fishy romantic comedy,” based on common lore. Patrick Raynor keeps the comedy going with “Play On, POTUS,” a political romp about an arrogant, asinine leader running the country. Finally, Rose-Mary Harrington plays both writer and director for her play, “The Wedding Dress,” a play written in verse where two Jewish women meet for the first time at a platform on a train to Auschwitz concentration camp.
Gordon has worked with director Regina McLeod to bring to life “The Art of Extinction,” about 19th-century artist John James Audubon and the birds he painted. Gordon has been aware of Audubon’s bird paintings for a while, having an interest in wild animals since she was a child. However, her view of the paintings changed dramatically several years ago when she learned Audubon was a marksman who killed thousands of birds for modeling purposes. Though turning her shock into poetry came quickly, it took a bit longer for Gordon to work it into a script.
“I wasn’t sure how this would translate to playwriting until I moved to North Carolina and heard there had once been a species of parrots (the Carolina Parakeet) prevalent in our region who went extinct around the same time as Audubon’s death,” Gordon remembers. “At that point, I knew I had to write a play about both of them, the artist and the bird.”
Gordon’s influences come from everywhere. Gordon was born in Saigon and has since moved to seven different states; she has worked as a professor to a greeting card editor and as a vegan TV chef to a traveling carnival worker. She is also half Caucasian and half Asian, something she deems important to her work.
“The Art of Extinction contains many themes and motifs that spring directly from my biracialism,” Gordon says. “In terms of ‘double consciousness,’ the play asks the audience to inhabit not just the consciousness of John James Audubon, but also of the bird he has just shot and killed. . . . Being biracial means I am ‘neither’ but also ‘both,’ and my plays reflect that.”
Another play McLeod is directing is Kim Adams’ “Jam Sessions,” a story about traveling black musicians during the Jim Crow era. While Gordon has years of experience, it’s the first play Adams has written since she started attending PCPP meetings in September 2019.
“Regina has already suggested a few edits to give it more depth and meaning,” Adams says. “I’ve seen her work. I know she is a strong director. I think we are fortunate to have her work on this project.”
Inspiration for “Jam Session” came from Adams’ aunt and uncle, musicians who housed traveling black musicians in their home in the ’40s and ’50s. Like Gordon, Adams’ race is integral to her writing. Her next, which she plans to enter into a contest in 2020, is focused on integration of black ballplayers into a segregated football team.
Another debuting playwright at “Ten-Minute Miscellany” is Joshua Drew. A PCPP attendee for four years now, Drew has written a handful of scripts for their meetings, though “Paranoia” is the first to make the leap from page to stage. It will do so with help from director Kayla Hager.
“In terms of directing, I stay out of Kayla’s way,” Drew explains. “I’d like to experience my play with virgin eyes. I feel like it’d be a great experience, regardless of whether I would direct it that way or not. However, Kayla is a very talented individual, and I have nothing but respect for her and her more-than-qualified abilities to direct.”
“Paranoia” is a psychological thriller, with a protagonist who believes everyone is out to get him. Though he says he grew up more inspired by the likes of Jim Carrey’s “Ace Ventura” and other fun characters, Drew wants to tell stories that reflect how disheartening life is. “Difficult subjects actually help people in a different way,” Drew says. “They tell you that you’re not alone during your times of difficulty.”
Inclusion and diversity are what PCPP is about. The group, which was founded by Susan Steadman in 2014, welcomes all writers to their bimonthly meetings, regardless of background or experience. Steadman recently left the group after relocating to Asheville, but her impact is still felt as the PCPP team moves forward.
“[Susan] wanted to encourage all of us playwrights to expand our range by working outside our comfort zones, and she also thought that the variety would be entertaining for audiences,” Gordon states. “‘Ten-Minute Miscellany’ is dedicated to [her] vision and hard work that kept PCPP thriving for many years.”
PCPP vice president Elizabeth Gordon, secretary Patrick Raynor and treasurer Don Wood are figuring out how to restructure the group’s leadership going forward. Gordon especially has high hopes for the club.
“First and foremost, PCPP is a writing organization, so our focus will always be on supporting writers in the creation of new, original stage plays and screenplays,” she says. “It’s also satisfying to produce shows to see how our ideas are received in our own community. I have a feeling we’ll become more collaborative moving forward; Wilmington is so rich in talented theatre folk that it’d be a crime not to partner with others and see what wonderful alchemy ensues.”