Meet Inda Craig-Galván, author of BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA and A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER.
Her work is raw, honest, and hilarious. Her plays explore real-world problems wrapped in the dynamic magic of the theatre. She took some time to discuss these two plays in depth and reveals the best advice she’s ever received. Read now to learn more about her process of writing this play and the importance (or necessity) of collaboration within theatre.
by Katie Stottlemire
"If you are born with powers (or they’re bestowed on you), and you make the choice to use those powers for good when you could literally do anything else, that feels more admirable to me... Also, invisibility. That’s dope."
KATIE STOTTLEMIRE: Let’s start with your newest play A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER. It follows the relationship between two characters, Dru and Gina, from their first encounter with each other. Their initially different lives become woven together when Dru begins to hear the noise that keeps Gina inside her apartment. What led to the decision to have the two characters share this experience?
INDA CRAIG-GALVÁN: I was excited to put two vastly different characters in the same space and see how they affected each other. A truth that I explore in all my writing is that Black women, Black people, we are not a monolith. Dru and Gina each move through the world so differently. Their core goals might have started out similar – the fight for justice and equity. But what they each value as well as what they each fear has molded them and their approaches to that fight over time. Taking two women from such far poles and inserting one into the other’s life, and then forcing them to stay there, that’s where the great conflict lies. The real examination of those values and choices. And isn’t it like that in life? Economic backgrounds, education, religion, geography, even skin, body, and hair type, all of it can play into the individual experience a Black person has in this country.Yet at the end of the day, the forces outside of ourselves – those who hate us for merely existing –they don’t give a damn if a Black woman went to Harvard or dropped out of high school. They’re still going to be there hollering and cursing, enacting and upholding racist laws, suppressing votes and gerrymandering. Oppressing.It’s the oppression that keeps Gina and Dru in that space. They’ve always been in the same space, even when they didn’t realize it.
KATIE: Right. Our choices and values define who we are, but so do the oppressions we are subjected to. Now, let’s talk BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA, which explores what makes a superhero. What’s your personal take on what makes a good superhero? How can superheroes be dangerous?
INDA: There’s this debate in the play between the two boys. They’re arguing over whether it’s better to be a superhero with powers or to be a non-superhero – someone with no powers who decides to step up, out of a heightened sense of responsibility or justice. Or maybe it’s just vigilantism. Maybe it’s borne out of ego. I think I’d have to agree with Flat Joe. If you are born with powers (or they’re bestowed on you), and you make the choice to use those powers for good when you could literally do anything else,that feels more admirable to me. A true superhero could just coast through life. Float above it. Nothing comes hard for them. But when they choose to help others in need, despite having all the resources in the world/multiverse, there’s a fantastic sense of selflessness. Literally, everyone else is beneath them. They’re exalted. To be that powerful and still get down and dirty to help others who can’t help themselves. That’s what makes a good superhero. Also, invisibility. That’s dope. It becomes dangerous when supes/non-supes become complacent. When they phone it in. When they forget their why. And, of course, when they embrace their dark/bizarro side. It’d be so tempting to over-indulge. To take advantage. To believe their own hype. To purchase Twitter. That shit’s dangerous.
PHOTO: GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 2019 (L-R, Kimberly Hébert Gregory and Cedric Joe in Black Super Hero Magic Mama. Directed by Robert O'Hara. Photo credit: Jeff Lorch.)
KATIE: I agree, it’s very dangerous. Superheroes are not inherently good—they have to make the choice. The superhero in BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA is based on Sabrina, Tramarion’s mother. Do you have any personal heroes in your own life?
INDA: I’m cautious of hero worship. People invariably disappoint. Live long enough and you find out things you wish you hadn’t learned. Listen long enough and people will tell on themselves. Instead, I try to recognize the good in every person, keeping in mind that we’re all human.
KATIE: “Keeping in mind at we’re all human.” That’s vital. And yet, sometimes people forget that we’re human, especially when they have expectations of us. BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA interrogates the intimacies of how the personal can become political while A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER explores different ways of practicing activism. Both plays highlight the ways in which others prescribe or expect certain actions from people, often in regard to their activism. What is your hope in portraying these expectations and the impact they have on individuals?
INDA: When I wrote Black Super Hero Magic Mama, I was incredibly frustrated with the expectations placed all too often on grieving Black mothers. I continue to feel this. It still resonates. Still pisses me off. The role of the media in propagating this myth of protocol, a burden that’s NEVER placed on other mothers who have lost their children, it’s shameful. With a hit dog, it’s the constant refrain that Black women lead movements. True, and the acknowledgement is appreciated. But why is there an unfair reliance and expectation? My hope is to hold up a mirror and say, “Hey, yo, this isn’t okay. You see what’s happening, right? You see it. Of course you see it. Now maybe stop.” Let Black women live and grieve and fight and breathe and sleep (cousin of death, I know, but sis needs a nap sometimes).
KATIE: Speaking of breathing and sleeping (and overall care for the self), what’s a piece of advice you’ve received recently (writing related or life related) that has had a lasting impact on you and your artistry?
INDA: It wasn’t recent, but it was invaluable and has stuck with me for decades. As an artist starting out with two younger children, I was worried that it was too late to embark on the career I wanted. I couldn’t take all the classes my peers were taking. I couldn’t put in the same hours that would require me to be away from home. At the time, I was studying sketch and improv in Chicago and my instructor was Anne Libera. Also a mother. She told me there’s no right way to do it. You don’t have to take the path others are taking. You have to do what works for you and your family. That advice has helped me on so many occasions. That work led to me acting for years as well as continuing to write sketch. That led me to playwriting and eventually to starting grad school at the same time my daughter was starting undergrad. I held onto Anne’s words as I made my way around campus with 20-somethings whizzing past me on electric scooters. I held onto her words as I made the decision to incorporate several sketch and improv tropes into my playwriting. Black Super Hero Magic Mama’s format and structure stem from that. I experimented and learned to do what worked for me. That advice helped me to find my voice as a writer and still rings in my being as I decide how to take on new challenges. Yay, Anne. Okay, maybe that’s some hero shit. (Anne, please don’t tweet anything horrible and ruin this moment.)