“Why Anne Hathaway?”

Why Anne Hathaway?

That’s the first question and most frequent question that people ask me about Tulpa, or Anne&Me. I try to be gracious and answer the question in the spirit in which it was asked. But the more I encounter it, the more it unsettles me. I deal with it because that comes with the territory of choosing to a famous person as a central character. Nevertheless, after dwelling in this piece for so long, I’m starting to understand the reasons behind my increasing discomfort.

I’m sure that part of my apprehension comes from my fears about the narratives that people asking this question will tell themselves and other people about me based on my response. Such as:

  • Obsessed Fan Writes Drama about Famous Actress
  • Militant Black Lesbian Attacks Hollywood Starlet In Race Play
  • Hack Writer Goes For Shock Value In New Play

Again, a lot of this comes with the territory of writing a play about race that has a famous person as a main character. But I’m not the first person to write about a famous person who’s not dead (remember Being John Malkovich?). Come to think of it, compared to your average gossip rag, Tulpa is pretty damn respectful. From the moment Anne crawls out of the TV, it’s clear that the play is not making any statements about the real Anne Hathaway whatsoever. Trust me, if “based on a true story” ever became part of the tagline, it would be ironic. And once you Google “tulpa,” you get a better understanding of exactly what she is, and you realize that even if real!Anne played tulpa!Anne, she would not be playing herself.

Why Anne Hathaway?

Part of this line of questioning undoubtedly comes from the belief that the best way to understand a work of art is to understand the artist. But what people often fail to realize is that this knowledge does not come easy. A play like Tulpa comes from some places that, for my own well-being, I don’t visit often because it’s too painful. The play certainly doesn’t hide this from the audience. But it seems that people often fail to grasp that the things I talk about in the play reflect feelings, thoughts, and experiences I’ve had in real life – which I must relive each time I come back to the play.

When people ask this question, especially in light of how vulnerable I make myself each time I come back to the play, there is always something . . . off about that dynamic. It’s like me being mauled by a bear and taking my clothes off to share the scars of that encounter only for people to keep asking me why I wore an outfit by a certain designer that day. It trivializes the meaning of your nakedness.

But since people want me to go there, fine. I’ll answer it.

Why Anne Hathaway?

Because I like her.

Why Anne Hathaway?

Because I had to tell it the way I feel it or it would have eaten me alive.

Why Anne Hathaway?

Because she’s the safest person I could say these things to.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, riddle me this: What does it say about the world we live in and the people in it that this woman is the least harmful person for me to reach out to?

12 thoughts on ““Why Anne Hathaway?”

  1. I know for me personally when I asked, it was a curiosity because you’re very meticulous about your choices and I knew you were a fan of hers but was curious what else made her stand out.

    That said, I can also understand too that if you get asked this question (especially by people who may not be as close as I am and don’t know you like that), in your position I might be nervous too. So I get it.

    I think it’s completely respectful because in the story it’s clear that it’s not Anne Hathaway but a supernatural being taking on her persona. And said being takes on the persona because Name is a huge fan of hers so I think it’s a nod to Anne.

    From an outsider’s view, I think selecting Anne from the legions of actresses out there also made sense to me because she is a lot more cerebral than your standard starlet, she picks complex roles and is involved in a lot complex movies so it makes sense that you would want to choose an actress who is layered and fascinating like that (and damn you woman, your Anne adoration is rubbing off on me). I would probably feel the same way about Sarah Michelle Gellar, another actress who’s highly intelligent and picks very sophisticated roles.

    TL;DR: Yeah, I get it.

  2. “When people ask this question, especially in light of how vulnerable I make myself each time I come back to the play, there is always something . . . off about that dynamic. It’s like me being mauled by a bear and taking my clothes off to share the scars of that encounter only for people to keep asking me why I wore an outfit by a certain designer that day. It trivializes the meaning of your nakedness.”

    Yeah, that’s vivid, and it helps me see a little more how personal and risky it is to make a piece of art like this, and how you’d perhaps rather have people focus on the artistic risks that you’re intentionally taking in the product, rather than the risk of being sidetracked by something that’s kind of secondary.

    But it also seems to me that we treat almost all artists this way, now. We spectators want to dig into the process, not just the product. There can be good reasons for that as well as dumb ones. Is it unfair of me to say this is occupational hazard? Is there a way to acknowledge that this occupational hazard is real, and then figure out a way to mitigate it? Like OSHA for playwrights or something?

