The Petri DISH Episode 3: Sarah Gallegos & James Harrison Monaco

In episode 3 of the Petri DISH, James Harrison Monaco interviews Sarah Gallegos on her new project, created in partnership with Brittany Coyne. ANNIVERSARY PLAY: A COMING OF THE NEXT AGE STORY is a new project that ignites a nuanced conversation on the grey areas of abortion, trauma, and preconceived notions of adult women in a patriarchal society.

To turn on video captions, click the button marked “CC.” For the full interview transcript please read below.

James: Cool. Hi, Sarah. How’s it going?

Sarah: It’s going pretty good. How are you?

James: I’m doing well. Are you in New York right now?

Sarah: I am. I am currently based in Harlem.

James: Okay, well hello from down in Brooklyn.

Sarah: Oh, Hey, there.

James: I’m happy that I get to interview about this project. I guess I’ll start, first I’ll start with the question that has been assigned. Which is can you just talk about who you are generally as an artist and however you wish to describe yourself and then what your connection to The TEAM is?

Sarah: Sure. That’s a large order. Well, I guess, no, I am a writer and a filmmaker. I came to the city in 2016 and interned at The TEAM, which is I guess how I personally became connected with them. However, I first learned of them – I saw ROOSEVELVIS at the Royal Court in the UK in 2015 and was obsessed. I really dug the way that they kind of created that show. I bought their anthology after I saw the show.

James: The 5 Plays one?

Sarah: Yes. I don’t know. I learned more about kind of the process and the way that they create work in a really democratic way. It just seems really radical. I was but a fledgling human at that point, but I was like this is the kind of thing I want to do.

James: What were you doing at the Royal Court? Why were you in the UK?

Sarah: Actually, I went to school in England. I studied acting at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts for three years and it was a great time.

James: Cool. Can you talk a little bit then about this, I’m interested both in this specific project and generally. Would you say that your writing and creative process has much relation directly to The TEAM style? Or do you feel like you work in a very different way?

Sarah: I would say that overall at this point in my life, I’m not doing a lot of group devising when it comes to generating material. However, I’m extremely interested in the concept of collaboration when it comes to the bigger picture. I think that the writing and as much as the acting and as much as the design is just like they’re all cogs in one huge kind of machine. Honestly, I think the audience are also part of that machine. I don’t know if machines the right word because that feels very industrial. I feel like it’s a little bit more holistic.

James: Yeah, like an organism. A multicellular organism.

Sarah: Yes, exactly. Anyway, I haven’t had the opportunity really to do much collaborative devising of material, but I really love the intersection that happens after the writings. I’ve been really lucky to work with quite a few wonderful theater companies in the city over the years on a more technical aspect. It’s been wonderful to kind of witness that type of collaboration happening during tech and seeing people’s wonderful and weird and crazy writing come off the page in a way that is inspiring.

James: Cool. Well speaking of the writing, rather than ask you to give the elevator pitch, I’m very intrigued, well I was intrigued hearing you both describe the project when we had the Petri Project meeting sometime in the past. Also the blurb that I have been received in particular. Do you mind if I read it right now and then ask you questions about it?

Sarah: Of course.

James: ANNIVERSARY PLAY. A COMING OF THE NEXT AGE STORY. Already thrilled by that title. That blurb then reads: “a new work about a woman on the brink of her 30th birthday, who teams up with her aborted fetus Dee in the biggest ghostbusting case of their lives. They set off to destroy a demon conjured by an early two thousands botched seance slash 13th birthday party, but end up confronting demons of their own. Through this work, Sarah and Brittany, [the creators],” that’s my parentheses, “want to ignite a nuanced conversation in the gray areas of abortion, trauma, and preconceived notions of adult women in a patriarchal society.”

Okay. My first question. One great blurb whoever wrote it in my opinion. Two, you described yourself as a writer and filmmaker. Are you thinking of it as strictly a theatrical work or strictly a film work or both or something, in what forms are you envisioning this project?

Sarah: I definitely think that this is a theatrical thing. The play itself is quite funny. I think, in my humble opinion.

James: Yeah, I get that sense.

