Playwright’s Point of View: An interview with Gabrielle Fulton
August 5th, 2015
Q. You’ve said that Uprising is very much inspired by family. Could you talk about how those relationships and stories impacted Uprising and the characters?
A. Sal, the main character in Uprising, is derived from stories my grandfather, Freddie Gordon Sr., shared about his mother whose name was Sally Lawrence Gordon. With great pride he reported that she could pick two hundred pounds of cotton. My grandfather also spoke of how his mother’s cotton-picking prowess allowed her to claim a prize over male counterparts. It was his admiration for her work ethic and strength that helped shape this character.
Q. Uprising has already been such a journey for you as a playwright. What has the process been like from your first reading to now?
A. All love … which is to say, painfully challenging at times and yet completely fulfilling. Being connected to the characters in this play and allowing my imagination to live in the world in which the play is set has been incredibly stimulating and oftentimes consuming. From the first reading to now my passion for this work, as Ossie would say, burns the same bright. Witnessing the emotional connection many had to the work early on was especially gratifying. It strengthened my commitment to continue delving deeper into the world and interior lives of the characters to unearth more, provide greater clarity, and heighten further still the entertainment value of the work.
Q. The play is set before the Civil War, but the themes are still relevant today. What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?
A. Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
~ Toni Morrison
As evidenced today by #blacklivesmatter and the reproductive rights movement, the reality of progress and freedom is not simple. It takes courage. Civil liberties are susceptible to erosion when the human drama of self-interest that undermines freedom persists. I hope audiences will take with them the desire to investigate their own experience of freedom. Not just on a societal or political level, but personally. The play hopes to inspire a positive, deep and meaningful conceptualization of black identity and the human significance of self-determination.
Q. Uprising has touches of magical realism such as Red Bird and Wind. Why was it important to you to include these elements and what do they represent?
A. Redbird and Wind have been there from the beginning. They were conceived at the same time as Sal. It was important to include them as elements in the play because as I contemplated Sal, I began to wonder how my ancestors made it through torturous labor under insufferable conditions. Redbird and Wind came to represent the connection to something greater than self, which I imagine helped my ancestors survive. Sal’s ability to connect with Redbird and Wind is what makes her special. It allows her to thrive. And dazzles Ossie.
Q. Although your work is on stage now at Horizon, your short film Ir/Reconcilable, which was an official selection at the 2014 American Black Film Festival in NYC and was honored as a finalist in the HBO Short Film Competition, is currently on HBO as well. What are the differences for you between being a stage and a screen writer? And what is next for you as writer?
A. I enjoy writing for the stage and screen. Not sure if it’s because I grew up in theatre, but the process of developing a play definitely feels more organic. Though character is the driving force for both, when writing plays I find myself starting with dialogue and structure comes later; whereas with screenplays I lead with structure and dialogue gets in where it fits in. Currently I’m writing the book for an exciting new musical and I have two plays ready for development. Uprising’s next stop in its Rolling World Premiere is the D.C. Women’s Voices Theater Festival September 20th– October 25th at MetroStage in Alexandria, VA. As for the Ir/Reconcilable short, it was so well received that audiences wanted more. A feature film is in the works and we’re in the process of fundraising right now. Connect with me: