Review Fix chats with playwright Dorian Palumbo, who discusses the creative process behind her latest production, “Divination.”
About the Production:
Six women of vastly different upbringings and backgrounds sign-up for a class in “Mediumship and Divination.” Each at a crossroads in their lives, each in search of something that’s missing. Will they find it among the spirits? Divination examines that inevitable point in a woman’s life – whatever age it may come – that past isn’t always prologue and fortune shouldn’t always be foretold.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Dorian Palumbo: I was traveling around the West Coast of Scotland, which I love, and when I go out there I don’t have any particular agenda, I just travel around and see friends and talk to locals, go wherever I have an impulse to go. On this particular day in a little beach town called Troon, I walked into a crystal shop and struck up a conversation with the owner – she suggested that I take a class that night with a woman who was teaching methods of Divination – fortune telling – and doing what they called “platform work”, which is trying psychic readings on the other people in the group. They were all women, some doing reiki, some into astrology, and the readings they did for me in that group were really spot on. Apparently, there are groups like that all over Scotland. It’s part of their spiritual tradition there.
When I came home I just re-imagined the class as taking place somewhere along the Jersey Shore, which is where I grew up. I put an ex-pat Scottish woman in as the sort of guru in the class, and the play evolved from there.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Palumbo: It usually begins for me with an environment or a situation, but then I have to ruminate on that for a while before a character suggests themselves to me, and then the plot will emanate from that character and what they might want from that situation or environment. Fairly early on, I like to have an ending that I’m shooting for – of course, when you finally do write your way to the ending, you may end up with a different ending.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Palumbo: I find myself writing lead characters a lot who have trouble connecting with others, but really yearn to have those connections. I think writing about why people connect with, and separate from, other people is something I always come back to because I’m a really introverted person. I find connecting with other people in a healthy and organic way to be really difficult.
Writing this play, it’s particularly stark that my lead character is really alone in the world, and yet here she is reaching out and making connections with other women in her group and setting off a kind of psychic bomb in her life that is anything but comforting.
Review Fix: What did you learn about New York theatre?
Palumbo: There are a lot of categories and sub-categories under the header “New York Theatre,” I think. People are working together in this town to make all kinds of theatre happen, even though it gets harder and harder as costs continue to rise and audiences dwindle.
I think I’ve learned a lot trying to get Divination up at the ATA on a shoestring budgets, but the main thing I’ll probably take away is that it really helps when everyone on the production has the same level of commitment and professionalism, no matter that there’s not a lot of pay involved. Things don’t really work, otherwise.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Palumbo: This production will run for a short while at the ATA, but as our actors aren’t union we’ll be making a DVD and a youtube-able “trailer” for the show. The actors can use the footage to add to their reels, and I’ll be able to post the trailer on the New Play Exchange (NPX) for demonstration purposes to try and generate interest in subsequent productions.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Palumbo: There’s a YA novel I’m finishing called “Midway Kids,” and a comic screenplay I’m doing a third pass on at the moment about a couple of girls getting in stupid trouble in Northern Ireland in the 80’s called “How to See Ireland and Not Die.” There’s also a sci-fi pilot I’d love to finish, but I’ve had to back-burner it for a bit because it would be really expensive to shoot and unless I suddenly turn into JJ Abrams it probably won’t do me any good to try and pitch it anywhere. I’m probably like a lot of writers in that I always have a kind of queue of things that I’d like to work on, and then when one of them catches fire then that’s the one I become obsessed with until it’s completed.