Sarah: It’s very campy and it’s very kind of just a bit out there. I’m really fascinated by this idea of creating environment where it can also be very scary. That’s something I think that can really, I know that you can do that in film and stuff, but again I’m really fascinated by this idea of humans being in a room together exchanging energy. I think that there’s something to be said. I mean, the play itself is inspired by true events. I myself partook in a botched 13th birthday party slash seance. It’s very, I don’t know, I just think there’s something ethereal about sharing a space and how kind of spooky that can actually be in a real felt way. To answer your question, I do think that it’s really, I’m interested in seeing it theatrically.

James: Yeah. I mean, when you talk about it being quite funny and thinking about live space energy and seances. In terms of that speaks to me to some of what you’re were talking about earlier with the feeling of the collaborators, the writer, the performers, the audience, all of what’s happening in there. Something I was thinking about is one aspect of this subject matter. I mean it says right here, the conversation in the gray areas of abortion, trauma, and preconceived notions of adult women in a patriarchal society. There’s the humor and then there is seemingly pain, what many would at least conceive as painful subject matter and the word trauma is a word that you all have used. Can you talk about your interest in the gray areas and in the inner section of camp and humor with subject matter that is maybe not always treated with, that people might not obviously jump to camp and humor for that.

Sarah: Yeah, of course. I think that when we talk about trauma, so I’m going to take this back. Demons, that’s a big theme in my play is like demons. Something that I’m exploring, hypothesizing in this play is the idea of good demons versus bad demons and what it means to live with a demon and what it means to not want that. How do you go about exorcising those demon slash do you want to? When I think about, I think obviously we’re talking about demons in the literal sense, but also I think that there’s everyone has demons that they have that are like demons.

I guess I’m curious about that. I certainly have had things happen in my life that I’m like, wow, that was pretty bad, but things that have happened from that, I don’t know. I’m just curious to explore that. That’s what I mean by the nuance of that because I don’t necessarily think that a traumatic situation and I’m just speaking from my own personal perspective. I don’t necessarily think a traumatic experience is always going to be a hundred percent negative. I mean obviously, yes. I don’t know if I just talked in circles there.

James: No, no, no, that makes sense to me and speaks to the thing I think about a lot. George Elliott, she wrote something like, and I’m quoting it badly, but like: the evil things that happened to you, there are ways that they make you better but it doesn’t make them any less evil and it’s important to hold both. Your personal growth from an evil thing doesn’t excuse the evil thing or make it less evil. Anyway, that’s something I think about a lot.

Sarah: Yes, exactly.

James: It makes sense to me in what you’re saying.

Sarah: One of the things that I’m also very interested in kind of exploring in this is that it’s very… One of the characters, as you said, she basically lives with one of her demons. Her demon is her aborted fetus who is this kind of surreal, it’s a person that’s a character, a grown person. They live together and it’s like whatever. I don’t know, things happen or whatever but… Sorry, I lost my train of thought.

James: No, it’s okay.

Sarah: I got very excited and then, never mind. I don’t know what that was.

James: Totally fine.

Sarah: Yeah, never mind.

James: If you want to take a moment you can think about it or I can throw a different question your way.

Sarah: I guess another thing that I’m trying to explore is the idea, specifically we’re talking about abortion or just a woman’s sexual life. That’s something that I’m trying to kind of create in the world is that it’s not the issue. It is what it is. This demon that she lives with is this demon that she lives with and that’s its own interesting dynamic that has.

There are some really fun nuanced things with that. The demon itself is feeling unseen for the first time in the play, they’re seen by another person. Then that demon’s like, wow, I know what it’s like to feel seen and now I want to like. Anyway, there’s some interesting, but that’s beside the point. This person, this character who has this demon and that’s I think what I’m also really interested in exploring is that the fact that regardless of whatever this person did in her life, it doesn’t matter to the main point of her life. Does that make any sense?

James: It does make sense to me, yeah.

Sarah: I think that like on a grander scale, politically at this point right now, that’s something that I see. It’s an issue that’s frustrating to me because I see that happening and I’m like, why do we have to just be that? Why do women just have to be kind of portal for humanity? Can we be more? Anyway. That’s all.

James: Thank you. We’re at the time we’re supposed to wrap up. Was there anything else about this or about yourself or anything else you wanted to share before or wrapping?

Sarah: I don’t think so. No.

James: Okay, cool. Well thank you Sarah.

Sarah: Thank you.

James: Thanks The TEAM. Happy to have done this interview.

Sarah: Yeah. Fun times.

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