Thursday, May 18, 2017

6 Questions: Amy Surratt

Amy Surratt’s FIRST AND LAST (show) comes to The Club @ La MaMa on June 9th.  Amy took time out from rehearsals to answer our 6 Questions about the show, Appalachia and what working at La MaMa means to her.  You can read her answers below and get tickets to the show HERE.

1. Where did the idea for Amy Surratt’s FIRST AND LAST (show) come from?

I was in a community beauty pageant when I was a small child, and SPOILER ALERT: I didn't win. It was my first theatrical experience paired with the first time I really LOST IT as a child! I threw a fit -- which was a longstanding family joke – and an impetus for investigation. As I began this project, I started making connections to the great natural beauty and horror that lives side-by-side in Southern Appalachia. A lot of the problems of my home region are based on a long history of exploitation – and I just expanded the real pageant memory as a framework, a way into the idea of representation and the repercussions of exploitation in Appalachia.

At the same time that I was thinking about my own personal history and learning more about the distinct history of Southern Appalachia, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was topping the New York Times bestseller lists of 2016. It was recommended to me by many educated, thoughtful, ostensibly otherwise progressive people. My friends were reading it and telling me that they “finally understood” my home. I thought, that’s funny, cause I lived there 25 years and I am STILL working it out! Not to mention, the media ate it up as a way to understand “Trump voters” during the election. I mean that book was everywhere, and it’s finally starting to receive a lot of criticism for its problematic representations of Appalachian culture and people. Almost too little, too late for me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vance is using his personal “memoir” on a trajectory towards a political career as a “conservative.” It’s dull as hell to read, but it basically boils down to a familiar bootstraps narrative. Poor white Americans in Appalachia and the Rust Belt are lazy, stupid, backwards addicts with a propensity towards violence – and Vance at 30 years old is an expert! He got out! He worked hard! Learn from him, America! Poverty is the fault of the impoverished. They choose it! They ignore opportunity! This narrative justifies the abuse of the poor and the continued widening of the wealth gap because it argues that some people deserve to be stuck in poverty

What’s funny is that we are the same age, and have some similarities in our family dynamics and traumas– but Vance is either vastly ignorant of the history of the culture he was raised in, is blind to how his narrative is grossly simplistic and opportunist, or simply has no compassion or perspective. I suspect it’s a bit of all three. That’s me being kind.

The phrase “reality tv” calls to mind a more nefarious figure these days, but I began this piece thinking about Honey Boo Boo. Who will she be at 30? American media has a grotesque love/hate relationship with poverty and the stories (some camp, some romantic) they’ve built around it. I worry about that kid, and I found her celebrity to be very upsetting and often very cruel.

And, of course, I have my own Unfinished Business with Home – both America and Southern Appalachia.

So, prepare yourself, folks! There’s a lot to unpack.

2. How much of the ‘Amy Surratt’ character is Amy Surratt?

I’ve been thinking of the entire work as an elaborate and layered investigation of identity—a pageant of all the ways my own experience of the place and the people around me from my childhood are and have been represented and misrepresented in the media: from news segments covering poverty in America to television/Hollywood tropes and how the people of this place have been misrepresented by their politicians and corporate America… to the point that a lot of people have accepted the narrative as their own identity.

It’s probably best to leave you with a Hazel Dickens tune. 
Check out: “It’s Hard To Tell The Singer From The Song” 

3. What’s the biggest misconception about Appalachia?

There are many to choose from, but I think the one that is most important to our current situation is the very damaging narrative in mainstream America that rural America and Americana = whiteness, heterosexuality, political conservatism. A lot of people within and without Appalachia see the place as an origin point for this narrative. The place is often reduced to classist stereotypes.

Historically and contemporarily speaking, there’s a lot to learn and to study about the diversity of people, traditions, and cultures of Appalachia. I’ve really had a lot of my own notions challenged. And I think there are values that I learned from having been born in Southern Appalachia that are threatening to white supremacist capitalist America … which doesn’t fit the typical narrative you often hear about the place.

Appalachia is a complex, nuanced, and resilient region of America – it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it never has.

4. Who inspires you?

bell hooks, Wendell Berry, Dorothy Allison, Dolly Parton my grandmothers, my mother, the strong women who keep families all over Appalachia going, even in the face of hardship and trauma … and to all the outlaws, LGBTQ folk, anti-capitalist and progressive members of the rural resistance out there who are standing together and fighting the good fight against the Trump administration and white supremacist “Alt-Right” -- I SEE YOU! – you are needed, and you inspire me!

5. What was the last good book you read?

Skin by Dorothy Allison was a big influence on me as a person, as was Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks.

But unrelated to the show, I was also pretty excited by House of Leaves By Mark L Danielewski and I am looking forward to re-reading it this summer.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

La MaMa is one of the few remaining spaces in New York City to take an artistic risk, and to create experimental work as an emerging artist. It’s incredible. And in many ways it’s THE nexus for downtown theatre and original performance art. I am very privileged to be a part of this community, and learn something every day from the influx of theatre makers through these spaces. It’s a home for so many of us.


La MaMa presents

Amy Surratt’s 


Written and Performed by Amy R. Surratt
Created in collaboration with Kristen Holfeuer and Tosha Rachelle Taylor
Scenic Design by Greg Laffey | Costume Design by Dusty Childers (aka Dust Tea Shoulders) | Lighting Design by Cecilia Durbin
Video Projection and Media Design by s.o. O’Brien and Erin Lemkey

June 9 - 18, 2017
Friday and Saturday at 9:30pm; Sunday at 6pm

The Club @ La MaMa
74A East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $20 Adult Tickets; $15 Student/Seniors - ten $10 tickets available for every performance, in advance only, as part of La MaMa's 10 @ $10 ticketing initiative. 

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE