One of Dael Orlandersmith’s favorite places in the world is the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Each time she visits, she makes a point to wander among the graves of both the famous – Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Chopin, among others – and the ordinary.
Dael draws her inspiration from many different areas. She had recently seen a documentary about the legendary cemetery, called “Forever,” in which there was a central character she was drawn to.
“There was a woman in the documentary I wanted to play named Michelle. Michelle is a woman from Guadeloupe who is married to a white French guy. They were married for four years and she was 20 years his senior. Her first marriage was just about having kids and the second marriage, the one with him was, despite the age difference, was love. They were only together for four years,” Dael recalled.
She initially thought she might adapt the film and take on one of the roles herself. “I never have a shortage of things to write,” she said.
A conversation with director Neel Keller, who had commissioned her to create a new piece, steered her in a different direction. “What got you into art, he asked me. Myself, I said, I don’t know. Then I thought, the books we had in our house. In a weird way, my mom did. He said, ‘Write that story,’” Orlandersmith recalled.
Inspired by a wide array of films, music, and books Orlandersmith carefully shaped a memoir, which is currently playing on Stage II through February 1. Forever received several workshops before premiering at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles. “It’s a theatrical experience with my own impressions and thoughts,” she said.
Part life story, part imagination, in Forever Orlandersmith creates a character that goes through the often painful process of self-determination, forging her identity through poetry, music, and art. “I often write about people having to invent themselves. People who have to reinvent themselves. People who have to parent themselves and be their own person. The outsider people,” she said. “I want to convey a truth. I hope I’ve given people permission to be uncomfortable and comfortable. I hope I’ve told them an interesting story and I hope I’ve told it well.”
— Steve Scarpa