Theater Preview: Abbey Theater Premieres Livestream of Julie Whitney Scott’s ‘Diary of Recovering Daughters’
Julie Whitney Scott has reshaped and enriched Columbus culture for the last 40 years as an author, poet, journalist, actor, playwright, director, and producer. Her new work, Diary of Recovering Daughters, premiering virtually through the Abbey Theatre of Dublin with Joe Bishara directing, uses a lifetime of experience both in the theatre and in her other work. I spoke with Scott and Bishara over Zoom.
Scott started working in a hospital suicide prevention ward at age 19. Management noticed potential in Scott and suggested she pursue the work of helping people more deeply.
“[My managers] thought that what I was doing, I could really benefit people,” she said.
With that encouragement she gained degrees in employee assistance counseling, mental health, and mental retardation, becoming a state-certified chemical dependency counselor.
From there, Scott worked through many facets of the social assistance network, from counseling to training to ultimately retiring as a hearing officer, always writing and making art in parallel, both experiences informing the other. Scott said to me the experiences that led to Diary of Recovering Daughters, “[have] always been on my heart.”
As this piece took shape, Scott said, “This one needed to focus just on women…taking certain types of women and traumas that they dealt with and putting them into each [character].”
Her training also required Scott to attend group therapy and understand the nuances of its dynamic.
“One of the things I learned over the years from these women [in those sessions],” Scott said, “Is what I put into Zola, the counselor of this play. As women, when we counsel these women, we have to look at our own self and figure out how does helping them deal with the trauma in their life, affect me and my life and dealing with my stuff and being able to do that and not let it affect how you work with the people you’re working with? I try to bring not only in what the woman is feeling and dealing with but also what the counselor feels about what she’s heard [and seen]. [How has] it caused any change in how the counselor or the others see ourselves in relationship to other people. ”
Over the last 10 years, Scott wrote and performed monologues depicting these women. That impulse came into clearer relief when her Mine 4 God company’s annual Columbus Black Theatre Festival pivoted to online during the pandemic.
“I had already asked for [monologues], thank God. But we then got forced last year to use them more than we had planned,” Scott said. “[When] Joe was bringing out these one-woman shows, [we started] taking it from just a monologue [into] a whole work of performance which we hadn’t seen a lot. I said, ‘I got this one thing I’ve been working on, Diary of Recovering Daughters, and I’ve done different pieces of it.’”
One friend of hers asked about a specific scene Scott had incorporated into the finished version. She smiled, recalling how special that piece of this larger work was to the person who remembered the earlier performance.
“I wanted to work with Joe,” Scott said, “And this was the perfect thing and it was the perfect opportunity for me to present a glimpse of these women that are going to come to life in another way and for me to actually feel them.”
That collaboration between Scott and Bishara developed organically over the eight years of Bishara’s administration of the much-missed Columbus Performing Arts Center in his tenure at CATCO, renting space to the Columbus Black Theatre Festival.
“Joe was so gracious and really excited about the fact that this type of diverse program was coming to Central Ohio and to the Columbus Performing Arts Center, that he was very encouraging to me,” Scott said. “As I kept coming back, calling Joe every year, I was come coming back. We started talking more in the hallways after the show, that kind of thing.
“Joe kept on saying he wanted to work with me on another level, but I kept pushing him off, ‘Like, Yeah, right.’ Because you know how you just talk to people and you really know what people really want to do to help or support you. The last year before [he] left, we really got to work together [as] he started calling me in to do different things, to act for different shows.”
Bishara said, “I’ve admired Julie’s artistry, and – I mean this is a compliment – Jule’s tenacity for years and she’s right. I’d be like, ‘Look, I want to work with you.’ And then she just took it like lip service. And then we did a piece the last year of the GCAC Greater Columbus Arts Council playwriting fellowship [that] called for a character that was right up Jule’s alley. Working with her directly on a project was everything I thought it would be. I just thoroughly enjoy the experience and it really brought us closer together as peers.”
As Bishara’s series of solo streams gained steam as artistic director of the Abbey, Scott reached out.
“Julie allowed me to be a part of her editing process for this piece,” Bishara said. “We started sending scripts back and forth. She’d send it to me, I’d give her my feedback. We started that probably a month into the pandemic.
“[Diary of Recovering Daughters] is just so riveting. And, yes, Julie’s had this tremendous career as an artist, but her years of service in the counseling field are just as riveting to me as all the amazing art that she’s been able to create. For me, it’s an honor to call Julie a friend. It’s an honor to collaborate with her on bringing the semi-autobiographical piece to life.”
We closed talking about what makes Diary of Recovering Daughters so vital and timely.
“I tried to deal with the sexual, the physical, the mental – the [abuser] that doesn’t touch you, but you’re abused and you’re scared and you’re fearful,” Scott said. “So I tried to touch on your own personal addiction and the addiction that comes from the healing process that the doctors give you. These are all women that at one point were somebody’s daughter and may still be somebody’s daughter. And so I’m hoping that even if men look at this, men will look at this and think about my daughter.
“[If] there [is] any way that I can have a piece in changing that, then that changes it for the world. If it’s not for the daughters, the world would not go on because we, the daughters, birth the men and the women. So that’s why the title was so important to me: the diaries that [record] these women’s lives, [their] recovery and what they mean to us as our daughters. [This piece is] really important to me. And I’m so happy that Joe took it on for me.”
Diary of Recovering Daughters premieres at 7 p.m. on January 21 and is available for on demand streaming through January 28. For tickets and more info, visit https://dublinohiousa.gov/abbey-theater.