Last year, Looking for Lilith Theatre Company commissioned Nancy Gall-Clayton to write a full-length play for this summer’s Unheard [outloud] Festival, which will celebrate 15 years of dedication to its mission, “lifting up unheard voices.”
For Gall-Clayton, it was a challenge she couldn’t refuse. Never had she written a full-length play in less than a year, and Looking for Lilith gave her free reign to choose a topic.
After spending a lot of time going through anthologies in search of a woman whose work had significant impact, but whose story was little known, Gall-Clayton settled on Mary Edwards Walker.
Born in 1832 in Oswego, NY, social activism was part of her family’s life. Their home was a stop on the underground railroad and Walker and her sisters, at their father’s insistence, wore boy’s clothing when doing chores around the farm because corsets, hoops and crinolines were not practical and, he believed, “bad for their health,” Gall-Clayton explained.
Walker went on to become a surgeon, maintaining the practice of wearing practical trousers under a coat with skirt. She worked for the Union during the Civil War, spent four months in a Confederate prison.
An untiring advocate for equality, Walker was a suffragist and an abolitionist. She also believed in abortion.
She worked with General William Tecumseh Sherman, President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
With a long list of characters and many actors playing multiple roles, the resulting work, I’m Wearing My Own Clothes, is now in rehearsal. While Gall-Clayton is the author, she describes the work as a collaboration that has undergone many rewrites with input from director Kathi E.B. Ellis and members of the cast. Each revision has improved the final product.
An attorney, Gall-Clayton had a successful practice representing children, which she closed in 1996. She also worked as a server at The Cafe for Sal Rubino, as a writing instructor at Jefferson Community and Technical College and as a writing and reading instructor for Jefferson County Public Schools.
As she approached her 50th birthday, she explained, “I just happened to notice in The Courier-Journal, a contest for 10-minute plays at Actors Theatre. I wrote my first play about a clinic where you could special order a baby.”
With over 2,000 entries in the contest, Gall-Clayton’s play was a finalist, a feat she has duplicated twice more.
Encouraged by her success, she set out to learn more about the craft, attending workshops and classes. She became a full-time writer in 2013 and has written nearly 80 plays to date, six or seven of which are full length. She’s had plays on stages in 25 states, Canada, Australia and Denmark.
Several of her works have Jewish themes. General Orders No. 11, a full-length play about General Ulysses S. Grant’s order banishing all Jews from his military district during the Civil War, premiered at The J in 2003 with John Leffert directing.
The Snowflake Theory, a full-length intergenerational romantic comedy about birth, technology, marrying outside one’s faith and family connections premiered at the Bard’s Town in Louisville, had readings at Jewish Community Centers in California and Cincinnati and was a finalist in the Coe College Playwriting Festival.
Discovery, a one-act play about a teen who feels Jewish and breaks into the agency that handled her adoption to learn the truth, was commissioned by Louisville’s Pleiades Theatre Company and premiered at its 1999 Stars of the Future New Play Festival.
Gall-Clayton has garnered considerable recognition for her work including grants and residencies through the Kentucky Foundation for Women, Tennessee Williams Scholarship to Sewanee Writers Conference and visiting artist at Ohio State University. She has also received commissions from Kentucky Playwrights Workshop and Bunbury Theatre.
Several of her short plays and monologues have been published by One-Act Play Depot, Motes Books, Dramatic Publishing, International Centre for Women Playwrights, Meriwether Publishing, Smith & Kraus, Western Kentucky University, Louisville Review (Spalding), Jefferson Review, JAC Publishing, and Don Bosco Press.
Gall-Clayton and her husband, Jan Morris, have adult twin sons, James and Joshua.
Want to go?
I’m Wearing My Own Clothes will be performed at The Clifton Center Friday, July 14, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 16, at 3 p.m.; Thursday, July 20, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 23, at 3 p.m. The Unheard [outloud] festival, which runs from July 13-23. For details and ticket information, go to lookingforlilith.org/unheardoutloud/.