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Conversations with Wendy Graf

Today we’d like to introduce you to Wendy Graf.

Hi Wendy, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I am a TV/film writer and a playwright whose plays have been produced nationally and internationally. I was always a theater person and a storyteller – I wanted to be an actress. I began writing things for me to act in, including a standup act that I performed all over Los Angeles. As it turned out, I wasn’t a very good actress. I then met a successful TV writer producer, who became familiar with my work, and he brought me a stack of TV scripts and said “write one of these – you will make a fortune in television.”I did, and I went on to have a successful career in TV, writing for such shows as Murder, She Wrote, ALF, and the first season of Full House among others. My TV career ended however with the birth of my second child when I couldn’t keep up the hours of a staff television writer. I then went on to write screenplays for a couple of years that were optioned but never made.

Frustrated, I gave up and looked for something else to do. My husband, a criminal attorney, one day told me he didn’t like his private investigator, and I said “I can do that!” based on my work on Murder, She Wrote! I then went back to school to Nick Harris Detective Academy – one of the most fun things I ever did – then went on to work for my 3,000 hours, took the PI State test and got my license. Meanwhile… 13 years old daughter at the time went to Idyllwild Arts for the summer and took Playwriting. She wrote a play which she produced and directed at her school. Inspired by her, I said to myself “It’s time to get back to what I really love, and I wrote my first professionally produced play. Over 30 productions later, the rest is history! I still maintain my PI license but doesn’t give me the same thrill as working in the theater and seeing my words come to life.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
A life in the theater is never a smooth road. There are high highs and low lows. There are good years (five productions!) and bad (none, especially the year everything was canceled due to Covid). There are many personalities to deal with. There are zillions of outside voices saying “Don’t” and “No!” it is a challenge to listen to your gut and your inner voice and trust them, stay true to them… There are phases in what’s popular over the years and you must write for yourself and not for what is a la mode or what someone else wants you to write – unless they commission it and are paying you a lot of money!

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I write of themes I return to again and again: family, identity, home. In much of my work, these themes have played out against a backdrop or seen through a lens of the social, political and religious landscape of our times. It has been said that I provide a voice for the voiceless. My plays are challenging, provocative, dangerous and always ask hard questions. I do not provide answers but aim to have the audience talk about the play on the way home, argue it out, go across the street and have a drink and discuss. I leave it up to the audience to provide their answers. I am very proud that my plays, while entertaining, are meaningful and challenging. My characters may not always be “nice” and sympathetic, but they are interesting and raise consciousness. I have also promoted diversity in my work – I have won the GLAAD award, NAACP awards and others. I am constantly asked, “what do you want the audience to take away with them?” As always, I don’t not presume to offer answers, only questions. I have no agenda for what I want the audience to take away with them except to see the truth of human behavior and something of their own humanity. To see something of themselves reflected on the stage and in one way or another understand it, not necessarily condone nor accept it, but understand it. I leave it up to the audience to answer the questions. I hope it will start conversations about why, and maybe if we can talk about why and try to understand it, then maybe we can start to change it.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
Being a playwright and having your work viewed, read or produced is always a risk – you subject yourself and leave yourself wide open to anyone with an opinion, good or bad, smart or stupid! Every time you submit your material it’s a risk – you must develop a thick skin and learn to take rejection, as it isn’t always about the material it could be about a myriad of reasons. Every time one’s play is produced there’s always a risk: will it go well? Will it get good reviews? Will people buy tickets? Will it be a success? Twice I decided to produce plays myself – that was a huge risk but you have to be prepared that you are going to probably lose money, it’s just a matter of how much! It’s kind of ironic because in my life, I’m not a huge risk taker – makes me unbearable anxious. But for some reason, I keep coming back as far as the theater is concerned!

Contact Info:

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  • Instagram: wendylgraf
  • Facebook: Wendy Graf
  • Twitter: @WendyGraf

Image Credits:

For my headshot: Rich Schmidt photography Graphics/photography by Kiff Scholl, International City Theater, Olivia Weissblum, Rainbow Theater Project, D.C., LAB Theater Project, Tampa, Rick Friesen, Wendy Graf, Original Works Publishing/ Tim Sullen/Victory Theater/Jennifer Logan, Palisadian Post

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