Though the words, “I’m so sorry for your loss” may be comforting to some, for senior English major Ashley Chandler, the line is overused and meaningless.
Chandler explored the process of grief and acceptance with “How to Grieve,” a play she wrote in a UC Davis drama class. The 20-minute piece was one of three undergraduate-written plays performed at the Edge Performance Festival, held by the UC Davis Theater and Dance Department from April 15 to 17 and April 20 to 24.
The playwright spoke with The California Aggie about how she let her loved ones, fans and team members in on the most hidden and emotional part of her life.
1. What is your play about?
It’s about my experience grieving the loss of my mother who died from stage four uterine sarcoma on March 27, 2010. I tend to use laughter as a coping mechanism. It takes on a dark comedy tone and transitions into more serious tones.
2. What was the message of the play?
[The play] talks about the clichéd things people say and how there’s really nothing anyone can say. Time really is the only thing that can really help. I focus on how grief is really different for everyone.
3. Have you ever entered any other writing or performing competitions?
I entered a student-run comedy show in high school, but this is the first thing I would consider a product of my talent. I took it to another level and used different elements of the theatre.
4. When did you start writing the play?
I wrote the first draft in the play-writing class Drama 160B: The Modern Drama in Spring 2010. I developed a good relationship with [Professor] Jon Rossini. He helped me bring the play to its fullest potential and enter it into a 20-minute play contest.
5. What is your favorite line?
There were a lot of really good lines, but in the end I basically say I appreciate those who were trying to help, but I need time to grieve and learn how to live without. I don’t want to discredit how people were trying to help me.
6. What are the three “grievers” characters?
They serve as different people who I’ve encountered in my life. They become different characters.
7. How well did the actors portray your vision?
The main character, Amanda, who is essentially me, is played by Stephanie Moore. It’s incredible to watch her. I don’t want to speak for her but I know she’s had some experiences with cancer that allow her to get to that scary place to see what it’s like to not have a parent. She’s not just saying the words; she’s experiencing them. She completely makes the show.
8. I understand that you were going through a difficult time. Did you feel any sense of closure through writing the play?
Completely. It lets my loved ones in on a part of my life that I didn’t show. Even people I don’t know would come up to me and say, “It’s like you were inside my head and put into words what I couldn’t.” I realized I am not alone in how I feel.
9. What are your future plans for writing?
The positive feedback has been incredible. It’s definitely sparked something in me. Writing is definitely something I want to do, but to what degree is uncertain right now.
10. What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?
Jon Rossini really helped me to work against cliché. If you’ve heard it in movies or songs a million times, try to think of ways to say things in a different light … there are always competitions, you’re never going to know what you’re capable of until you put it out there.
GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.