Rockford New Play Festival: Hi, Mildred. Would you mind telling us where you’re from and where you live now?
Mildred Lewis: I was raised on the border of Harlem and Washington Heights in New York City. Now I live in the Los Angeles metroplex after stops in the mighty Midwest. Viva Milwaukee and Oberlin, Ohio!
RNPF: We’re thrilled to have you on board for the Festival! Can you tell us about the origins of Not Peace But A Sword?
Mildred: Thank you. It is an honor especially because this is the Festival’s inaugural year. I am honored to be in the company of very wonderful and very different writers.
In Not Peace But A Sword, I wanted to explore the aggression between a woman who was experiencing domestic violence and a female friend who is trying to “fix” her. It’s a short play because I wasn’t interested in exploring back story or going on a journey. I’m trying to catch an instant between these women where their relationship is on the knife’s edge and anything – sensuality, rage, love, violence – is possible.
RNPF: Is there a particular playwright, author and/or other artist that you consider a hero or major influence of your own work?
Mildred: Julie Taymor for her visual audacity. Audre Lorde for demonstrating the importance of telling the truth. John Patrick Shanley and Lanford Wilson for their poetry. Romare Bearden because he issued me the greatest challenge of my artistic life: to create an African American mythology in my work to rival that of the Greeks. Maria Irene Fornes because she merges intellectual sophistication, emotional power and simplicity of form.
RNPF: What appeals to you about writing for the stage vs. other forms of dramatic storytelling?
Mildred: Writing for theater is an honor and a responsibility. There is something very special, even sacred about this work. To know that I’m connected to Lorraine Hansberry and Sophocles is daunting, but incredibly inspiring at the same time. I love the theater’s traditions and essential optimism.
More practically, things can happen very quickly in a way that is impossible for even small scale film and television projects. I like being able to address topical issues, while they’re still topical. I also think it is a virtue that staging a play costs so much less than visual media. That opens many doors.
RNPF: What’s next for you? Any projects you’re currently working on or plans for the near future?
Mildred: I’m working on a television series about a female gangster. I’m also completing a full length play, Danang, about Americans working in an international NGO.