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The Story of Milk Like Sugar

BEFORE REHEARSALS BEGAN, BOSTON PLAYWRIGHT KIRSTEN GREENIDGE AND DIRECTOR M. BEVIN O’GARA SHARED THEIR THOUGHTS AND IDEAS ABOUT THEIR UPCOMING PRODUCTION OF MILK LIKE SUGAR. THE PLAY FOLLOWS 16 YEAR-OLD ANNIE’S JOURNEY OF DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO JOIN HER FRIENDS IN A PREGNANCY PACT, AND IN THIS CONVERSATION, THE ARTISTS EXPLORE THE PLAY’S QUESTIONS OF BELONGING, OPPORTUNITY, AND COMMUNITY.

M. BEVIN O’GARA (DIRECTOR): One of the things that you and I talked about, back when we first started is the idea of “Where does knowledge come from?” Can you talk a little bit about that story and where the play came from?

KRISTIN GREENIDGE (PLAYWRIGHT): I was a student teacher, and I took this class with a teacher who was talking about teaching in different schools with students from different socio-economic backgrounds. He asked a group of kids from underserved communities where knowledge comes from. They said, “It comes from your teacher.” It comes from outside of you. You get it from someone else, so it all depends on who your teacher is. Then he asked students from what we call a middle-class community where knowledge comes from. Those students said, “You have to work hard for it. It comes from hard work and you have to acquire it. That’s where it comes from.” Then he asked students from a privileged community, a private school, where knowledge comes from, and they said, “It comes from within you.” That blew my mind. I was 21, and at that time I wanted to be a teacher. It changed my entire world and how I think about things. It was heartbreaking and amazing, and it made me think about the stories I wanted to tell.

MBO: I understand the psychology of how this happens. I’m 33 years old, and I still think that a baby is going to change my life for the good. These girls [in the play] are half my age, and it hasn’t shifted all that much. Maybe it’s sort of how nature protects itself; it gets women to lie to themselves that getting pregnant is this easy thing that fixes all of your problems, and they’re just completely wrapped up in the idea of having a child, as opposed to raising a child. It’s the same way that women become wrapped up in the wedding as opposed to the marriage.

KG: There’s this whole industry that’s designed for this. Websites like The Knot, The Nest, and Pinterest and even ones that are supposed to be benign — like Etsy — they are designed for this certain life that you want to aspire to and lead. It’s just a few clicks away, and you can have this thing. For these girls, this thing is attainable, because it’s just a few actions away. You get this guy to do these things with you, and you can have this life that you want, and all the things that didn’t go right for you with your mother or your father, you can correct and make good. So you can have a do-over, and it could be easy. It’s attainable.

MBO: What you’re doing so beautifully in this play is that it’s bigger than just the child. The line that rings to me, and I remember from the first time I read this; the refrain of “I deserve them. I deserve it.” It’s because media and culture teaches us that we deserve these things. A better life. More love. The newest phone. 

KG: Because from early on, many of us equate our worth with those things. If you don’t have them, then what are you worth? And even when they don’t seem as material, for any of these girls, when that self-worth does not come from within, when it always comes from without, when you don’t get those things, you don’t have anything holding you up. 

MBO: I’m just thinking through each of the young girls we meet in the play: ultimately Annie wants the baby because she wants her own family, she wants love; Keera wants Yatzee, wants that family, that warmth, that love; even T wants that love from this man. It’s not necessarily material things that are driving them; it’s really this desire for love, that is driving it all, right? Beneath it all, they are saying, “I deserve the respect, I deserve the love, I deserve to be a part of something.”

KG: Yes, and they’re not wrong, which is sad.

MBO: This was originally a ten-minute play, right? The first scene when Annie is at the tattoo parlor?

KG: It was a ten-minute play, in the tattoo parlor. It was all about whether Annie was going to get the tattoo and her making that decision — and they talk about the [pregnancy] pact and whether or not they were going to make the pact. I wanted to make sure that she had different ways of seeing the world — because that’s really difficult for someone like Annie, to be smart, but not to be a “chosen kid” in this community. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying, “slip through the cracks” because that implies that that child wasn’t identified as having some sort of gift or talent; there are so many kids that do have them, but don’t get to use their gift.

MBO: One thing you’ve mentioned is how has this play changed from five years ago. What’s different about telling this story now? How has hope changed? How has our idea of hope changed? It does seem to mean something different now, than it did then.

KG: When we did this with an all African American cast, someone said, “the teenage pregnancy rate has gone down, so what do you say about that?” So I said, “It’s not about young black teenage pregnancies. It’s about young women and their choices, and that they feel empowered to make choices that they feel are right for them. It’s not about whether or not teenage pregnancy rates are up or down.”

MBO: When we first started talking about this play as a staff, I was always very conscious about what the work we’re doing is saying to our audiences. What do we want our audiences leaving thinking? My biggest fear when we started talking about this play is what Kirsten addresses, that “this is a black problem.” That was something that was very scary to me, and was not something we wanted our audience thinking. I’m really interested about having that conversation, and that conversation about women’s choices through a lens that is very diverse. I am hoping the choices that have been made in terms of casting will allow that to happen. I want it to feel real, I want it to feel human, like this is something that could be happening down the street. I feel like I see these girls on the subway, I see them at the Old Navy in South Bay, and I hope that by seeing this play people will pass those people in the street in a slightly different way. I love to think of our audience riding the orange line home that night and considering what their options are in a way that they haven’t before.


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