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Quick Wit: Vanessa Gilbert

Melinda Lopez raps with Gilbert about the Women's Playwriting Festival, etc. logo

Vanessa Gilbert
Vanessa Gilbert is the associate artistic director of Perishable Theatre, in Providence, Rhode Island. She is also a founder of Blood From A Turnip, Rhode Island's only late-night puppet salon, and a member of El Studio La Mano, a confederacy of designers and theater artists who create objects and events.

This month, Perishable presents their 8th annual Women's Playwriting Festival, featuring three one-acts in one evening--Pretty Speeches by Katerie Morin, In The Wild by Crystal Skillman, and Finding Life by Caridad Svich--as well as a gallery exhibit and humanity discussions. I caught up with Vanessa a few days before the Festival's opening, during the tizzy of tech week.

Why "Perishable"?

It's two-fold, really. First it comes from Edward Gordon Craig, who said that all theater is perishable. Then, David Elliot founded the theater as a children's touring company with adult actors. They came into town and unrolled a big rug, told a story with sticks for props, and then rolled the rug back up and moved on. That was 18 years ago, so it's kind of an oxymoron now.

What's in store for audiences at this year's festival?

Three wildly different plays, performed all in one night. First, they'll go through a woman writer's life, from age seven to sixty--in 18 minutes. Then they'll decipher the precise world of Pretty Speeches, when a businessman hires a private detective to trail his wife. Finally, we move into the woods, with a play that travels progressively up a mountainside. These pieces are all done in the same space on the same night. For me, there is such an amazing diversity of voices...just a multitude of perspectives.

How have you seen work by women change over the past eight seasons?

Well, mainly the changes have been in who is submitting to us. This year we had 260 submissions from seven countries and four continents. We get the gamut. The biggest change, I guess, is in me--the reader. As a woman born in 1970, I have this naive idea that I've never been oppressed, but I think this is a really magical place for women.

You work hard. Do you play hard too?

One of the wonderful things about working in the theater is that at least half of the job is play. Theater artists are people who are still keyed into something organically mischievous.

How does your summer look?

I'll be directing a play in the fall, so I'll be doing a lot of prep. I'm hoping to sleep a lot and go to the beach. And I'm thinking about writing an adaptation of Jane Eyre for stage and puppets.

What do you splurge on?

I bought a really nice pair of shoes; they are my associate-artistic-director shoes. That, and lipstick.

What are you reading these days?

The America Play, again, by Suzan-Lori Parks. I'm also reading about cluster marketing--What America Buys and What it Says About Us. Also this great book, Mothers of Invention, about all these things that were invented by women--like the brassiere and the disposable diaper--and this woman in Rhode Island who created these disposable plates so she could counterfeit money.
If you could invite three playwrights to dinner, who would they be?

Mac Wellman, Richard Maxwell, and Suzan-Lori Parks.

How about any group of historical figures?

Ghengis Khan, Charlotte Brontë, Roger Williams--growing up in Rhode Island, you learn a lot about him (he seems pretty crabby)--and, oh, John Cage. He and Charlotte would probably fall in love.

What's your favorite sound?

Morning, just before the garbage truck.


Libation...oo-la-la. I've been drinking Bombay Sapphire martinis with a caper.

If you were a lipstick, what shade would you be?

I'd be the Pink of Passion Peony.

Desert or ocean?

Definitely ocean.

"Always lose" or "never play?"

I want to say "always lose," but I bet I'm a "never play." I'm always-lose in spirit, but in practice, I get really nasty when I lose.

Biggest mistake of your life?

Everything I ever did my entire first year out of college.

Luckiest break?

Getting to know my father before he died.

Favorite tech-week anti-stress remedy?

A big walk. I'm a pacer. Opening night usually deflates it, but it really takes weeks for me to totally de-stress.

Visit Perishable Theatre's website,//, for submission guidelines for the 2001 Women's Playwriting Festival.

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