Orbiter 3’s ‘I Am Not My Motherland’: Diversifying the gatekeepers

Playwright Emily Acker of Orbiter 3. (Photo by Plate3 Photography.)

Emily Acker is looking forward to the Orbiter 3 production of her play I Am Not My Motherland. Although she has won numerous awards and is a Core Playwright at InterAct Theatre Company and a member of the Foundry, a Philadelphia playwrights lab, this will be the first full production of a play that she has written.

The production is happening because Acker, along with Foundry members Douglas Williams and Emma Goidel, banded together to form Orbiter 3, a collective of young playwrights in Philadelphia. The company was inspired by 13P, a NYC collective of 13 mid-career playwrights (including Young Jean Lee, whose play Straight White Men is currently at Interact — check out BSR editor Wendy Rosenfield’s commentary on that production here) who produced one work each, and then disbanded. (Here’s our WNWN look at the Orbiter 3 launch.)

Orbiter 3 plans to dissolve in 2018 when each of its members — Lauren Feldman, Emma Goidel, Sam Henderson, James Ijames, Mary Tuomanen, Douglas Williams, and artistic director Maura Krause — will have mounted a production. “We’re not in this to be producers,” says Acker, who sees this as a process of evolution. “Maybe we’ll no longer be necessary,” she says, "or maybe someone else will take the reins.”

“Choosing yourself”

Acker also sees this as a way of investing in herself and her peers. “It’s a way of choosing yourself,” she says, and making sure that her own work gets produced. Aware that much of the recognition she has garnered has been as a student, she looks forward to her work competing in the world where money as well as creativity is a factor. “I won those awards as a young person,” she says. Now she wants others to invest in her work on its merits.

“I write socially and politically conscious plays,” says Acker, who believes that the stage is the place for examining deeper issues. Her current play is set in present day Philadelphia, and a bunker in the Negev during the 1967 Six Day War, and tells the story of a Palestinian-American surgeon and her Israeli-American resident involved in a life-saving operation.

The play’s inspiration comes from her own life. “I come from a medical family,” she says — her mother is a nurse, her father a surgeon, and her siblings are headed to medical school. She also has lived in Israel and struggles with her identification as a liberal Zionist, by which she means that she supports the right of Israel to exist while still being critical of some of its policies.

Her work is also female-centric, some of her plays having no male characters at all. “I write what I want to see on stage,” she says. “I write stories that are meaningful to me and hope they find a home.”

While she feels that gender should never be an excuse, she acknowledges that as a young woman she navigates the world differently. “Storytelling is storytelling,” she says, but the voice that tells the story is affected by gender, race, and orientation.

More women gatekeepers

While she has found allies for her work at InterAct and Azuka and PlayPenn, she points out that “Philadelphia theaters are still run by their founders,” and most of them are men, and the stories that that resonate with them may not be what young women are writing. “Women need to become leaders and gatekeepers for something to change,” she says.

Aware of recent controversies about who gets to tell whose story, she’s also not afraid to take on ethnic characters, though she feels a responsibility to do justice to the characters she creates. “I can never be that character,” she acknowledges, so she does research and interviews primary sources. It’s essential to her work. “I can’t make art if I only write about what I know.”

It’s an exciting time in her life, and she knows it. “I’m incredibly grateful for the community support,” she says, “and I am humbled and honored to do this with my friends.”

Emily Acker’s I Am Not My Motherland, directed by Rebecca Wright, is coming to St. Stephen’s Theater at 10th and Ludlow Streets  July 13-31, 2016. Tickets ($15-$20) are available online.