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2005 Writers Forum
Laurel Anne White ~ with curator John Mifsud

Laurel Anne White began writing at the age of four, primarily oral histories for the benefit of Fuzzy Creature, Lambchop, and Tedward Bear. Throughout her youth she composed many plays, poems, speeches, and short stories until she was wooed away to a life in the theatre. Years of fast living in regional repertory theatre as actress, director and producer found Ms. White returning again and again to the comfort of the written word. As Artist in Residence for the Washington State, Seattle and King County Arts Commissions, schools, hospitals, corrections facilities and other diverse organizations, and with Jack Straw, Laurel has written or co-created over 200 scripts. Also a voice and acting coach, she thinks of writing as "giving back by giving voice" to the silenced and unheard. Her latest work is River Bed, a full-length magical-realist play inspired by the women whose voices were stolen by the notorious Green River and Ciudad Juarez murders and a dismissive media. Laurel earned her MFA in the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington, and is currently working toward her MEd at Antioch University. She is the delighted recipient of a 2004 Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship in Theatre, and is thrilled to be in the excellent company of Jack Straw's Writers Program. Laurel Anne White photo
photo credit:
dean wong
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Research Women Outreach (2) Closure (2)
Current Project Writing Habits Why Write Creative Process
Inspiration Performance Personal Background
JM

It's a pleasure to have you here, Laurel. I'm wondering if you'll tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, to start with.
LW


















































Well, I'm a Northwestern native, good ol' middle class white chick from Olympia. And I grew up in the sixties, during the days of unlocked front doors and unlocked cars and banging screen doors. And went to Catholic schools, and then kind of took off for the wildest, "artsiest-fartsiest" college that I could find-this little college in Oregon, Mount Angel College, which no longer exists, actually. I had a knack for finding schools that were about to close. I didn't know it of course at the time, it was an unwitting choice-and went completely wild my first year of college, actually didn't even finish my first year because a series of events took place that were pretty unfortunate and rather tragic, and really changed the whole path of my life. And I had always really been involved with writing, and really wanted to continue the writing. And that was pretty much my focus, that was my strongest focus I think all the time that I was growing up. And then when I went off to another college, I was trying to get a double major in theater and writing, and couldn't do it. So I found Evergreen, where I could. And Evergreen was really great for me and that was where I did my undergraduate work. And then I came to Seattle and I worked in the theater, primarily, but also doing artist-in-residence work, incorporating scripting with theater and doing some producing and acting and directing. And then I went into the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington, and went into professional theater. And actually toodled around the country for quite a while. I was attracted to the fast life, and theater seemed like a really good career for a little nocturnal beasty like myself. And it got wilder and wilder and wilder until pretty soon I realized that I couldn't really do it any more, and I wasn't even doing it for the right reasons. I kind of had a wake-up call, I signed an "as cast" contract, meaning I signed a contract agreeing to play whatever they would decide I would play at a later date. And I realized that that was not the reason I got into theater in the first place, that I really had gone into the theater because of the power of voice. And so I drew back from that. Got a little place in Ballard, changed my life pretty dramatically in a lot of ways, and then continued to do artist-in-residence work and writing and doing some theater. And that has all kind of melded and meshed until the place where I stand now, which is, I'm actually in school again and doing work in education, getting my Masters in Education. I got my MFA from the the actor training program at the UW, and at one point, there are those moments where you suddenly find yourself in a place, in a moment in time, and you just have one of those white light experiences where you go, "Oh my God, I get it! Everything that I've done so far, everything that has happened so far in my life was leading to this point; it all makes sense now!" And I've felt that a couple of times in the last year or so, which has been really great, because I think it's possible to go through an entire lifetime and never have that experience. But I had it with with my play, Riverbed. That, if it was the only thing I ever did in my life it would be enough. And then I also had it in the end of January.
I was in this little town, Ciulita, Mexico, and I had introduced myself to the director of this little Mexican school. And I don't speak Spanish. I mean, I can read a menu-you know, buenos dias-but I had prepared myself, I was really hoping to do this, I ended up doing creative dramatics and teaching some first graders in this little school. And one of my greatest dreams is to be able to do the artist-in-residence work incorporating theater and writing in other parts of the world. Primarily with underserved populations and third-world countries.
JM

So what are some of the companies or some of the roles that you enjoyed the most in your previous work?
LW










I spent a lot of time at the Alley Theatre, in Houston. But I've worked fofor all these different companies, and I can list some theatres so that somebody could go "Ooh, cool, she worked there." But I have to say that my favorite work has been in independent productions for the most part. A few years ago I had the opportunity to play MacDuff, in Fool's Cathedral's production of MacBeth, and a number of other friends were involved in the production. My friend Todd Jameson played MacBeth, and so, it was an amazing opportunity to play this Fifth Century male Scots warrior with tattoos and blood and grease and bones in my hair, and be swinging a broadsword and screaming. It was fabulous.
Performance










JM

Well I can see why something like that sort of moved you out of your comfort zone, and that's an exciting place to be.
How would you describe your particular creative process?
LW











