March is Women’s History Month and I wanted to highlight female writers from various literary genres this month. Today, meet playwright, Jeanette Hill. — Tyora Moody
Jeanette, describe yourself for our visitors.
Well, let’s see. I am a wife, mother, sister and friend. I wear many of the same hats that your readers do. In addition to being a playwright, director and producer this year I’ve developed a presentation using Harriet Tubman as the narrator called ‘Black History? Yes, It Still Matters!’ So I guess I have to add actor. I’m active in my church and the community.
I am the founder and Creative Director of Sight Ain’t Seeing Productions (SASP), a 501-C-3 creative arts organization. In addition to producing plays I conduct writing and character development workshops. SASP also hosts Believe Beyond Boundaries, a creative arts camp for middle to high school age youth. Students learn theater basics and how to write and produce their stories.
I am also the founder/owner of Jeanette W. Hill Productions (JWHILL Productions) for my other creative outlets like my skits, plays and other writings as well as my workshops.
I love music, all kinds of music, but gospel music touches me in a way no other music can! I have always loved reading and have been known to zone out while reading a great mystery!!! However, I read many genres, most of my friends are writers (how cliché, I won’t name drop!). Recently I have discovered some really great ‘new to me’ writers including Tayari Jones (Silver Sparrow) and I am really looking forward to reading a new mystery novel, When Rain Falls, by an amazing multi-talented young woman named Tyora Moody!
I am currently in remission from a sewer’s disease known as ‘fabric-and-pattern-itis’. My husband is desperately praying for a complete recovery. Probably the most surprising thing that people discover about me is that I am a textbook introvert. I am truly humbled and amazed by the way the Lord has opened doors for me and I pray that my work honors Him in some tangible way.
How do you find time to connect with God?
I use the early morning hours for reading scriptures and praying, however, I am finding more and more that as life happens I need to stay in constant communication with Him so I find myself ‘talking to God’ throughout the day. To stay balanced, it’s also important that I develop a quiet place in my spirit so that I can hear what He is saying to me! Surrounding myself with positive people, particularly Believers who can both lift and level me if need be. Reading inspirational books and articles as well as listening to music are other ways to keep the spiritual lines open and charged.
Who are your biggest influences?
In terms of subject matter and themes I use life situations and often the people in the Bible, when we think about it, their struggles were not very different than what we encounter today. We are still challenged with marriage problems, rebellious children, work issues, financial difficulties, relationship dilemmas and health crises. I often take those stories and put them in a contemporary setting.
As to my writing style and its dramatic lilt, the natural ability comes from God but if I had to choose an author whose style and work I love and admire, it would be J. California Cooper, who has a phenomenal way of using every day, often fractured people and their life events to weave captivating stories! Her writing shows the triumph of the human spirit.
Tell us about your journey to writing your first play.
I wrote my first play while I was a student at Goodyear Junior High School in Akron, Ohio. It was called When All Men Will Be Brothers. Shortly after watching the West Side Story and reading several stories about young people trying to fit in and gang violence, I started writing. I don’t think that I even realized I was writing a play at the time. One day one of my teachers asked to read what I was writing on that big yellow pad I was always carrying around. He was so touched by it that he told me if I could find students willing to act in it, he would stay after school and let us rehearse and perform it in his classroom! I don’t know if my feet touched the ground for the next two weeks! I found a bunch of classmates who were willing to participate…including the not yet famous James Ingram and we put on a show!! So, James, if you’re reading this, thank you, Boot, Earline and the others for helping me begin my walk into my purpose!
Right now, I am working on two plays concurrently. One is a reprisal of The Silent City, in October (2012) which is Domestic Violence Awareness month. This production focuses on occurrences of domestic violence and dating abuse in the body of Christ. I am doing almost a complete revision of the original script. Many women and men are victims of this disease but are afraid to step forward because of the reaction of fellow Christians. This guilt and shame increases their susceptibility to victimization which allows the cycle of abuse/violence to continue or escalate. We hope to collaborate with several civic, social and community organizations to help bring awareness of this problem and to help those involved find viable resources to help. The goal is not to cast a shadow over the Church but to help find ways to eradicate the problem. However, we do want to make clear that this play is a work of fiction and any similarities to persons, places or situations are merely coincidental.
My second project is a series of short anti-bullying plays for urban youth titled Courage…the Hard Way! Unfortunately, the tragedies that occur as a result of bullying in our schools and communities are on the rise. The approach taken in these plays is to illustrate some of the signs of bullying, including cyber-bullying, most of the plays have an ‘open ending’ which leads to a series of discussion questions that will hopefully open the door to meaningful dialogue between young people, parents, school officials and the community. My plan is to make several of the plays (scripts) available by May 2012.
How did you come up with ideas for these plays/projects?
Another example of divine intervention! The genesis of The Silent City came from an on-line writing exercise in the BW Christian Literature group in 2005. My intent was to submit a totally different piece but at the last minute the Holy Spirit came to me and said to write and submit this, in a matter of about three minutes the story was born. Many of the people in the group suggested that I finish the story because they had similar situations happening in their churches. I put it on the back burner and decided that this would be my first book, but while I am still working on the manuscript, the stage play is a viable alternative.
Courage…the Hard Way has been on my heart since the Columbine shooting tragedy in April 1999. As I look at many of our young people today it is happening more and more often. They are so angry and hurt but unfortunately we as adults get so caught up with the busy-ness of life that we sometimes miss or don’t pay attention to the warning signs until another tragedy happens. Hopefully, these plays will not only bring awareness but start us on the road to healing and resolution. Our children are precious, cultural collateral-they are our future.
List your other play titles.
Oh, Lord, that would turn this into a series! Let’s not go that far back! My more recent titles are Dealing with Daddy’s Devils!, The Best Lesson, Courage…the Hard Way, Bruised But not Broken, It’s Not About You and The Saints and the Ain’ts!
What’s next for you?
2012 is shaping up to be a very busy year for me! I will be presenting two workshops-Staging the Page and It All Adds Up- at the Black Writers Reunion Conference (August 29-31 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL./ get more information at www.blackwriters.org )
We are working on several projects including producing a new season of The Amen Circle, on our local community television station, ChannelAustin. The Amen Circle is a fictionalized account of the challenges and triumphs of a close knit group of people living in an urban neighborhood surrounded by churches. You’d think with that much Jesus in the area, they wouldn’t have any problems but the series shows how real life happens for Christians too.
I am putting together a team to work with the students in our local school district to host our first ‘10N10 Young People’s Playwriting Festival’ this summer and of course, I will continue to work on my Silent City manuscript and updating my Women’s’ Ministry guidebook-Real Women! Real Issues! Funding is also always an issue that has to be addressed. So as you can see we will be pretty busy faith-walking for the foreseeable future but I am a steadfast believer in Philippians 1:6-“ Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Where can visitors find you online and other information about your performances?
I can be reached at Sight Ain’t Seeing Productions at www.sasprod.org or email me at email@example.com and for Jeanette W. Hill Productions at www.jeanettehill.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stop and sign our guestbook, we’d love to hear from you! We will post additional information about our projects and productions to our websites as it becomes available. I can also be found on Facebook (facebook.com/jeanettehill1) and Twitter (@jwhill120).