Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton about her play, The Inferior Sex. We spoke about her writing process, what drew her to theatre, and the inspiration for this bold, funny, and urgent new play. Please enjoy our interview.
Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
JACQUELINE E. LAWTON: Yes, my mother inspired my love of the theatre! She loves MGM movie musicals. So, I grew up watching these amazingly talented artists like Judy Garland, Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye. I loved these movies. I love these movies and watched them over and over. I knew I wanted to be involved in theatre. At first, I wanted to be an actor, but I always loved telling stories. I would write short stories to entertain my sister. I did as many plays as I could in high school. In college, I studied theater, playwriting, solo performance, performance studies and screenwriting. I was also a part of The Austin Project, a writing group comprised of women artists, activists, and scholars led by Sharon Bridgforth and Omi Olomo Osun. That whole experience had a powerful and lasting impact on me. It taught me how theater could be used as a powerful tool for social justice.
How do you balance your work as playwright, dramaturg, teaching artist, and racial equity facilitator?
Honestly, I had to learn to say “no,” and it wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. I’m focused and disciplined, so I stick to a schedule. I’m also ambitious and determined. I want to be a good playwright who writes beautiful plays. I want to be a great dramaturg who helps playwrights tell the story that’s in their heart and serves the production with solid research and analysis. I want to be an excellent teacher, who instills a quest for knowledge and a curiosity for what is new and different. And I want to help the theatre industry become a just and equitable field. It helps that my parents instilled in me a very high work ethic. If my name is on it, it’s going to be my best work. This is where learning how to say “no” really came in handy. If I take on too much, then I won’t be able to do my best work.
What inspired you to write The Inferior Sex?
JL: I began writing The Inferior Sex in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. As cities across the world prepared for the second Women’s March, I kept thinking about the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. While it passed in 1972, it did not reach the 38-state threshold required for ratification. Recently, several states voted to ratify the amendment, but the attorneys general from Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota sued to block the ERA from passing. I was also inspired by the political direction that Teen Vogue took under the leadership of editor, Elaine Welteroth, and digital editorial director, Phil Picardi. Their coverage of gun control, the MeToo Movement, Black Lives Matter, disability rights, the election have been sensational. When I started working on revisions, the right to privacy and comprehensive health care was taken away from millions of Americans when Roe v. Wade was overturned. We were suddenly catapulted back in time in a truly alarming way and this play had a greater call to action for social change, justice, and equity.
What do you hope audiences walk away thinking about after experiencing the play?
JL: Oh, I have so many hopes for this play! I hope that audiences walk away with a greater appreciation for the contributions of Black Americans in all walks of life. I hope they want to learn more about Angela Davis, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and Edna Lewis. Of course, I hope they leave curious to learn more about Shirley Chisholm and the amazing work she did in her community. I remain inspired by her courage, tenacity, and vision. I hope that audiences will be inspired to learn about the stories of this country that aren’t taught to them in school and that they will work hard to fight for race, class, and gender equity. I hope that they get more involved in local and state politics and help protect the freedom of press, the right to vote, and free and fair elections. Of course, I hope that they enjoy the play!!! It’s been such an honor to return to Elon with this play! It’s been such a wonderful experience working with the students, staff, and faculty here.
What’s next for you as a playwright and dramaturg? Where can we follow your work?
JL: This is a very busy season for me! Seattle Children’s Theatre will be producing my adaption of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the spring.Trinity Repertory Company will be mounting a production of The Inferior Sex in March. As a dramaturg, I’ll be making my Broadway debut with Doug Wright’s beautiful new play, “Good Night, Oscar.” I’ll also be working on a new musical at the Stratford Festival. You can always follow me here: www.jacquelinelawton.com