We met Chelsea Marcantel two years ago at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Kentucky. This marvelous festival—where we have been taking our patrons for the last two seasons—is the greatest festival of new plays in the country, if not the world, and features many established and younger playwrights, their agents, artistic directors, literary managers, and critics from across the country. It is obviously a great place to get connected to young playwrights. After we saw Chelsea’s amazing play Airness, we were thrilled to hear from her agent that she’d like to meet us.
After talking with her about Airness and other plays she had written, I asked her if she had any ideas for a new play. And she told us about research she had been doing on who she called, “The Brides of ISIS,” American girls from the rust belt, who get seduced online by leaders of terrorist groups and end up flying to the Middle East and marrying one of these terrorists. “Wow!” I said. What an amazing exercise for the Empathy Gym to find a way into the head and heart of someone who wishes to join a terrorist organization. We wonder, “What can drive someone to turn their back on their own culture and join up with those bent on our destruction?”
In both Airness and White Girl’s Guide, what struck me the most was the way Chelsea loves her characters. She embraces them with her heart and testifies for them to us in such a tender, beautiful way, we cannot help but fall in love with them, these high school kids growing up in poor one-street towns, with parents and grandparents out of work, and their own future devoid of opportunity, the traditional supports of religion and civic involvement no longer an option. They have few choices. And if they are the type of person who desperately needs someone to believe in, something to belong to, they are ripe candidates to fall prey to cults and unscrupulous seducers of young impressionable minds.
I am so very thrilled that we were able to commission Chelsea to write this play, and that we are able now to present its world premiere in our Sandbox Series. A White Girl’s Guide to International Terrorism is the first play in our 5- year, 20-play commission program to reach production, so it is a milestone that we are proud of and excited to be presenting to you in our Empathy Gym.