PCS Blog

“Bo-Nita” Playwright Elizabeth Heffron

Posted by Alice Hodge | 07 February 2014


Bo-Nita playwright Elizabeth Heffron.


Tell us about your initial process for writing Bo-Nita. How did this story come about? How did the character of Bo-Nita develop for you?

Bo-Nita comes out of an early childhood in St. Louis.  Her story is not mine, but there are a number of parallels and I just started hearing her voice in my head. I had been working on a series of fairly technical plays that required a lot of research - including the beginnings of a whole series on nuclear power - and I would sometimes give myself a break by switching over to BO-NITA and just let her rip. I really wanted to capture a 13-year-old voice that wasn't self-aware. That was making no judgements about the cards she'd been dealt, because this was just how life was.  She hadn't yet reached an age or a safe enough place to begin evaluating it. 


You workshopped Bo-Nita at JAW in 2012. For readers who might not know much about the festival, what was that process like for you as a playwright?

I LOVED the JAW process.  Even though there were six different plays being workshopped in their own rehearsal areas, I really appreciated that we were all able to hear each others' work at the beginning and then come back together about it at the end of the process.  It helped form a cohesive group and allowed me to learn from a number of other writers I don't normally get to mix with. In this field, being from Seattle, like Portland, means that we are about as far away as you can get from the epicenter of the business. Having the chance to get to know writers and dramaturgs from points elsewhere was great. The information and advice that was exchanged has been invaluable to me.


How did Bo-Nita develop during JAW? Did much change?

Although the major arcs in the story were there before JAW, I had just done a major rewrite and discovered that the play was all being channeled through this one young person (as opposed to 5 or 6 different characters). This was new coming into JAW, and I feel really lucky to have been given the gift of Kate Eastwood Norris as the actor to first take the character of Bo-Nita off the page and into three dimensions. The JAW process really helped me and Braden Abraham [who directed the staged reading at JAW] and Kate find the right balance of exposition to 'scene work' for this one-person play.


What was it like to see Bo-Nita staged at JAW for the first time? Was the audience response what you expected?

It was incredible! And a relief that it worked. The audience response was very engaged and wonderful. I think I was surprised at how willing people were to go all the way with this girl – towards some very funny moments, but also some incredibly sad ones.  In terms of the character, it became really evident to me that Bo-Nita does not see herself as a victim, and her truth comes from a straightforward, but deeply hopeful place. It's clear we are meeting her on the cusp of things, and – depending on how the larger village around her responds – her future could go in a variety of directions.


Beyond the success of Bo-Nita, did you see any other benefits from participating in JAW?

In addition to those mentioned above, I think going somewhere like JAW, and being presented with such beautiful hospitality and freedom amid new faces, new ideas, different energies, leads to some fascinating new movements in your own work.


Bo-Nita had its premiere in Seattle last year. What was it like to see the first fully staged production?

The Seattle premiere for the play was really powerful for me.  I was involved in rehearsals, especially the first few weeks, and the Seattle Rep put together an extremely talented, all-local team (director Paul Budraitis, actor Hannah Mootz, set designer Jennifer Zeyl) and gave us the freedom to really explore Bo-Nita and her world.  The premiere felt like coming home.


We loved having you back in Portland for the first few rehearsals of Bo-Nita!

It was terrific seeing Kate again and getting to know Gretchen better, and watching their first moments out-of-the-gate.  I'm really impressed with the deep support going into this production.  From the simple, intimate set design, all the way to the community talk-backs with YWCA counselors that are being weaved into the fabric of this experience.


Playwright Elizabeth Warren first developed Bo-Nita at PCS’ JAW playwrights festival in July 2012 and later premiered it at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in October 2013. Her other new works include Portugal, about a nuclear accident at the Hanford Reservation and The Weatherman Project (co-written with Kit Bakke). Other full-length plays include New Patagonia, and Mitzi’s Abortion: A Saint’s Guide to Late-Term Politics and Medicine in America. Elizabeth currently teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, ACT and Freehold Theatre/Lab, where she’s worked with incarcerated women on inmate-generated performance pieces. She is an alumna of Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Writers Group, and a member of the Sandbox Artists Collective and the Dramatists Guild. 



Bo-Nita runs through March 16. Tickets available HERE.
Learn more about the events surrounding this production HERE.


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