Erin Malone Turner
On mentors and the power of ideas
Playwright commits to diversity in her work
RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer
This has been a really good week for local playwright Erin Malone Turner. For starters, they will have a staged reading of their work Spaced Out this weekend at the Underman Theatre’s Whither Goest Thou America: Festival of New American Play Readings. And last weekend, they met their mentor and idol Audra McDonald when the singer headlined Turtle Creek Chorale’s Rhapsody Gala.
“I can’t believe this just happened,” they said after the concert at the Meyerson.
The two were paired through Advance Gender Equity (AGE) in the Arts that connected women and nonbinary artists with theater leaders. For about a year, the two met over Zoom and talked theater, playwriting, acting and the industry.
“I never thought I would get to say that I’m being mentored by Audra. She has read my scripts. She knows my life story; my breakup,” Turner said. “I have been obsessed with her since I was, like, 4, and this has just become an insanely cool opportunity. She’s just a fountain of wisdom.”
The 26-year-old Turner has received valuable advice through the mentorship that may not have come her way for quite some time otherwise.
When the mentorship started, Turner was in the middle of a commissioned piece for Kitchen Dog Theater. It was their first real-deal commission.
“She [McDonald] would ask me and encourage me to let myself shine through in my writing. Don’t worry what other people wanna see,” they said. “I told her about my ideas, and she was encouraging me relentlessly because I felt she knew the power that I have. I have agency and can trust my own instincts.”
Before Audra, Turner trusted their instincts to write Spaced Out, a full-length play and their first sci-fi or speculative fiction. Turner said that they needed to get out of their comfort zone at the time.
“This felt immediate and helped me rediscover what theater could look like for me,” Turner said.
The play is described as “a science-fiction drama that explores a family in crisis, virtual reality, miscommunication, grief and the various ways people attempt to escape their troubles — in Ollie’s case, to an alternate universe of sorts.
This surrealist play is an adventure of movement, technology and Sign Language, as well as a bizarre journey through space and time.”
Turner particularly wanted sign-language in the show. That’s part of what speaks to their spirit as a playwright.
Turner finds purpose in making sure their plays tell the stories of often-marginalized communities, including women, queer folks and, as in this case, differently-abled people.
“I really wanted to dive deeper and show what it could look like when there is a rift and how it must feel around people who don’t sign,” they said.
But ultimately, the show is about the dangers of today’s technology obsession.
“I wanted to think about that danger through the eyes of this teen,” Turner said. “We’re so used to jumping on these tiny computers, but now we’re way too engaged with these landscapes, and we try to escape into them.”
Spaced Out will have two readings this weekend and available on streaming next week. Visit Undermain.org/wgtafestival2022-1 for more information and tickets.