Keep an Eye On: Star Finch
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Posted by: Lauren Spencer
Star Finch has a pressing question in mind: “How do I talk to women of color and give something raw and true, but also something they can take with them to figure something out on their own?”
It’s a question that has become a kind of compass for her work, one that was woven through the fabric of her play H.O.M.E. (Hookers On Mars Eventually), a Campo Santo production that premiered at the Strand last June. H.O.M.E., an Afro-futuristic meditation on motherhood, femininity, sisterhood, and gentrification (to name a few), received critical praise for its “muscular poetry” and imaginative vision, highlighting Finch as a bold new voice in theatre.
Playwright Star Finch. Photo courtesy Star Finch.
Although the San Francisco native began her graduate career at SF State with aspirations to write a novel, she soon found herself gravitating toward theater. “In workshop, people would say ‘There’s a lot of dialogue. This is almost like a play.’ Then my second semester I needed a class and the only class open was a playwriting class with Michelle Carter. It was such a different energy. I loved going to see the plays and talking about them and I just took a turn in that direction.”
Finch became involved with Campo Santo when company member and fellow SF State alum, Juan Amador shared a draft of an early play with program director, Sean San Jose. San Jose invited her to join Clika, the company’s writing and development cohort. “We met once a week and you could bring anywhere from three to 10 pages. The play was about gentrification in San Francisco. It was just me channeling all my rage about the way the city had changed. Sean gave me a reading and then said ‘Alright, give me something new. What else you got?’ And I started H.O.M.E.”
Finch has also acted as a collaborator on the company’s production of Babylon is Burning and is currently working on a commission about the medical marijuana industry. Now a company member, she considers Campo Santo a vital artistic home. “In other spaces I'm always questioning, is this valid, is this worthy. And at Campo I don't feel that. It's never a question of what stories or what characters have value. Being able to communicate with someone and to know they get where I am coming from, I think that's big."
One element of where Finch is coming from is her experience of living through two tech booms and the resulting displacement of local communities and their artists. “Anybody who has lived it, knows it. It's just this feeling of helplessness: I have no control in this situation. I have no value. So yeah, in general gentrification definitely plays a role in my writing.”
She also references her undergraduate work in anthropology as a significant influence. “I dove into everything having to do with race and gender so those things are 100 percent in everything that I write. Deconstructing, zooming in on, examining race and gender, how they interact, how they were created as structures over time.”
Finch’s explorations of race and gender collide with history in her newest play Bondage, which she began writing two years ago as part of AlterLab, Alter Theater’s incubator program for new work: “The first day they said the challenge was to write something that you've never written before. Take a risk.”
Dezi Soléy stars in Bondage, Finch’s newest play. Photo by David Allen.
The result was a play that Finch describes as an Afro-surreal take on “the psychosexual horror of this mixed girl’s life” within slavery. “[Growing up mixed] I know what it felt like to have all eyes on me. But imagine what that energy and that glare must have felt like back then. Your very existence screams sex in a space where interracial sex isn't even supposed to be happening. It's about trying to hold the horror of that psychological space. Having to spend your life pretending not to see what you see and not to know what you know." Bondage, a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award, opened last week as part of Alter Theater’s 2016–2017 season.
Finch credits the process of writing Bondage with helping to clarify her intentions as an artist. “I'm telling stories for women of color and if other people can eat off of that and be nourished, fabulous."
In a tenuous time when many artists are contemplating their responsibility and response to the political present, Star Finch embraces playwriting as both an act of resistance and world building.
"It's a world that we have to create and imagine together,” she says. “At its best, theater makes you have questions for yourself, for your relationship, for your government. How can we keep pulling off the veil? Especially if you're an artist. You have to bear witness. That's what I keep telling myself. Don't look away. Don't get frozen. Just keep witnessing, keep questioning, and keep imagining what a better version or a new version would look like."
Bondage runs at Alter Theater through April 16th. http://www.altertheater.org/bondage
Lauren Spencer is an actor, activist, and teaching artist based in San Francisco.