The path of the writer is a difficult one. Any act of expression brings with it a requisite amount of self-doubt and anxiety, as no piece of work - no words - can ever fully embody the totality of the creator's vision. After the words have been chosen, however, another struggle begins. How does one go about actually getting one's work into the hands of readers? Or rather, in the case of La'Chris Jordan, to the eyes and ears of an audience?
Jordan began writing when she was 19 years old. Now 35, a published poet ("Musings of an Eccentric Dreamer," 2001) and playwright as well as an aspiring novelist, she is no stranger to the struggle inherent in both the art and business of her medium. It's a struggle she accepts and embraces, for it offers not only pain, but salvation.
"For me," she says, "writing is a way of creating beauty from pain, because pain is something everybody feels. Being a writer is in essence being a healer through words."
As a healer, she has learned the most important lesson: Physician, heal thyself. Her first play, "Sadie's Kitchen," currently running at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center (LHPAC), is her most personal work to date. Writing for the theater has offered her new possibilities for communicating the emotional complexities of her experiences.
"I always thought that I'd be able to best express myself through poetry," says Jordan, "but it can be hard to reach people with a poem. Poetry deals with feelings in a way that most people don't take the time to understand. Novels are even tougher - they have to be full of fictitious elements just to make them sellable. With a play, you have to create a picture through both words and movement. It's so much more direct and immediate, but, like a poem, it still relies on emotional truth."
The opening night of "Sadie's Kitchen" at LHPAC was the culmination of almost a year of hard work. Both because of, and in spite of, its autobiographical nature, the script came easily to Jordan. She began writing it in December 2004 and finished in February 2005.
"'Sadie's Kitchen' actually began in a dream," she says. "I had this very vivid dream about two sisters in a kitchen having a very heated argument and I woke up with this feeling of inspiration. It wasn't until I was well into it that I realized I was writing my own story."
After the script was completed, the grant-writing process began.
"The momentum was amazing," says Jordan. "The project just sort of snowballed. I applied for grants and afterwards everything just sort of fell into place."
Jordan was a recipient of the Artist Trust GAP Fund, a Washington state-funded grant awarded to individual artists for creative excellence. The Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop in New York then selected "Sadie's Kitchen" to premiere at the 2005 National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was thrilling for Jordan to hear her play read at the festival, but the project finally felt complete after the first full stage production at LHPAC.
"Opening night was incredible," she says. "Everyone was so supportive and the cast was in their glory. It felt like, after all that time, the play finally took on a life of its own. It was a reminder that once a story's written, it's no longer yours. It's part of the experience that we all share and, everybody, from the reader to the cast to the audience, will bring their own past and their own emotion to it"
Jordan is an actress as well as a playwright. She has performed in many local productions, including Seattle Chamber Theater's lauded rendition of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and "Meet and Greet" at LHPAC. Her experience as an actor led her to trust her cast implicitly with her words.
"I wanted every actor to find his or her way through 'Sadie's Kitchen,'" she says. "It helped that the director, Isiah Anderson Jr. and I were on the same page from day one. He really allowed the words to be spoken as they were meant to be, in ways that I hadn't even imagined. Both he and the cast took the play and truly made it their own."
Aside from their duties as playwright and director, Jordan and Anderson also portray characters in "Sadie's Kitchen." Acting a part in her own play, participating in the process of actually making it come alive, is an experience that she relishes.
"Every actor has his or her own reason for playing a role, myself included," she says. "During rehearsal, I made a conscious decision to separate the actor from the playwright, but all of that melted away when we were all actually onstage. The performance has a flow all its own, and I was simply a part of it."
Now at work on her second play, "Betty's Wish," Jordan hopes to continue writing with the combination of introspection and interpersonal connection that has made "Sadie's Kitchen" such a singular experience for her.
"After you've written something this personal," she says, "you've probably healed some of your pain. But there's always more to say. It's just a part of the process."
Sean Molnar may be reached via sdistrictjournal.com.