Interview: Carol Ann Bass on ‘What’s Your Color?’

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In March I was fortunate enough to attend Queen Mary Theatre Company’s ‘New Writer’s Festival’ and one of the new plays, called “What’s Your Color?”. It deals on a fundamental level with the issues of sexual politics amongst young people. Written and directed by Carol Ann Bass, an American associate student from Nashville, Tennessee, the play has an interesting premise: a person’s number of sexual partners is shown by the colour of your skin. It centres around two students in America: Jake, a White (virgin) freshman who is being pressured into having sex by his Red (2) friend Brad, and Elizabeth, a Turquoise (30+) sophomore, who moonlights as a prostitute. I caught up with Carol Ann Bass, who told me more about the play.

 

Vada: What is it that made you want to cover this topic?

Carol Ann Bass: I come from the South – it’s very conservative and sex is a topic you don’t talk about. There isn’t really even Sex Education, aside from “We’ll just stick you in a ‘True Love Waits’ program at your local church and that’s what you get!”. Then when I went up north to my college, it’s very far away and very liberal, and just to see that completely different perspective on sex just blew my mind! The idea for the play came to me in the middle of the night. I just thought ‘What if the people in the South couldn’t just ignore the topic of sex? What if it was blatant and if that personal experience was there for people to see? What if it was no longer your choice?’

Tell me more about the main characters: Jake, Brad and Elizabeth.

Brad thinks – and really, society in general tends to think – that as a male, by the time you’re in college you should have probably already lost your virginity. Jake is put under all this pressure, and then he meets Elizabeth. They get a room to themselves but he cannot make himself have sex with her, but in the process, instead of being intimate sexually, they really get to know each other personally as two characters who haven’t really had anyone to talk to in a very long time.

There’s a very interesting juxtaposition of those two characters – one who hasn’t had sex and one who’s had a lot of sex, both stigmatised for it. Did you have a set idea of how things would turn out when you started writing the play, or did it develop whilst working through it?

Basically the first thing I did, before I did anything with the plot at all, was that I had this basic idea of the colour spectrum, and the first thing I did was to take a notebook and fill it with ideas about this specific world. My first goal was to define this world and whatever I think would have meaning in this world. So the first thing I wrote down was how society would be different and how different colours would be treated.

You mentioned that a man in this world “should” have lost their virginity by college – do you think the expectations of males and females would still be different in this world?

Oh absolutely. It was very important to me to represent that social stigma. It’s more acceptable for young males to have sex – both in our society and the play’s society as opposed to females. Females are judged differently in that regard. It was very important for me to show that distinction. White girls aren’t pressured, it’s just Jake, who is a White male, so it’s definitely a double standard. Also, the first thing a lot of people ask is how it would work with gay and lesbian couples, and whether it’s a scientific thing that makes it happen. For me, It’s an unexplained scientific phenomenon – but it’s very important that whatever the individual considers sex, that’s what it is. So it’s not escapable, it’s undiscriminating, so no-one can escape changing colour based on a different definition of sex.

Did you actively choose to perform it here rather than in the States?

When I heard about the New Writers’ Festival at QM, I then had an impetus and a deadline! So it made me sit down and write. I finished it in time and that’s why it ended up here first. I definitely intend to further it in the States – I’ve played around with a second act, lengthening what I have, maybe even adapting it and writing a separate screenplay to see what that’s like.

What’s your ultimate objective?

Publication, but I still feel like there’s a lot that’s going to be done with it. The concept is what’s so interesting. I’ve had some people say I should make it a television show cause there’s just so many scenarios in this show that would be good to see. And just the discussions that it provoked amongst the cast during breaks were just really thought-provoking, for me too! Some things I had answers for that I had completely thought through in my mind, and then others where I was like “Well, there’s a thought!”

What kind of discussions?

Socially based and technically-based i.e. how the colour thing works. A lot of social things in England that I didn’t really understand or think of, they would apply it to, which was really interesting for me – and that’s what I wanted, really: that they would apply it to their lives and their society and their culture, for it to be applicable all the way around. Just because it’s set in America, I think performing it in London and being able to see that it had that specific effect was really encouraging.

 

For more information on Carol Ann Bass, visit her website.