Orange County Theatre Reviews

(photo credit: Patrick Chavis & Jonathon Muise & Eric Eberwein )

Written by Patrick Chavis

Emotional Overload: Playwright Baylee Shlichtman

I met playwright Baylee Shlichtman for the first time in real life (IRL) at one of the tables in the 4th Street Market, a popular food hall smack dab in the center of historic downtown Santa Ana. Baylee considers herself a Santa Ana playwright, so I thought the setting would be fitting. I’m also a fan of the stalls at 4th street, so why not? I was hungry.

Baylee approached me earlier than expected (the journalist in her, I decided). She had an unsure look on her face. “Are you Patrick?”

“Yes,” I said.

She sat down but not too long after. I asked her if she wanted to grab something before the interview. She mentioned coffee and left to grab one at Loose Leaf Boba in front of the 4th Street Market.

Once Baylee returned, she sat down. I noticed she wore her Sony earphones around her neck like a necklace. You could tell there was something to it. People don’t just wear headphones like that. I thought that was unique.

She’s only 24 years old, but in 4 years, Baylee Shlichtman has published 11 plays, many of them put on by different theatre companies in Orange County and across the United States.

Where does someone so young find a reservoir of creativity so deep to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time?

“So I grew up in West Garden Grove, which is kind of a weird place to grow up because it’s the more gentrified part of Garden Grove.”

Growing up, Baylee described West Garden Grove as a richer spot in Garden Grove, trying its best to separate itself from the poorer areas of the community.

“Really weird place to grow up because of that (gentrification) but also because all of the schools are really close together, so everyone goes to the same elementary schools, and they all feed into one junior high, and they all feed into one high school, so everyone knows everybody, it’s a very tight-knit community.”

Baylee grew up in an apartment near the 4-star cinema off of Valley View, and she praised the place for being so affordable and being a place that helped her discover her love of film and storytelling.

“I lived in this apartment where we could walk through the back alley past our garages to this movie theatre that was like 4-dollar tickets. It was called 4-star cinema. They have renovated it. I think they still do 4-dollar tickets sometimes. But it’s very different now. They demolished the bowling alley, they’ve demolished the theater, and now they’ve put up a Starbucks.”

At 15, Baylee left West Garden Grove to live in Stanton, CA. Her parents wanted to buy a house, and Stanton was more feasible than a house in West Garden Grove.  The move wasn’t too far, and Baylee was able to continue going to Pacifica High School to finish off her remaining high school years.

For Baylee, the move to Santa Ana was a matter of family and convenience.

“My parents are there (Stanton), and they have a condo. I ended up in Santa Ana because my husband has lived in that area his entire life. Not his whole life, he had a stint in Washington, but when he came back to Southern California, it was Santa Ana, and his parents live in Tustin. So, the idea was when we get married; we wanted a location that was close to both of our relatives and inexpensive enough for two people just out of college to afford rent.”

Currently, Baylee lives in the French Court Neighborhood of Santa Ana, a few blocks away from Downtown.  While she was given a ride to the interview, Baylee mentioned she didn’t have a car and was going to walk home after the interview.

“I’ve been in Santa Ana almost 2 years now. It’s been great. I don’t drive; we only have one car. My husband calls it the white whale because it’s a 90s Suburban.

Photo credit: Jonathon Muise

“I don’t like to drive. I do have a license. In order to apply for a paid internship for journalism. You have to be able to drive a car and have a license. So, I got a license, but I don’t like to drive.”

Baylee has recently graduated with a degree in Journalism from USC, and to get around, she became adept at using public transportation to get everywhere.

“When I went to school for USC, I just used public transit to get everywhere. Which was super inconvenient because I had my tripod/camera, and I would bring it on buses and the metro, and all of the other students could pay for uber, but I was on public transit.”

Besides not being a fan of driving, Baylee is a fan of walking for its creative benefits.

“I have this thing (idea), I don’t have figured out yet. I’ll go on a walk, and I’ll think about it and I’ll listen to maybe music from a playlist or pick an album that I really feel connected to the work and then I will try and untangle some of the knots.”

Baylee’s first foray into playwrighting wasn’t some impassioned process. It was just another elective on her way to graduation.

