An Interview with Aleta Barthell

Playwright’s note: Aleta is the one who quietly plants a box of tissue in the rehearsal space. Aleta is the one who says we need the Domestic Violence hotline number on the postcard. Aleta is the one who will hold your hand.

When I started this project, I knew it would be a journey into uncharted territory for me. I knew I wanted Aleta by my side. As a producer, she is the heart of the show.

As a dramaturge (the playwright’s coach), she’s annoying. She loves commas. She loves them so much I have let her win and placed them wherever she wants. And I have almost forgiven her for giving me deadlines, which I failed to adhere to. She is a talented playwright herself and I am so lucky that I got to work on this project with my friend.

Aleta Barthell


Aleta’s play, Night Witches: Flight into Fantasy, was a part of New Village Arts Theatre’s 2019 New Play Festival. She is currently developing a television series—Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her play, Window of Shame, was a finalist for the 2016 HUMANITAS/CTG Playwriting Prize. She is a teaching artist with Playwrights Project, drama teacher at St. Patrick Catholic School and founder of Kids Act at New Village Arts Theatre.

Tell us about yourself.

I trained in theater at Northwestern University and acting at the British American Drama Academy. I worked as a professional actress in Portland, Oregon, then moved to San Diego. In San Diego, I have mostly worked as an acting and playwriting teacher, and also as a writer.

What is a dramaturge? Please describe the process for working on “The Fire in Me”.

In my work as an actress, I LOVED researching my role and the world of the play. The more foreign the world was to me, the better. I loved learning new things. Then I came to learn that this is the work of a dramaturge—making sure everyone is familiar with the world of the play. This includes: vocabulary, cultural references and history. If it is a new play, the dramaturge also helps to develop the play during rehearsals. There are so many elements happening at the same time (direction, design, acting), that it is helpful to have one person who is looking at the script with the playwright and making sure that the playwright’s vision is heard, seen and executed. 

(Read Aleta’s Educational packet for the play here.)

In “The Fire in Me”, we tapped into Filipino mythology to help with the cultural foundation. The playwright introduced the character of Lalahon. She is the Visayan goddess of harvests and the guardian of volcanoes. It seemed like she would be a good source of inspiration for the women in the play who are seeking and guarding “the fire in me.”

What have been some of your successes as a dramaturge (and/or producer) for this play? What have been some of your challenges?

It has been a thrill and delight to learn more about Filipino history and especially Filipino culture in San Diego.The material of abuse is sensitive material and, unfortunately, one that many understand intimately. We have strived to make sure that we have created a safe environment to explore the issue of domestic abuse. 

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