SPEAKING WITH AMY MERRILL

This photograph, taken December, 2017 in Dubai, is of the first face to meeting of Her Story Is, women in Iraq and the US in dialogue and collaboration. Over the following four days, we gave presentations about our work, told personal stories, laughed and cried together. The interview below, conducted by Dan Blask, of the Massachusetts Cultural Council,  tells a little more about this fascinating international collaboration and my work as a playwright. 

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What are the origins of the Her Story Is project?
Her Story Is, dialogue and presentation between female artists from Iraq and the Boston area, is the latest chapter in an ongoing collaborative people-to-people project between artists Iraq and the Boston area. Back in 2010, Anne Loyer, a local visual artist, and Amir al-Azaki, a playwright and professor at the University of Basra, began speaking and presenting work. Gradually, Fort Point Theater Channel became involved, producing Amir’s plays The Land and Waiting for Gilgamesh. In 2016, Amir, Anne, Marc Miller from Fort Point, and I began organizing The Basra-Boston Project which, like Her Story Is, was a program of collaborative work between artists from the two countries.

What have you found most exciting about participating in Her Story Is?
Sitting, with three other artists from the Boston area, around the table in a hotel room in Dubai with three wonderful women artists from Iraq and three Iraqi translators, in December 2017. Waiting to begin. Learning how to connect. A close second is writing and rehearsing The Song Which Has Forgotten to Grow Older, a play written by Elham Nasser al-Zabeedy and me.

Do you work on multiple projects simultaneously or do you prefer to focus on one at a time?
Recently, I have had the good fortune to have a number of projects on my plate. I like feeling as though I can go back and forth, that I can be nimble. Also, it’s important for me to show to myself and others that I can write about all kinds of things in all kinds of ways. In addition to the collaborative Her Story Is work, I have been working hard on my new play, Ardent Girls, about the real-life 1896 encounter between reformer Jane Addams and Leo Tolstoy.

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The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire.

How do you know when your work is done?
It’s never done. I just step away from a particular project or dream up new plays that reflect my obsessions of the time.

There are common themes to my work, like improbable encounters, but recently I am focusing on plays that are built around an historical event. Jane Addam’s 1896 visit with Tolstoy. The response of a veteran of the Iraq war to the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad.

What are you currently reading?
Murder mysteries and books related to my play projects. Recently, I was inspired by Miriam Cooke’s Women and the War Story. The poems and writing of Dunya Mikhail, an Iraqi poet and activist, who left Iraq in 1996 and now lives in the Detroit area.

What films have influenced you as an artist?
Memorable film(s): Coming Home, with Bruce Dern, Jane Fonda, and John Voigt. A former nurse, I love the hospital scenes. Robert Altman’s Nashville.