Peek inside Joan Holden’s mind

November 2nd, 2011 No Comments



“Why another waitress play?” my waitress daughter asked.  I’ve written about the job before, in a stage adaptation of NICKEL AND DIMED.  But I want to do this project for reasons that I can sum up this way: if I hadn’t gotten my chance as a writer I would have stayed a waitress myself, and Candacy Taylor’s book shows why.      


Barbara Ehrenreich honors the women slaving in chain restaurants, whose lives no one would envy; Candacy shows the other side of waitressing.  She celebrates the stars of mom-and- pop diners, the waitresses whose blandishments and wisecracks customers line up for, women who love their work and make good money at it.   Her book challenges the middle-class assumption that mental work is better work.  It demonstrates that waitressing is artisanal work.  It shows a blue-collar job that takes more brains and offers more fulfillment, more chance to use one’s whole self, than many higher-status occupations.  This play would show why some women, even some with college degrees, would rather run 8 miles around a restaurant floor than sit for 8 hours in a cubicle, or trade slings and arrows with cooks and managers than file reports to Management on a computer.  I would hope to influence a few career choices. 


I see a comedy, with tragic shadows.  I’m not sure yet whether I’d intercut several stories, or write a single composite protagonist: a star waitress as–behind the laughs– Queen Lear.  I am sure we need more plays about the workplace, where we spend half our waking hours.   With a few powerful exceptions, American theater stays inside the family nest.  That sends the atomizing message that this is where our real, important lives are.  But it’s our work that gives us our identities: a fact that would give this comedy one of its shadows: without exception, the women we meet in COUNTER CULTURE dread the day when they’ll have to start staying home, and that day is coming up for all of them.  Another shadow:  this job is vanishing; the independent diner is an endangered species.  In the book, one woman’s boss is retiring and planning to sell; in the play, it would get sold. 


Finally, this is a chance to write about and for my age group: 65-plus and not dead yet.  I have never worked with Stagebridge, but a few years back I collaborated on a short farce with students at San Francisco State University’s Lifelong Learning institute.  Our single performance for a packed, delighted, enthusiastic crowd of contemporaries showed me that seniors, like other marginalized groups, hunger to see people who look like us in central roles onstage.   I’d like to offer them this meal.


Joan Holden

Leave a Reply