Playwright Eliana Pipes shares her journey of creating this year’s Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition winner
It’s not every day one of your earliest plays from grad school gets a full production less than two years after your graduation. And it’s not every day it’s one that happens to be deeply personal to you. And it’s not every day you win a prize you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager. Considering all of those are true of Eliana Pipes, you could say that this is her day. We spoke to award-winning playwright Eliana Pipes about her play, Dream Hou$e, which is getting a triple co-production for its world premiere, starting at the Alliance Theatre.
How have preparations for this world premiere of DREAM HOU$E been going?
It’s been wonderful and such a whirlwind. The play has turned into a triple co-production between the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, the Baltimore Center Stage in Baltimore, Maryland, and then Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, so there are three theaters taking part in this process. Since the play touches on gentrification I’m fascinated to see how it will land differently in different cities. And it’s so exciting to have this show get such a wide reach — my first production at a professional theater turned into three productions in three professional theaters!
It sounds like a whirlwind. How did the play grow like that?
The production started with winning the Alliance/Kendeda Competition prize, which was such a dream for me. I remember learning about the Alliance/Kendeda Competition in high school and putting it on my vision board of things to apply to one day when I could. Long Wharf Theatre did a reading of the play for their New Works Festival in 2020, and the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage was on the selection committee for the Alliance/Kendeda Competition. Once the Alliance chose it, the other two theaters jumped in to produce it as well.
Can you talk to me about where this play comes from and what it was like to develop it?
Dream Hou$e comes out of two inspirations for me. The first one is reflecting on the way that my hometown was changing as I was growing up. I was raised in a pocket of Los Angeles that was really transforming when I was a little kid, but at the time I didn’t have the words to describe the gentrification that was changing my neighborhood. Then when I was 13, my family sold our house and moved.
On one hand, that move was really good for us, it changed my family’s financial future for the better: there were things that we could do and security that we didn’t have before. On the other hand, moving out of that town constituted a kind of cultural loss that I didn’t understand at the time. Developing this play was a way to think about the benefits and the loss and the grief that I felt for what my neighborhood used to be and who I used to be in it.
The other inspiration behind Dream Hou$e came out of moving into the professional theater as a writer who is also a woman of color. I’m Black, white, and Puerto Rican, and writing plays about the Black and Latinx experience was an interesting feeling when you don’t always have those populations in the audience. Sometimes I felt like I was being asked to sell my cultural trauma for money — and I wanted the money, I wanted to be in those spaces and to have that platform. And so again, that strange push and pull between on one hand experiencing benefits and new levels of access in my career, and then on the other hand, knowing that I was making sacrifices for it. And all that sort of sticky mess ended up in the play.
That sounds so complex!
It’s certainly a doozy, and I think that a lot of that complexity comes through in the play. I’ve learned so much about myself as a writer through writing Dream Hou$e. There is no play that I have revised more times than I have revised this one. I wrote it in 2018, and then it was really fortunate to move through the festival circuit where I got so many chances to develop it. It was at the Latinx New Playwrights Festival in San Diego, Two River Theater’s Crossing Borders (Cruzando Fronteras) Festival, and Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival.
It also had a reading with Second Stage Theater in New York, and then it won the National Latinx Playwrights Award through the Arizona Theatre Company. All of those readings gave me the opportunity to sit in rooms with a lot of different actors across a lot of different parts of America and hear their responses to the play. It also gave me a chance to expand and challenge the work, and to make the play even deeper than it was before.
A lot of the complexity that comes through the play now is a testament to the wonderful actors and directors who brought their own perspectives to the work. A lot of my writing in the early days came out of feeling sort of isolated — writing because I felt like there weren’t other people who shared my experience. Through workshopping, it surprised me to find out that there were people who shared my experience; we just didn’t have a common vocabulary for expressing or understanding that.
This sounds like a pretty robust way to develop a play that was also really meaningful.
It did feel that way. A lot of my origin story as a writer has to do with wanting to create more space in the theatre for Black and Latinx women like me. That came up so many times in casting: there are a lot of really skilled, brilliant actors who hadn’t gotten to be in spaces where they play the lead or where they’re playing their culture and getting to engage with stories that are about who they are.
I’ve been so, so lucky to get the kind of engagement that we’ve gotten from performers and directors, and I’m proud to know that they get a space to bring that part of themselves into their artistic process in a way that they might not have before. We also have a woman director and it’s been a really lovely, interesting time to have a primarily female space. To be able to share this play — this play, especially, and across three theaters…
I know that it’s no small feat for a new play and a first production by a playwright to get this kind of platform. I could never have guessed that this is what was coming. There are so many incredible writers who I admire that have come through the Alliance/Kendeda Competition, and I’m honored to be part of the lineage.
Dream Hou$e by Eliana Pipes will have its fully-staged staging on the Hertz Stage at Alliance Theatre (1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309) Jan 28 – Feb 13, 2022. Opening night is Wednesday, February 2, 7:30 p.m., and a filmed version of Dream Hou$e will also be available to stream online February 11 – 27, 2022, on the Alliance’s website.
This article appears in the Alliance Theatre’s Dream Hou$e edition of Encore Atlanta. Go see the show or click the cover below to peruse the rest of the program!