Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Meet the Artist: Sandra de Helen February 5, 2013

Filed under: New Work at Fertile Ground 2013,the writing process — fertilegroundpdx @ 9:09 pm
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Sandra de Helen wrote The Godmother, produced by PDX Playwrights at Fertile Ground 2013 shown as a staged reading January 27 at Hipbone Studio.

The Godmother tells the story of a young butch lesbian whose crime family bristles at her leadership after the murder of her brother.

Sandra de Helen, playwright

With Kate Kasten, Sandra co-founded Actors’ Sorority, a women’s theater company in Kansas City, Missouri. When she later moved to Oregon, she founded the Portland Women’s Theatre Company. Most recently (2008), she is a founding member of Penplay a group of playwrights and screenwriters dedicated to developing the new work of multicultural voices.

Some of her plays have characters from mid-Missouri, where she was born and raised. With these plays and monologues, she hopes to preserve a way of speaking that is fading away. Sandra has studied with Maria Irene Fornes, and with Matt Zrebski. She learned playwriting by reading, writing, and producing plays beginning in the 1970s.

Sandra says that she is exploring the possibility of doing a web series based on The Godmother and is also hoping for the opportunity to mount a full stage production.


1. An Artist or Artists in My Field I Have a Giant Artist Crush On Is . . . Katori Hall. I love seeing young women making a name for themselves in this business. Stepping out early and with courage. I also love that she made a stand for same sex marriage. She didn’t have to. I also have to acknowledge a crush I’ve had since March 1979: Peggy Shaw. She is a butch lesbian who — with femme lesbian Lois Weaver and straight woman Deb Margolin — has been making extraordinary theatre for thirty-three years. When I first saw her she was still part of Spider Woman Theatre, but the three named formed Split Britches in 1980 and they are still at it.

2. A Work That Has Shaped My Artistic Voice Is . . . The Judy Garland/Andy Rooney movies with the “Hey Kids Let’s put on a show!” troupe (Babes on Broadway) shaped me more than plays, until I’d already written ten or fifteen. I started out writing musical comedies. I’ve moved on to drama — finally.

3. When I’m Not Creating Art You Can Often Find Me. . . in the garden.

4. Five Songs On My Writing/Painting/Creating Playlist Are . . . I’m A Fool to Want You (Billie Holiday), Feelin the Same Way (Norah Jones), anything by k.d. lang (I have it all), opera, arias by Leontyne Price, Renee Fleming, etc.

5. A Portland Artist/Creative/Arts Organization I’d Love To Work With Is . . . A.R.T.

6. I Am Terrified Of . . the usual suspects. Nothing to see here.

7. I Am Obsessed With . . .Being productive. I am always working on at least two projects.

8. The Books Currently On My Nightstand are . . too many. Not only do I have hard backs and paper backs stacked up, I have more than 100 stashed on my Kindle now. I’m usually reading two or three at a time, but this week I’m reading only one: The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent. That’s because I’m writing a new play called THE BURNING TIMES.

9. Three Adjectives That Describe THE GODMOTHER Are . . . Sexy, violent, funny.

10. In the Indie Art-House Biographical Film Of My Life, I Should Be Played By . . . Kathleen Turner

374792_527037900658362_1869561330_n Godmother Tommy Boy McCorkle


1) Tell us about your Fertile Ground Festival work. THE GODMOTHER is a thirty-three year old Tomboy McCorkle who takes over her crime family upon the murder of her brother. She’s looking for love while wrangling a bunch of mobsters, a passel of working girls, and a sixteen year old brother. The family has to solve the murder, stay in business, war with the competing families, and Tomboy is the butch who has to lead them through this mess. It’s 1928 in Kansas City, the height of Prohibition. Speakeasies, jazz and Tommyguns. And now a lesbian leader.

2) How did this work come about? What inspired it? I read an article in the Kansas City Star about women becoming Godmothers and running Mafia families after their husbands or brothers were killed or imprisoned. That, combined with my once having lived in Kansas City in a mob neighborhood, inspired me to create a godmother story of my own.

3) Talk about your creative process. (How do you work? When do you work? What gets you inspired?) I start with a story and characters. I usually do some mind mapping on paper, and once I have a story in mind, I use Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to create an outline from which to write my play. The beat sheet becomes the scaffolding for me. I refer back to it constantly as I write scenes. I may write scenes that fit in anywhere, then move them around to fit the beat sheet. The beat sheet comes from Snyder’s “Save the Cat!” created for screenwriters. I find it useful for stage plays, short stories, even for novels. As for when I work, I generally write every day. For instance, in November 2012 I joined about 300,000 people for NaNoWriMo and wrote a novel in a month. (50,000 in 30 days). Now I have to find time to edit it.
As for what gets me inspired, I’d have to say that being alive is inspiration enough most days. I can always find something to write about, and when I am writing on a regular basis, I love my life.