Shoshana Alexander has been a writer and editor for nearly four decades, and also leads writing groups for fiction and non-fiction authors. In addition to her writing practice, she is also a performing artist, and out of this collision of creative pursuits has emerged "Taking Our Life" — a new play that deals with the complex themes of suicide and ecocide. It will be launched with a staged reading Friday through Sunday at Carpenter Hall in Ashland. I spoke with Alexander about her writing background and the new play.
JG: Tell us a little bit about your writing background and what brought you to Ashland.
SA: I am an author with nonfiction books published by Harper & Row, Houghton Mifflin, Bantam, and also a developmental editor working with people writing fiction and nonfiction. My motto for all the work I am involved in for publication is “Make it worth the trees.” While books have been my livelihood and career, my real love is in the area of theater arts. I have written short plays for particular situations but “Taking Our Life” is my first full-length play, and I love that music is an integral part of it. I moved from California to Ashland when my son was 10 years old because I wanted to raise him in a wholesome environment where the arts are honored as a part of daily life, and he turned out to be an actor and musician.
JG: Your new play, "Taking Our Life," deals with themes of suicide and ecocide. Can you talk about the play a little?
SA: The subtitle of the play — "Suicide, Ecocide, and Daring to Live" — is a call to embrace life and living, paradoxically highlighted by bringing the audience face-to-face with our capacity to end our own life — individually and as a species. The play interweaves the story of losing my sister to suicide with that of Chad, a marine veteran living on the streets, calling into a suicide hotline staffed by Lily, a Native American who has herself come close to suicide. Chad’s newscast blogs provide a historical and environmental commentary on these stories. An Angel/Spirit-Person as Watcher grows increasingly involved with the fate of these lives. Music and song throughout carry the upward arc.
JG: Who are you collaborating with on this production, and what has the process been like?
SA: We have a talented cast and crew. Caroline Shaffer of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the director. Chad is played by Barret O’Brien of OSF. Lily is played by Native American stage and screen actor LaVonne Andrews. The play includes original songs composed by Elias Alexander in collaboration with me and local musician and actor Bob Jackson Miner. Some great musicians are involved. Besides Elias on vocals and guitar (as well as acting), we have Matthew Kriemelman on drums, Paul Turnipseed on lead guitar, Adey Garner on vocals and keyboard, Bob Miner on harmonica, and Sabrina Hebert on vocals. It has been a long birth midwived by many, including Candace Younghans, Bob Miner and all those who gave support and insightful feedback along the way.
JG: Why do you feel that this play is important now?
SA: We’re killing ourselves here on Planet Earth. Researchers estimate that at least nine million people a year actually die from various forms of pollution. During the past 50 years, the rate of temperature increase on Earth has nearly doubled, while the rate of suicide around the world has gone up 60 percent. Every day 22 veterans kill themselves. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people globally. Native Americans have the highest rate of suicide of any group in the U.S. We are at a critical juncture on the planet, and in this piece I am suggesting that we can choose to align ourselves with life by responding to what deeply calls us each to do and be.
"Taking Our Life: Suicide, Ecocide, and Daring to Live" by Shoshana Alexander plays at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17 and 18; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, at Carpenter Hall (above the OSF Box Office) on the OSF campus at 15 South Pioneer St. in Ashland. Tickets are $15 in advance at Music Coop or $20 at the door.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.