Playwright and educator Michele Traina married in 2009, and separated from her husband in 2014, when their daughter was about a year old. She and her daughter moved in with her parents in Clifton, New Jersey, while her ex-husband moved an hour south.
After a year of living with her parents, raising her daughter and working full-time, Michele decided to turn her experience into a one-woman play. Divorce Diaries features a 30-something mom living at home with her child and dog, and scrambling to keep it all together.
The play had its first showing in October, 2015, and she is continuing to develop it. I met Michele last month at a French bistro in Manhattan's West Village, and discovered that she teaches theater at the same pre-K/kindergarten my son attended when I lived in Hoboken, New Jersey.
We'll be collaborating on an event in Hoboken on June 16. She’ll be performing scenes from her play, and I’ll be reading from Splitopia. You can Register for this FREE event here.
Wendy Paris: What made you want to turn your divorce into a theater piece?
Michele Traina: When I spoke to people about my divorce, I felt like they could really relate to the challenges I was facing of trying to juggle multiple things—to work, to be a mother, to date. I like to write about what I know, and I wanted to put my material out there and help other people who are going through any kind of transition in life while juggling multiple things.
Wendy Paris: What parts do people respond to most?
MT: They respond to the daycare and the dating parts. At the daycare, she’s always being told that her child is doing something wrong. In a nice voice, but there’s always a problem. There’s also always Perfect Mom who walks by with her three kids and not a strand of hair out of place. I feel like every parent can relate to that feeling, whether they’re married or divorced. There’s a scene where she’s trying to get everything together in the morning and the scene repeats again and again. She finally gets to daycare, but she’s late. She gets to work late. She spills her coffee. And then she gets a call from the daycare that her child is acting out. She’s struggling. S he’s got one child, and there are parents with three who are doing fine. She’s been an overachiever her whole life, so she feels like, "How did I get to this place?"
In the dating section, there are two friends who bring up the positive and negative about every guy she meets. People say they feel like they’ve been both of those friends, the one who says, “Think positively!” about a situation that’s not at all good, and the friend who says no to everyone. And they feel like they’ve been Jenny, the character, who winds up with someone emotionally unavailable. Everyone feels like they’ve been with someone emotionally unavailable. My cousin calls it the “emotionally stunted morons.” Everyone has dated that person.
Wendy Paris: How did getting divorced affect your creative process?
MT: The experience of divorce gave me an exorbitant amount of material. As I was going through separation, divorce litigation, and all the other transitional components, it felt almost necessary to write about daily. As a writer I am always looking for ways to get my material to move and cause change for people. Had I not gone through a divorce, I would not have looked so closely at it, or realized how relevant the topic is to so many people, regardless of their socioeconomic background, gender, or culture.
Wendy Paris: What do you hope happens next with the play?
MT: My goal with Divorce Diaries is to spark a universal dialogue about the components of marriage, divorce, parenthood, and relationships. If someone can watch this piece—or eventually see it as screenplay, play or book—and it helps them in a transitional time, it will have served its purpose. I want it to get produced eventually and carry on and travel through the country. I want to bring in other voices.
Wendy Paris: If people want to contribute to funding a production or being involved, how can they reach you?
MT: They can go to my fiscal sponsor's page here.
Wendy Paris: Thank you. See you in New Jersey!
* This post originally appeared on Wendy Paris's site, wendyparis.com.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.