This is something I think that started when I was just a little tiny kid, that I've always really been interested in animating the inanimate. And that continues through my life, and a lot of inspiration seems to come from that, giving voice to inanimate objects, or animate creatures that don't speak English, they speak cat, for instance. And having dialogs with things, and from that comes a lot of ideas-the perspectives of things fascinates me, and it always has. That has just always kind of happened for me ever since I was a small kid, and that still is, I think, my driving motivation, for theater and in writing. To be able to give voice to the speechless, to those that have never had a voice, or those that've had their voices taken away.
JM


It makes sense, we're all in this life together and we're all connected in one way, and certainly inanimate objects are not separate from us, so I can see why you would do that.
LW Yeah, there's spirit in everything. I do firmly believe that.
JM



Are there certain circumstances that you require to do good writing. Is there a certain time of day, does it have to be at your computer with a lit candle? What are the particulars of what makes a good environment for creativity for you?
LW




















It's interesting that you would say at the computer with a lit candle because, when I was working on Riverbed-because it goes into some pretty terrifying places, in the heart, and from my own experience, some scary memories-I felt like I really needed to create a frame of safety and security for myself. And so I did have a little candle and I did have little prayers that I would open and close my writing with. And a lot of dialog with the women, a lot of basically just asking for their guidance, and I felt like that's where so much of it came from. And with the script, I have to write on the computer 'cause it's fast, and thoughts just fly. I can't possibly write fast enough with a pen, or a pencil. I've always done a lot of journaling and that I always do by hand, for the most part. When I'm writing verse that's usually with a pencil…The thoughts come so quickly that I have to, even sometimes in the middle of the night-I tend to be up a lot in the middle of the night, 'cause I am pretty nocturnal, kind of owlish-I'd have to jump up and rush in and turn the computer on. And I have a really old computer that's really slow, and I'd have to be going over things in my head over and over and over so I wouldn't forget them before I finally got Word up and running and could start typing.
JM

So, where is the connection for you in your creative process that triggers passion?
LW


The connection that triggers passion…It's all through the process. When something comes to me, when something comes down through the conduit , comes down the pipes-
it's a rush. It's like I'm suddenly filled, and so there's a great deal of passion in that. There's a great deal of just energy in that, that I'm suddenly so full, in a good way. And then there's the physicalization, and the physical process seems to be very touched by an energy that I just don't experience really any other time. Except maybe when I'm teaching. There's this thing that happens with my fingers on a keyboard. I know that my body shifts, my body changes when I'm filled like that. It reminds me of years ago taking a Tai Chi class and learning about the concept of full and empty, and how there is such a powerfully visceral sense of being filled with idea, with spirit, with whatever that thing is that is meant to go into me and out of me again. And the passion seems to be so much about receiving it and then getting it out, and, that always seems to be pretty much nonstop. I mean, there aren't a lot of times when there isn't at least a little of that going on.
JM







So, why did you choose this particular subject? Riverbed is a series of monologues in play form, about the victims of the Green River murderer. What about that reached you, or how did it call to you? You'd said that you had spoken to, tried to connect with some of the women that never got out of his car alive. I found that so engaging in this writing and it seemed like you were so intimately connected. And, that intimate connection created real powerful outcome. So, what was that about for you?
LW

























Well, first I want to say that Riverbed, although it was initially inspired by the Green River tragedies, it was also inspired by Ciudad Juarez, the hundreds of young women who've disappeared there, [and] the British Columbia pig farm where a number of women died tragically. And it came to be about all of the women. And the reason, I think initially-the first media reportings of the Green River murders really upset me and then incensed me, because I felt that the women were presented to the public as prostitutes and junkies, period. They didn't have identities outside of that. And you could ask anyone on the street, "Tell me in four words, tell me about the victims of the Green River killer." And people would say "Um, let's see, prostitutes, Sea-Tac, uhh, drugs," like that. And that just boggled me, that the media was presenting it that way. And also kind of presenting it as a wash, that all of these women were being lumped into this very narrow category of prostitutes, junkies. And I know as a survivor of violent crime that we can be identified in a lot of different ways. And I knew that these women also were daughters and probably sisters and often mothers, and that they also had dreams and visions about a future. And maybe had hopes that they lost, and maybe had hopes that they were still clinging to. And it just infuriated me that the most interesting component in the media reporting was the killer. Like, we're so obsessed with "the mind of a serial killer." "Tonight at eleven, special report: we're going inside the mind of a serial killer…" What about going inside the minds of the people who were face to face with those monsters?
And during the whole time that the Green River killings were taking place in the '80's and the early '90's, I was living a pretty fast life. And it is an absolute miracle, a whole collection of miracles, that I survived that time in my life, because I made a lot of really not very smart choices. I mean, I walked around in an altered state a lot of the time, and I hitch-hiked, and I never ventured out with the idea that "Oh, this could be it, this could be the end." I mean, I never made sure that everything at home was all wrapped up and neat in a nice little package so that I could go out 'cause it might be the end. It never occurred to me that I was putting myself at risk. And I don't think it's about that idea of "youth has this idea of immortality." I think it's just simply about being drawn toward adventure. I don't think that I thought I was immortal, I think that I was just drawn toward, new experiences. And, there were a whole, whole lot of times that I remember when I think that I was extremely fortunate to have been able to get out of the car.
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And, so what really rang true for me for these women is that they didn't get out of the car. And that their legacy… the part of my responsibility as a survivor is to voice for them what they're not able to say. And I of course didn't meet any of them as far as I know-I may have, at some point-and I haven't had conversations with them in the sense that you and I are having this conversation now. But there are so many things that I share with them, and so it felt like this was something that I absolutely had to do.
Closure

