2015-2016 Season

Rosemary Rowe

An interview with Rosemary Rowe

Playwright of THE GOOD BRIDE

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1. Tell me about how you became interested in the Fundamentalist Baptist faith. Was it the Duggars? Or - didn't you get hooked on Stay-At-Home Daughter websites?
Lead us down your twisted path...

My whole Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church/Quiverfull/Christian homeschool/purity ball obsession started with a great article in my favourite feminist magazine, Bitch. The article was called “The Troubling Rise of Stay-at-Home Daughters”. Here are the SAHD Coles Notes: these young ladies are fundamentalist Christians who choose to remain at home after completing their home school education rather than going off to college.

They spend their days learning the gentle arts of thrifty domesticity from their mothers, reading the bible and taking care of their (multitude of) younger siblings while cultivating "a servant's heart" in preparation for fulfilling their biblical roles as women - becoming heart surgeons. HAHAHAHAAA! Just kidding. They are training to become helpmeets to godly men.

These girls stay at home - as looooong as it takes - under the authority of their fathers - until they marry and their father transfers his authority to their new husband! For real - it's part of the wedding ceremony.

But here's the most awesome thing - a bunch of these stay-at-home daughters have blogs! And despite their thrifty fundie ways, they all seem to have really excellent cameras with which to document the day-to-day minutiae of their at-home daughter existences. Typical stay-at-home daughter blogs have names like Aspiring Homemaker, the Unliberated Woman, The Father Knows Best, Courageous Womanhood and Striving to Serve at Home.

I got totally hooked on these blogs. There was something so wholesome and simple about these girls and their baking and quilting and praying and striving to be patient with the Lord as He decides on the right timing for their Prince Charming to appear. I'm not sure why but their constant talk of "God's faithfulness in scripting my love story" very compelling. I guess it kind of reminded me of the "yearning for a simpler time" I would sometimes experience when I read old-fashioned books like Anne of Green Gables, where women’s lives contained very few choices. Basically, you rambled in the woods, married a nice local boy, pressed your own apple cider, popped out a lot of kids and didn't have to worry about anything, like voting or having rights.

Aside from the Quiverfull Duggar family of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting fame, most people I talked to had never heard about the IFB culture but when I pinned them down and yapped at them about it for hours, they seemed FASCINATED. And as far as I knew, no one had really written a play about it yet. So I did.

2. Was this your first one-person play? How is this play a departure for you and/or your writing style/substance?

I’ve actually written three previous loooooong one-act, one-person plays but this is my first one WOMAN play, weirdly, and my first one-person play in about 20 years. The last two plays I wrote were historically-based, so this more contemporary story is a bit of a departure for me – although because of the subject matter, it’s still a little old fashioned, which I like. Most of my recent work involves homosexuals because I am one – this is probably the straightest thing I’ve written in a decade.

Also, my forte is dialogue, so writing a one-person play is not a great way to show that off. But I didn’t start out planning to write a one-person show.

After about three years of reading these Stay-At-Home Daughter blogs and watching the Duggars and learning about the whole Quiverfull movement – both the pros and the cons - I really wanted to tell the story of a young woman coming of age in this culture. I had about half a totally fictional, multi-character, full-length play written but it started to feel very forced and preachy; when I came across the (true) story of Maranatha waiting for her wedding, it’s like everything clicked into place. Suddenly, it HAD to be a one-woman show and the structure was already there; all I had to do was weave in all of the various threads of the story to create this big, Jesus-y tapestry.

3. Tell us about the development process of the piece thus far - its various incarnations and readings in workshops, etc. How has the play changed from your first draft?

Well, it all started when I joined Vancouver’s Wet Ink Collective, which is this excellent writing group for women playwrights in Vancouver, in the fall of 2014. I signed up for their fall intensive – 10 sessions over 10 weeks – in the hopes that it would kick my ass into writing more consistently. Every other week, you have to bring in new writing; it’s read aloud by someone in the group; then you receive feedback in a very structured way. My goal in joining Wet Ink was really just to give myself a deadline - I’ve been in writers’ groups before and in my experience, it often becomes an exercise in the loudest person in the group telling you how to write your play. Wet Ink was a COMPLETELY different experience; it was a delightfully bullshit-free environment, which encouraged me to really stretch myself and try to get a full draft finished by the end of the intensive.  I didn’t quuuuite make it, but right after the holidays, they had a master class with playwright extraordinaire Colleen Murphy, so I signed up for that so that I would finish the first draft. Colleen Murphy gave me some very useful feedback, although she didn’t like the ending…and I didn’t change it. So if you had the end of this play, Colleen Murphy agrees with you.

