Gwen Flager is a playwright who knows how to tell a story and capture an audience. She tried her hand at writing a novel, but she wasn’t comfortable with the end product. “I discovered that I loved writing dialogue to tell a story. I had more fun writing dialogue,” she says. “Playwriting was the logical vehicle to get me down that road.”
The out Shreveport, Louisiana native, who says she’s “old enough to remember 8-track tapes,” is currently living in southern Nevada after having moved to Houston following graduation from the University of South Alabama in Mobile. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and her full-length plays Waiting to Be Mended and Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo were produced in Houston, as were her 10-minute plays In Flight and Jornada del Muerto.
Houstonians can now see Flager’s Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo, produced by Dirt Dogs
UNLEASHED in association with Sweet Darlin’ Productions, August 12–20 at the Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH).
Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo “tells the tale of six older lesbians planning the first LGBTQ prom for local high school seniors, whose jealousies, resentments, and regrets are fired up when the successful sorority sister returns to romance the woman she has loved all her life,” Flager says.
Director Bonnie Hewitt sets the show’s tone and the mood “almost before you’ve sat down,” according to Flager. “She’s phenomenal. There’s a feel. Before you even hear the first line, you are guided to a place to be receptive, to be curious. It gets you ready to be vulnerable, to exhale, to get to that place of once-upon-a-time.”
Flager chose the subject matter of the to play to tell the stories of older lesbians like herself. “This story, to me, is about that sense of purpose for a woman to return to the love of her life. It’s about that passion to love someone you’ve loved all your life.”
Flager wants audiences to know that her play is inspired by women that she’s known and loved. “Most of the characters are composites of old friends, old loves. These women are your sisters, aunts, mothers, cousins,” she emphasizes. “These women are family.”
Flager’s work reveals the lives of lesbians who grew up in a time when it was neither fashionable nor safe to claim such an identity. “These stories reveal the courage of these non-traditional women to love one another, to claim happiness, to defy hatred. My characters are bound and determined to enjoy life,” she says. “I hope this will bring a light into our lives.”
Despite her success in the field, Flager is not sure that playwriting is her calling, even though writing certainly is. “I love to write,” she says. “I feel a satisfaction, and perhaps a sense of accomplishment when I tell a good story through dialogue. I really think of myself as a storyteller.”
She even loves writing things as simple as someone’s résumé. “I love finding the right word to convey the right feeling. There are a gazillion words, [but I] try to find the precise word to convey the feeling I want to convey. My favorite book is the thesaurus.”
Flager took several writing courses at Rice University to get her career off the ground—in addition to reading many books. “Then you just start. Crazy me, I started with a full-length play.”
She submitted that very first play to a festival, and it was selected for their reading series. “They assigned a director who cast the roles. It was like, ‘Wow!’” Then a friend suggested she send it to Theatre Suburbia, and she did.
“They decided to produce it during their next season. It was the most extraordinary feeling. It’s one thing to hear it read; it’s a whole other adventure to see it onstage. It’s always been better than I imagined. I’m always fascinated when lines I don’t think are funny end up being funny. I feel like I can capture how people talk,” Flager explains.
Fortunately, there have been more festivals that featured her work, and she’s also dabbled in ten-minute plays. “The thing I love about a ten-minute is that it’s like you drop someone in hot grease. That’s nine pages, including stage directions, so you better have captured your audience by page one. It’s fun—I enjoy writing a 10-minute. It’s really compressed. You don’t have time for long-winded exposition.”
The central question for every writer, and certainly for every playwright, Flager notes, is “How do you tell a good story? How do you hold their attention?” Flager’s sister, Kathy Summers, describes it as being all about that “lean in” moment when you know you have them. “If you go to a play and watch the audience, they lean in,” she notes.
One of Flager’s favorite things about playwriting is the ability to share stories with people who might not otherwise see themselves onstage—stories that tend to reveal themselves to Flager. “Playwriting is a solitary art. If one is patient enough, the characters of the play will appear as they see fit. Then, if the playwright has a bit more patience, the characters will whisper their story. The key is to listen, get out of the way, and write as fast as you can. Some days I listen better than others.”
What: Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo
When: August 12–20
Where: MATCH, 3400 Main St.
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.