What is your name?
My name is Beth Nixon, and I operate under the name Ramshackle Enterprises.
Where are you from?
I’m from South Kingstown Rhode Island, and currently I live in Providence.
What are you working on this week?
There’s multiple things I’m working on. But the thing that I worked on the most is this particular... I think it’s a play, it involves an audience, in a room at least. It’s still a super rough idea but it’s a ferry ride to the Isle of Wight. Which is an island outside of Britain, but that’s not where this ride actually takes them. It actually turns out to be an island of whiteness, and there are tour guides and naturalists, and a cookbook author and a bunch of people trying to figure out what that is and if the island actually exists at all or if it’s just sort of a vaporous conjuring of multiple imaginations and systems that have created it. It’s set in the present time but there’s people from other times there like colonists and a horseshoe crab etc.
Can you explain what your process has been this week?
My trajectory in general has been to come at making theatre through objects, people and spaces usually in collaboration with other designers or devisers. It’s still really new for me to come at playwrighting directly through words. I’m in the writing for performance program at Brown and I’m in my second year of that so for the past year and a half I’ve been figuring out how to do that. This feels like I’m still in the early stages of the process of trying to figure out how to translate the things that I imagine into words and how to build a framework from my own idea to create a way in which the other collaborators that aren’t on board yet can fill into these different sections.
I’m part of multiple groups that are having conversations about whiteness, racism, police violence, and a bunch of things that sort of resonate up against whiteness in a certain way. So it’s interesting for me to try to do this very sort of personal reflective process on my own ancestry and where I come from and is there such thing as a healthy white identity that I can raise my own kid with or is it all just genocide and slave-holding? The only whiteness really to be proud of is our scottish ancestry but i feel so disconnected from that it feels sort of inauthentic to be all of the sudden playing the bagpipes or something. It’s that challenge of what is, in an attempt not to feel like we’re just developed out of a void, what is there to pass on to our kids, and where do we come from if we’ve submitted our heritage in exchange for being white. Which is what most white folks ancestry here is, they turned it in in order to be normalized in the States. So my process has been thinking about that and doing a bunch of drawing and writing. I kept getting paralyzed by working on the computer so I ended up ripping up all these brown paper grocery bags and drawing up a big scroll that helped me organize. I’ve written down plot points, drawn pictures, I have a little dialogue, I knew a bunch of the parts of the journey that I want to see. I know there’s interactions with pirates, and a pilates instructor, an iceberg, you know there’s a bunch of things that I could imagine happening but I couldn’t figure out where they were. So right now what I’m doing is taping this strip together so that then I can kind of scroll it out and think about the pieces being where they are and I can then move them around if I need to. And then I’ll develop the text.
There’s still enough room for me to meet with some other people whose voices need to be in this play, because right now it’s really limited by my own perspective and I want it to be a show where multiple people feel like their experience is being reflected in the experience in the play so I feel like I might have gotten this to a very drafty point at which I can sit down with a couple of other people that I know and trust and can talk to them about their relationships with race and history and if they were going to go on this island what would they see and what questions would they have and I feel like I can develop more text in relationship to those conversations.
I think there are a lot of potential ways this play could really go down the tubes, and I’m trying to be aware and cautious of those. But at the same time I feel like, if we’re centering whiteness in a way that enables people to look at themselves and think about what they have lost in terms of subscribing to racist systems and notions of privilege and actual mechanisms of privilege and all of the crap that has gone along with us creating the current power structure as it exists.
I’m not looking to get a lot of actual answers out of the play but the idea of sitting around with people and them actually chewing on these questions feels useful at least to me and my work, and my parenting and my effort as a human here.
Can you explain the choice to approach this topic from an absurdist angle?
One of my struggles with the absurd angle that I frequently approach things from is that I don’t want it to feel like any of the shit that is so real is disrespectfully handled but at the same time I think there’s a lot of value in skewing towards magic realism of absurdism to create a distance from our everyday. Distance from the crushing every day realities of how race operates in our country in order to open it up some.
I have to workshop a play in February at Brown, so it may be this one or some other things that I am working on.
How has being a mother affected your work?
I definitely feel like being a parent affects everything. It affects some of the ideas I’m thinking about, it doesn’t determine the limits of them or make me feel like a need to write children’s theatre but I definitely feel like I’m in relationship to the fact that I have a kid and the ideas that I’m thinking about and being challenged to figure out how to be honest with her.
The times that we live in are not age appropriate for a seven year old. How do you talk about what’s going on in the world with your kid and if you don’t talk about it what kind of equipping them for living out in the world are you doing? And where are they gonna hear it instead? So this is our chance to sort of frame it, but that’s such a massive challenge to explain what’s gone on, just this summer from the number of shootings to the situation at the pulse night club, to crazy stuff going on with Trump, to refugees, all of that stuff and trying to figure out how to frame the world that I want Ida to feel excited to contribute to changing. And at the same time, not to paint some sort of cheese ball fake version of what’s happening. How do I create some sense that there is something we can do to alter the current course. I guess I have some indirect hope that that is possible through theatre.
How has being at SPACE this week affected your work?
It’s been great. It’s been so great, it’s been magical. Being around a smart group of other parents who are trying to have a real relationship with their kids and also do their work has been an inspiring environment. And then getting to see Ida grow and play and have such an amazing time with this group of kids and the activities they’re all doing and the work that they are all coming up with, just clearly having a blast while at the same time, being able to keep hatching my own work is amazing. I feel like often times you’re making that trade off of chilling with your kid or working on my own work. It’s so rare, where are you ever, in a situation where you can sort of do some of both while knowing that your kid is being well taken care of and you are around other stimulating folks. Not to mention the delicious food. It’s sort of miraculous, I feel like it’s definitely helped me to zoom in in a certain way.
When is the opportunity to go enjoy your kid and work for a week. So many other places ask you to come on your own but for two months and that’s way too long. SPACE is the perfect balance .
Do you have a favorite place at space where you like to work?
Because it’s been so hot, I’ve mostly been in Kay Hall with the Air Conditioning but I did spend a full day on the porch out back because there is a nice table out there. I’ve also taken a lot of walks around the farm and doing some walk-thinking, admiring those horses. I really like the epic dinner table stretch, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place with such a long dinner table, it’s pretty awesome.
If you were reincarnated as a farm animal, which would you be and why?
I’m really partial to goats. I really like them. They’re frisky and determined, have really cute nostrils, and they produce really healthy milk. They seem relatively adaptable and resourceful. I can also think of something more exotic like an Emu but I think Goat is pretty accurate.