“I had a gap in my schedule my junior year, and I had 4 units where I could do whatever I wanted with them. So, I was like there’s this playwrighting class; I’ll fill up my schedule with that. The professor was Luis Alfaro, that was great, he’s so chill, and the class was designed as workshop space where you would come in with pages and people would read. Similar to how any professional playwrighting group would operate, presenting pages and having people read it.”

While Baylee enjoyed the creative freedom given to her in Alfaro’s class, it did, at times, cause some minor confusion. Baylee was supposed to write a one-act play for the class but accidentally wrote a full-length play instead.

“I didn’t know what constituted a one-act.”

Because there was no intermission in her 70-minute play, she thought it was considered a one-act. Later she found out that in modern times any play over 60 minutes is technically a full length, even without an intermission.  An accident, yes, but a happy little accident that turned into her first full play, Cluttered Purses.

” You can’t read it anywhere, and it’s not on New Play Exchange.” (a popular place to share scripts online).

Baylee described Cluttered Purses as a deeply personal play. The play was more like therapy for Baylee, something just for her and a few select eyes.

“I wrote the play before 2020. the decisions I explored in the play and some of the issues I explore in the play I believe are already dated.  If I were to revisit it (the play) I would have to update it.”

While an impressive first effort, finishing Cluttered Purses wasn’t the catalyst that propelled Baylee headfirst into playwrighting. She was still way more interested in writing novels.

“It wasn’t like I had a spark for playwrighting. I have a bunch of trunked novels. I didn’t really get into playwrighting until the pandemic.”

When the pandemic hit, Baylee was stuck at home with nothing to do but surf the web and write, and that is exactly what she did.

“there were a lot of zoom opportunities during the pandemic for playwrights.”

While Baylee didn’t know much about applying to theatres the traditional way, the added events and programs online through Facebook and Zoom made the theatre world way more accessible for her.

Baylee’s first play to grace the stage was Helen Goddess of Arson. A dramatic comedy play about Helen of Troy before she became Helen of Troy.

The production was put on at Crafton College in Yucaipa, CA. Baylee described the experience as nauseating; she couldn’t eat (Not because of the show, she was just really nervous).

While Helen of Arson was her first project to grace the stage. Baylee feels the show still has work she would like to accomplish. On the other hand, a more recent play, The House of Flightless Birds, which premiered at OC-Centric in 2022, is a fully realized project.

Photo credit : Eric Eberwein Nic Lara and Sara Guerrero. OC-centric New Play Festival (2022)

“I felt so proud this was something I had created.”

The bones, Baylee called the structure for the play, were written in two days.

“I had the image of a boy and his dead bird for a while”.

For Baylee, it was a matter of sitting down and telling Manuel’s story. She had an image, and she wrote around the image with a looser story than what would be the final presentation.

Baylee writes out of order, so to capture the idea, she needs to write quickly to get all of her ideas out onto the page.

House of the Flightless Birds is a story about Manuel, an undiagnosed Autistic kid, and his relationship with a bird.

“I’m Autistic”, Baylee said when asked what research she did to write the character of Manuel.

“I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19.”

In a lot of ways, Baylee’s experience living on the spectrum partly inspired Manuel’s character.

“The way that Manuel talks about his emotions. There’s a perception that autistic people are robots and don’t feel things, but it’s more like a different perception of emotion.  In Manuel’s case and my case as well, he feels everything too much.  That’s the difference between how he feels things and how he expresses how he feels.”

Baylee was very clear with her director Angela Cruz Martinez that representation of Manuel’s emotions should be shown in a more realistic way.

Even though Baylee does not speak Spanish fluently, the language is a big part of her plays.

“When I write Latine characters, its something I think about. How much do these characters speak Spanish; are they like me? And speak very little or do they understand better than they speak? Do they write better than they speak or are they fluent?  In house of the flightless birds, the characters are fluent so there’s a lot of Spanish in the play and that was important.”

Baylee is currently working full-time as a playwright, and her most recent play is SONIA IS GOOD.

You can find Baylee on social media and her work on New Play Exchange.

New Play Exchange

Instagram

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