    • Don’t get me wrong; I think the desire to get closer to the process is valid, and there should definitely be a space for that. What starts making me feel a bit cagey is when a certain line of inquiry is less about the art than about the artist. I can’t speak for other playwrights, but the whole point of me putting it down as a script and not, say, as a memoir is that I needed to get these things out of me and to get the audience asking questions to each other and of themselves.

      What makes me a bit uncomfortable is the assumption that I’m not allowed to have personal boundaries, or that somehow the fact that I present it in public means it’s easy to talk about. It’s the sense of entitlement to even my interior space that feels really off, particularly when you consider that Tulpa deals with the impact of race on how people relate to each other.

      Perhaps something someone said to me about the show would prove beneficial. They said, “Your play is not entertainment.” At the risk of mystifying the process overmuch, I think that’s the key. With entertainment, diversion is less harmful because diversion is the point. I love being entertained as much as anyone, but how I respond to a work that’s entertainment is an entirely different thing from how I respond to work that’s art. That’s not to make a strict dichotomy of the two, but it does bear considering that with entertainment you ask questions of the makers, but in art the makers ask questions of us.

      As far as guidelines for minimizing the potential harm that can come from a careless comment, the post-show discussions were a pretty good model. It created a safe environment to share by setting a few ground rules for discussion so that everyone could share without being judged or put on the spot.

      • OK, I think I follow. I can imagine many people don’t see your boundaries, especially if coming from a position of privilege, and especially if made uncomfortable by anything in the play itself. I’m not sure I would. So I’m grateful to read this.

        Yes, discussion ground rules have proven to be REALLY helpful when we talk about racism and sexism and heterosexism and etc at my church.

        • I can imagine many people don’t see your boundaries, especially if coming from a position of privilege, and especially if made uncomfortable by anything in the play itself.

          Exactly. Compared to, “Do you see yourself in what Anne says or does?” asking “Why Anne Hathaway?” is a walk in the park.

      • I think the dichotomy goes something like this: something that’s meant to be “just” entertainment is less likely to be personal to the creator, if you will–so there isn’t much to talk about with regards to things like “why do you do this/that/is this character based on your dad” for example.

        (This is a really enlightening discussion, both the discomfort/privilege aspect and the entertainment-versus-not one.)

  3. I also will admit that when I saw the title of this post show up in my email, I was like “Oooh! I wanna know why Anne Hathaway!!” [click!] I am quite impressed how you flipped it back around on the person (like me) who asks the question.

  4. Hmm … I can actually say that I never thought of asking this question, but now that you raise it …

    Well, when I first read the play I recall getting Anne Heche and Anne Hathaway mixed up at first … (!) But the funny thing is, I shifted from one image to the other quite comfortably (and just did a quick revisioning) once I realised my error. I guess the thing is, that since it was always blatantly obvious that it wasn’t a play *about* either actress, I just put your choice down to personal preference? I processed my own reactions to Anne Hathaway as an actress ( I once disliked her but then I changed my mind) and presence in the play but beyond that I never really thought to question why you chose her … After all, why not?

    For me it was never a “why her” but more of an “Oops. Wrong Anne. Okay then” … It’s not that I feel your choice is unimportant, or that it could have been “any” actress but that it’s entirely yours to make and that it doesn’t require explanation. I also agree that artists aren’t required to justify or explain every artistic choice that they make, that they have boundaries, and that sometimes explanations are readers stem from courtesy rather than obligation.

    • Right. That’s because you’re a thoughtful person who understands that not everything needs to be revealed on cue.

      But again, it always messes with me when I come across it. I’m always thinking, “Of all the questions to ask about the play, why is that one so prominent?”

  5. “Why AH?” seems so … off center to me if it’s coming from someone who’s read or seen the play and doesn’t have a relationship with you. The reason that makes sense to me is that the asker has decided on some level NOT to deal with the stuff that *is* central out of discomfort &/or unwillingness.

    But maybe I’m being unfair. I went to a school where we were given tough material early (hello, “Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “Glass Menagerie” in 8th grade), and taught how to engage with the work. I can see how, absent those skills, in a culture imbued with dreck like TMZ and The View, interrogating the PERSON, rather than the WORK is more familiar and natural.

    Nevertheless, I find it a lazy, annoying, off-putting question coming from an audience member. I mean, if given the chance to ask something of O’Neill, it wouldn’t be “So, did you get along with your dad?” after I’d just seen the damned play!

  6. I wonder if people maybe think this is a pretty lightweight sort of breezy softball of a question, too. Maybe that’s why people start with it, when the real questions would be tougher.

    Or, maybe, the subtext is why you’d put the n-word in Anne Hathaway’s mouth, which is a pretty important, weighty part of the play. Opposite my first hypothesis, I guess.

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