Ariel Mitchell is a young playwright from Maryland whose star is on the rise. Her play Give Me Moonlight receives its world premiere in Baltimore by Rapid Lemon Productions. We caught up with Ariel to talk about her work.
Where did “Give Me Moonlight” come from? How did you come to learn about the history on which it’s based?
A few years back, I was on a family trip to Death Valley (we went to a lot of National Parks as a family). When looking at the literature of places we could visit in the valley, we were surprised to see “Scotty’s Castle” listed as an option. There’s a castle in Death Valley? Of course, our curiosity was piqued and we went to discover this enchanting Spanish-style villa in the middle of nowhere. Rangers dressed up in period clothing and gave tours of the house, telling stories about the architecture and the people who built it. But mainly the stories were about Scotty, a con-artist who pretended to have a gold mine under the foundations of the castle, and all of the tales he told to visitors to the house. There wasn’t much about the Johnsons, the couple who actually paid for, designed, and lived in the castle. After the tour, I gathered all the literature I could. I wanted to know… why would anyone give so much of their means, time, and patience to build a castle for a blowhard (albeit lovable) like Scotty?
What about the story said to you “this needs to be a stage play”?
I don’t know if it did initially. I was curious. The mystery drew me in. I needed to find the answer to my question and when I have curiosity or questions, I like to write them out, put ideas into the minds of characters, and let them talk it out. When I started to do that, give the Johnsons a little more time and detail than they were allowed on my tour of the castle, the play started to find some life and I started to find answers. There were so many clues to who these people were touring the castle… the solar panels and unique waterfall cooling system designed by engineer Albert Johnson; the chapel where his wife Bessie would preach sermons each Sunday; and a tapestry of Don Quixote in the great hall, a favorite of Albert’s. I began to see their dreams and pour deeper into their hearts. I allowed surreal, stylized, and miraculous elements to enter into the piece (thank you Cervantes). And I began to feel that these were people who chose to step aside and let Scotty step into the spotlight and stay there for the rest of history. And I got frustrated. I pigheadedly wanted to push them into center stage. I felt like the Scotty’s castle ‘origin’ story needed to be told from a different perspective. However, it wasn’t until two years after starting the project that I really was convinced it needed to be a play. In April of 2015, I had a miscarriage. When I was struggling through my own loss, I was prompted to pour my heart into this script. The couple in “Give Me Moonlight” struggles with how to deal with trials and not let them consume them, while also trying to support those suffering around them. You know, life. Give Me Moonlight is incredibly special and important to me because I have lived it in a completely different way than a lot of my shows. When I needed a direction, it was there. I was able to write when my world looked darkest. If it could be a solace and guiding light for me, my moonlight in the darkness, I hoped on stage it could and would be a solace for someone else.
How do you think the landscape of opportunities has changed for non-male playwrights in recent years?
In my experience as a female playwright, even if there hasn’t been a drastic change in the ratio of who receives opportunities, I think that there is definitely more of an awareness of who is considered. So most every opportunity I see and apply to at least mentions how much they value and welcome diverse and non-male playwrights. It’s a good shift. All voices should have the opportunity to be heard.
What other plays have you had produced, locally or elsewhere?
I’ve had a couple of other plays produced. Last year my play A Second Birth, about an Afghani girl raised as a boy, was produced in New York City by THML Theatre Company. It was previously produced at Brigham Young University when I was an undergrad there. Also in 2018, a one act version of my new play “The Shower Principle,” a female scientist’s comedic assessment of her new role as mother, was produced in the NY Winterfest Theater Festival.
What’s next? Is there a new script in the works?
Of course! There’s always a script. My focus right now is expanding “The Shower Principle” from a one-act and a one woman endeavor into a full length two person foray into the strange, isolating, and all encompassing world that is new parenthood. It’s a show in 3 acts (long scenes): (1) Taking place over the six weeks of her maternity leave from an engineering position at a dental tool company, Liz loses sleep, friends, and self respect in her new occupation: Mom. (2) A one man transition into fatherhood. From the moment the child actually becomes real, Mike struggles to know what he should do or if he CAN do anything. (3) The first date postpartum. It’s a fun show.
“Give Me Moonlight” appears February 7 – 16 at Motor House, 120 W. North Avenue, Baltimore. For tickets visit online.