Then, you know, I joined the spring Wet Ink intensive and went through the whole play in pieces again, which helped clarify some key issues and fill in some blanks. Over the summer, a couple of my Wet Ink colleagues (Lynna Golhar-Smith and CJ McGillivray) and my favourite religion expert and dramaturge (my wife Kate) and I had a couple of mini-workshop/readings of the play, so that I could hear it all at once, which illustrated a lot of what work and didn’t work.

I’d say the first draft was a little more driven by research – because it’s based on a true story, I was really clinging to some of the elements of that story that just raised more questions that they answered. The play in its current incarnation relies less on facts and research and is driven more by Maranatha and the crazy emotional rollercoaster she rides from start to finish.

4. What's your personal writing process like? Is it labourious?  Do you do a lot of research? Do you have particular habits? A schedule? What distracts you?

I’m a percolator. I think for a long time, I do a ton of research and then I procrastinate like it’s my job. Then, when I have a deadline, I give ‘er and hope that something decent emerges. If I really need to get something done, I try to dedicate at least a 4-hour time slot for writing; I have my headphones on, usually with something really emo playing. I enjoy having cool writer fantasies writing in coffee shops and shit but honestly, I get my best work done at home, with my big keyboard and easy access to a bathroom. I’m old now, I need to go more often, you know how it is. Once I get started, the writing part actually happens pretty quickly.

5. What's your own religious upbringing? Did it influence the writing of the play?

My religious upbringing was a bit of a patchwork. My mom grew up Catholic and my dad was United, but neither of them was really into religion when I was a kid. We used to go to the Moravian church in our neighbourhood, but that seemed to be more about community than Jesus. I also did all of my swimming lessons and day camp at the local Jewish Community Centre – I learned Israel’s national anthem in Hebrew and how to braid challah - so I actually thought we were Jewish until I was 10 and the Gideons showed up in my Grade 5 Music room and handed out their cute little New Testaments. I was really shattered when I discovered that, ethnographically speaking, I was not one of the Chosen People.

In my teens, I tried to become Christian religious – I went to a lot of different churches with different friends and tried to get into Jesus, but I always knew I was faking it. Then when I was 16, Stewart Lemoine cast me as a nun in The Spanish Abbess of Pilsen and I realized that I didn’t want to BE nun – I just wanted to play one on TV!

The performance of religion vs. actual faith has always fascinated me; while I never found the Lord, I collected Catholic iconography for years and several of my plays involve characters searching for faith or trying to experience it. So it was interesting change to write about someone whose faith is already so strong and solid and what it looks like when that very sincere faith is tested.

6. What's society's fascination with the Duggars and their meteoric rise to fame- and subsequent fall from grace? Are there redeeming qualities of 'family values' or is it a tragically misguided 'cult-like' community?

I honestly don't know why I'm so fascinated by the Duggars and their radical beliefs and their extreme reproduction and their terrible clothes and their constant talk of God's faithfulness and their innocently fellating pickles and their waiting for their dad to okay some dude to court them and their eyes shut, fingers in ears, "LALALALALALA"-ing to keep the rest of the world out. But I CAN'T LOOK AWAY, even now that their show has been cancelled and Josh’s career is over. Like, I still follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

I think the Duggars were great spokespeople for their faith because their show made Quiverfull look easy – their kids are cute and generally well-behaved and respectful, they live well but not TOO well. People like to see a happy family. They did all the right things and God blessed them. They were living the long-haired, crunchy-banged dream and for years, they used their show as a “ministry” to further their IFB agenda.

In the end, for me, part of the appeal of the Duggars is that, on some level, like Mulder, I want to believe. On some level, I really envy people of the Duggar’s and Maranatha’s faith; it must be so comforting to actually believe that God has a plan for your life and that you really can just let Jesus take the wheel. There’s something very appealing about that idea. But I think that a lot of the biblical literalism and focus on women’s “purity” and just generally archaic ideas about gender and sexuality make it a very toxic culture for everyone involved.

But come see the play! It’s good!


Quiverfull Blog Links

Daughter's Virginity Pledged to Fathers

Duggar's Home School Tips

The fundamentally toxic Christianity

Striking Portraits of Fathers and the Daughters Whose Virginity They've Pledged to Protect

Emotional purity

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