Up Close & Personal – Award-Winning Playwright Gail Parrish


Gail Parrish’s plays have been produced and developed at Polarity Ensemble Theatre, Karamu Theatre, Juneteenth Legacy Theatre at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, City 616, Black Women Playwrights Group at Studio Theatre, Amelia Earhart Playhouse at Wiesbaden, Germany, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, In Good Company Children’s Theatre, Extra Mile Playwrights, Michigan Playwrights, Chicago Dramatists and Black Writers in Production. Gail studied playwriting as an undergraduate at Howard University and has continued to write plays throughout her life.


I had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Parrish for our magazine to find out more about her and the motivation for writing of LEAVINGS

LaRita S. Smith (LS): How long have you been a writer/playwright?

Gail Parrish (GP): I started writing plays when I was an undergraduate at Howard University in    Washington, DC. , way back in the early 1970's.   Once I discovered that form of writing I was hooked.  I loved it.  I loved writing dialogue, in particular. 


LaRita S. Smith (LS): Where did you get your start?

Gail Parrish (GP):  After starting out at Howard, I just kept writing and submitting to theatres and contests.  But, at the same time life kept happening:  marriage, kids (I have four children, one grandson), many jobs, and years of rejection letters from theaters.  It wasn't until 2000 that I got a full production (eta Theater).  So that was about 30 years from when I started.


LaRita S. Smith (LS): What motivated you to write this story in particular?

Gail Parrish (GP):  Race relations and racial justice have been the primary issues or concerns that have stayed with me throughout my adult life.  I headed up race relations organizations in Chicago and Detroit for about 30 years at the same time that I was writing plays. Most of the plays I write are about some aspect or a question about race in our society.  When I started doing genealogy research on my family some years ago, I was amazed at the stories that I was finding that were waiting to be told and that I knew were similar to many stories in African American families.  I was really motivated to tell these stories because I believe by telling them and many other stories we can heal.

LaRita S. Smith (LS):  Did you learn anything about yourself while doing the research to write this script? If so, what did you learn?

Gail Parrish (GP): I was surprised at how interested I became in the lives and loves of my ancestors!  The deeper you go in your research, the more information you find out, the closer you feel to them.  They're no longer just people who lived hundreds of years ago with little connection to you.  You start to understand them a little better and the choices they made, although much still remains a mystery.


LaRita S. Smith (LS): What do you feel makes this story unique?

Gail Parrish (GP): It is wonderful that today we are seeing more and more plays and movies about slavery. But we are really only scratching the surface of all that needs to be told about slavery and its aftermath.  Leavings looks at the practice of slaveholders fathering children by the women they enslaved and how that practices impacted generations down to the present day.


LaRita S. Smith (LS): How does your story relate to the Black Lives Matter Movement?

Gail Parrish (GP): The Movement is simply saying that our country must accept that Black lives matter and act accordingly.  This is a revolutionary concept since throughout our history Black lives have been devalued and have not mattered.  Still, there are many who have trouble accepting this truth and feel a need to add caveats to it.  Until our country begins to accept this truth and understand how Black lives have been devalued throughout history and how that connects to events and situations today, we will not heal as a nation.  I hope Leavings adds to this important discussion. 


LaRita S. Smith (LS): What message do you hope the audience will receive after watching your production?

Gail Parrish (GP):  I hope they receive that even though the events of the past may have been horrific,if we face this past honestly and with courage there is hope for healing our nation's racial divide.

To purchase tickets to the Production of LEAVINGS, visit the The Greenhouse Theater Center website

Photos courtesy of Richard Engling

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