It’s been our great privilege to work with playwright Jo Kadlecek on the development of her incredible play Hell Hole, about historical figure Dorothy Day. Set in the early 1920s, New York City is alive with possibilities. Communist reporter Mike Gold, playwright Eugene O’Neill and socialist writer Dorothy Day are friends and drinking buddies at the “Hell Hole Bar” on New York’s lower east side. But their futures are as uncertain and daunting as the city streets crowded with new immigrants, suffragettes, and exploited workers. Dorothy is drawn to the protests and ultimately, to a passionate love affair with an atheist that leads her to an astonishing decision few understand: she becomes a Catholic. Based on historic events and actual writings from Day’s works.
Jo is originally from Colorado and most recently Boston, she now lives on the Sunshine Coast where she writes and teaches memoir and fiction workshops. As a reporter, she has written for numerous publications in the U.S., including The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, North Shore Magazine, New York Post and Religion News Service. Jo has also published five novels and seven books of nonfiction, and has written numerous scripts for reader’s theatre, four plays and one feature length screenplay. She holds a master of arts degree in humanities and another in cross cultural communication.
WE CAUGHT UP WITH JO TO ASK HER A FEW QUESTIONS
Tell us about a typical day in the life of Jo Kadlecek? Read. Coffee. Walk the dog. Write. Swim. Read. Write. Cook. Repeat. 🙂 Seriously, each day starts with reading, reflection and a walk with Clark Kent, our 8 year old spoodle. I try to write something each day, whether a scene, a rewrite, a letter or an article. I’m also working on some talks. I often meet with folks for coffee or a walk on the beach and end the days either with a book, an article or some more writing. Don’t do much television, except for the occasional Netflix BBC mystery or something. (And sometimes my husband and I go fishing in our little boat on the Noosa river, but rarely catch anything.)
You’re American by birth and you’ve been here in Australia for almost four years. What cultural differences have you observed in everyday aspects of life? What do you miss most? We might both speak English but I’m forever having to ask interpretations of words like: arvo, woop woop, snags, and abbreviations, i.e., musos, journos, etc. Even food names are different, i.e. scallions vs spring onions, cantaloupe vs rock melon, ground beef vs mince. I love that Aussies “have” a lot of things: have a think about it, have a sleep, have a cuppa. (Americans just think, sleep, drink.) That’s been fun —and wild—for a person who’s made her living with words! And I also always have to stop and figure out what season I’m in since June and July, for instance, in the U.S. are summer ‘vacations’ (not holidays) and Christmas is always winter, celebrated only in December, not starting in November! 🙂 I really value Aussies’ generally easy-going nature, though I have noticed that Aussies tend to live for the weekend, and are often defined by their leisure, whereas Americans tend to be workaholics and defined by their careers. I think both could learn a lot from the other, and kind of wish they/we could! What do I miss most? Honestly, just nieces, nephews and friends. So I’m grateful for Skype while I have the privilege of discovering new creative perspectives, creatures and customs on the other side of the world.
What made you pursue writing a play about Dorothy Day? Years ago a friend in Denver introduced me to the Catholic Worker Hospitality House, which Dorothy Day started in the 1930s. I joined her for a Catholic Worker road trip/pilgrimage across the U.S. and have appreciated/admired Day’s legacy of social justice and caring for the urban poor ever since. But it was the events that led to her Catholic conversion that fascinated me most—any time someone makes a really costly choice to follow another path in life, I’m intrigued. (And truth be told, I was completing a master’s degree in humanities so I could merge all of my interests into a creative thesis. A very early version of “Hell Hole” formed the basis of that thesis.)
You’ve written an abundance of books and Hell Hole is your first major foray into writing for the stage… what excites you about theatre? My aunt is a professional actor and I still remember as a kid that first theatre experience watching her on stage—magical, transcendent, fun and profound all at the same time. I’ve loved theatre ever since and have always gone to whatever production I could find wherever I lived (Denver, Mississippi, NYC, Boston, now Queensland). I’ve dabbled in playwriting for years, adapting short stories to the stage or writing short plays. But I never felt quite confident enough to pursue it professionally, unlike my journalism or books. I think playwriting is the highest form of writing, or at least the most difficult (for me) because it also relies on a community of artists to make it work. It continues to amaze me that people can gather around a story that’s told entirely in dialogue, bring their gifts and talents to a stage, and then share them with complete strangers to create a single, unrepeatable experience that brings us all together and takes us places at the same time! That’s the gift of art, isn’t it? It builds community and makes us better human beings, or I think it’s supposed to.
Tell us how the writing process works for you. Does it energize or exhaust you? I’m sort of an introvert so writing has always energized me, even if it’s writing something others would find boring. Whenever I’ve taught writing classes in universities, I love the interaction with students but I always find the writing process is life giving for me. Writing informs my teaching, and teaching has made my writing better. (And hopefully some students and readers have learned something along the way.)
What scene in Hell Hole was the hardest to write? No question the hardest scene for me to write was when Dorothy Day is on stage alone, deciding whether she can follow her faith and still love her man. It’s a choice of loves and in many ways, it’s a prayer. I was afraid this scene could become trite or sappy or cliche—but it was a very real spiritual tension for Day in her life, knowing that if she made the decision to join the church it would have hard implications for those she loved. It’s loaded with drama but it’s a monologue that took me many attempts to get it to a point that rings true and real and hopefully, new.
Do you believe in writer’s block? Nope. Next question. 🙂
What have you learned from the characters in the play? The world was changing so much in the time the play is set; ideologies, beliefs, lifestyles all were being confronted in radical ways in the U.S. in those 1920s. Day and her friends worked hard to navigate their way through such change with integrity, and ended up on very different paths. Yet, they still managed to retain a warm respect and care for one another, even with their differences. That challenges me deeply, and makes me hope that we, too, can engage in meaningful conversations with friends unlike ourselves.
This world premiere of Hell Hole, will see Clock and Spiel productions develop and workshop the play throughout the year with a talented group of cast, culminating in a staged reading. Please visit our website or follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date on how you can see this exciting play.