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JM




That comes out in your writing really clearly. There's an intimacy in your personalization of the characters, I think that's what makes it so successfully powerful. Are there other factors that are involved that made it that personal for you, other than the parallel backgrounds maybe of an adventuresome life?
LW













Well, a couple things. One is that I spent a lot of time working with and being with women in recovery-women who are recovering addicts, alcoholics-and so I've heard a lot of the stories from other survivors. And I had actually started writing the play and was well into it when a relative and someone I am very, very close to, actually got out of [Green River Killer] Ridgeway's car. And that was stunning. It really just blew me away. And it blew her away that I was writing this. It was an incredibly timely thing for both of us. Just the idea that I was working on this and at the same time-she didn't know I was writing this play, I didn't know that she was giving depositions to the Green River task force. Had it gone to trial she would have been asked to testify. And of course it didn't go to trial. But it was a huge life-changing thing for her, and for all of my extended family, as it resolved.
JM So would you be willing to read a little bit from the play?
LW

Sure. This is an excerpt from the full length play, Riverbed. This is from the first act, this is Martha's Story.
<reading follows>
LW It's hard to read that...it's hard not to cry.
JM I'm with you.
LW









There are so many times when I'm working on a script that I just collapse into sobs, because, even though this story isn't real for me it's real for somebody, and that just breaks my heart. And that's what kept me writing it. That's why I had to write it, because I firmly believe that all of those women are okay now, but here, for those of us who are left behind, we somehow need to know that. It's just needing to know "what happened then?" We know what happened, but we want to know what happened next, and to feel that each one of those women, each one of those souls, has had the opportunity to let go and be free of this.
Closure

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JM



In so many ways the writing is a powerful tribute to their lives. But in some ways your writing is an opportunity to come to greater closure and it does call up a lot of grief about what must have been.
LM
















A woman who is a close friend and spiritual mentor had said to me once-there was something that had happened in the news about some small children who had drowned, and I was just so devastated with that, and I was struck with that "why, why these little children?" And the images of things like that get stuck in me, and they continue to come back. And she said something that was really powerful that has really helped me a lot. She said, "You know, we don't know what happened in that car, we don't know that there wasn't brilliant light and music, and we don't know that there weren't comforting arms. We don't know." We don't know what crossing over is, and we assume that it's hideous when it may very well be beautiful. And what I wanted to do with the play was, to bring out the part that is obvious, the horror-we all get the horror-but we don't get what's next. And, I believe that the horror is like a drop in the ocean compared to what's next and what's true, and what's beyond the illusion of our humanness.
JM




It seems like to get to that final outcome you have to take the appropriate steps, and name each step as you go in order to get where we ultimately end up. Now, with the murderer being identified and owning up to the tragedies, how has that affected you and your relationship to this writing in particular?
LW






It hasn't changed anything in regards to my relationship to the play, my relationship to the women-the real women and the women that showed up on the pages. It hasn't changed that at all, because that's his story, and it has nothing to do with their story. He was a moment in time for them. And for them to be defined as simply 'victims of the Green River killer' is such a horrible disservice to their lives and to their memory.
JM









It's so interesting that you say that, because it wasn't too long ago that we had the 9/11 tragedy, and there were several different programs on television that explored the lives of some of the victims of that tragedy and sort of gave us the details of some of their moments: how many kids they had, what they liked to do, a look at their personal lives, so we really got to know them and identify with them in a way that made the tragedy that much greater for us I think, and helped with the healing process of coming to acceptance about what happened. I think that's what you do so well.
LW Thank you.
JM





In the context of this, I just feel like it has really been a missing piece. Because of course, [for] the police and the investigation, it was finding the perpetrator that was most important in order to put the case to rest. And yet, I'm sure the families are still working with that grief that seems to be coming up in your writing.
LW





I don't know what it would be to lose someone that I love that way. I guess I can say that there's a part of me that attempts to imagine it. It's like there needs to be a freedom about this. That being human in the human world is interesting and it's full of little details and ups and downs and, you know, stuff. But it's not the real deal.
JM So what are you hoping with this play?
LW







Oh, well…You write something like this and at one point you say, "Okay, just writing it is enough. If all I ever do is write it then that will be enough for my lifetime." And then you say, "No, that's not gonna be enough. I want it to be heard." So it's having it heard, and wanting it to be seen, wanting it to occur as the theater piece. And, in whatever ways, I just always think if there's one person that reads this or hears it, that is changed by it, then wow. Okay. That's all I need.
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