"Crossings": From the page to the stage

by Katherine Agard

On a recent evening, I landed in the underworld.

OK, not quite. Really, not at all. But I did step into a reading of "Crossings" by Angela Sun, winner of the 2010 Phyliss Anderson Prize, as part of a series of readings by 'New Voices' put on by the A.R.T.

"Crossings" is the story of Lynn, head of a dying publishing house, who has lost her Amelia-Bedelia-adventure-loving daughter at a bridge -- to the underworld. Lynn sets out to find her daughter and a new world unfolds. I spoke with playwright Angela Sun about her inspiration, about "Crossings" and about writing in general.

You graduated last year and you are currently at Columbia Law School. Congrats! What did you concentrate in while you were at Harvard? What did you spend most of your time doing?

I was an English concentrator at Harvard. I was involved in a variety of activities, like Chinatown Big Sibling, a PBHA program, and Under Construction, Harvard’s Christian a cappella group.

Where did the inspiration for "Crossings" come from?

Last fall—around this time—I heard loud singing out by the Charles, so I went outside to see what was going on. Apparently Cambridge puts on an annual festival around the autumn equinox called RiverSing, where tons of people gather near the Weeks Footbridge and sing folk songs. As I crossed the footbridge, bewildered, I saw a mother on the bridge singing "Down by the Riverside" with her daughter, clapping her daughter’s hands as she sang. I couldn’t see their faces, because they were looking out onto the water, but the image of mother and daughter silhouetted against the darkness created a strong impression on me. I thought: What if this bridge were an imaginary bridge between the real world and the world of the past? I put what I saw that day in the first scene of "Crossings," and it grew from there.

What was writing "Crossings" like? How long did it take to write? Under what circumstances was it written?

"Crossings" was my senior English thesis. I wrote it under the supervision of Christine Evans, whose playwriting classes I took junior year. "Crossings" would not have been the same without the help of Christine, who focused my writing and made it more powerful, among other things. "Crossings" took a year to write, including revision.

Has winning the Phyllis Anderson prize changed anything for you?

Yes. Winning the prize, and in particular being given the opportunity to have my play read at the A.R.T., gave me great confidence as a writer and encourages me to keep writing and trying to get my work produced or published. Personally, to have confidence as a writer I need to be confident not only in my craft but also in the possibility of being seen, heard and read.

You’re at law school now. Do you still continue to write and be involved in theater?

It’s difficult to find time, but I have some ideas on paper. Being in New York is great, because I’m exposed to all kinds of people and there is theater everywhere. I’m not really mastering the "writing on the side" thing, though, so I am thinking of deferring a year to focus entirely on writing.

What are your long-term aspirations?

I’m still thinking about that. I do want to keep writing.

Do you have any advice to writers at Harvard, or to writers in general?

If you see or experience something that strikes you or leaves an impression, don’t be afraid to work it out in your writing.

[Caption: Three Sisters of the Underworld in "Crossings."]