The line between fact and fiction is as thin as that between love and hate. For playwright and director Leigh Fondakowski, that literary line is also a vital, underutilized artistic tool. As a member of New York City's Tectonic Theater Project -- and the head writer of The Laramie Project, Moise Richard's critically acclaimed play about the murder of Matthew Shepard -- Fondakowski learned to craft poignant theater from interviews. She continues to explore this "documentary" style of making theater (likened to journalism or ethnography by some critics) in her new play, I Think I Like Girls, presented this month by the Encore Theater Company. Created from face-to-face interviews, Girlshas Fondakowski translating conversations into what she calls an "authentic representation of lesbian lives."
Since Anna Deavere Smith put this style of playwriting on the map with her groundbreaking Fires in the Mirror, other writers -- including Eve Ensler, with The Vagina Monologues, and Marc Wolf, with Another American -- have started using verbatim texts onstage. The method is truly collaborative: Much of the writing happens after the interviews are conducted, when the entire theater company gathers for semistaged brainstorming sessions. "The source material is the interviews, but the structure of the play is created by the work that happens onstage," explains Fondakowski. "You're trying to figure out in performance what ordinarily you're trying to figure out [as a writer] in front of the computer."
Though the process is arduous, involving the recording and transcribing of hundreds of interviews, Fondakowski finds the rewards worth the difficulties. "Working with interviews is really fascinating. ... There's so much beauty and poetry in ordinary people and the things that they're saying. Most people have a burning desire to tell something, to reveal some part of themselves." Lucky for Fondakowski -- and for us.