Part Two: What Could Be Funnier Than Milkmaids?
With only a couple of days till our opening night, I sat down with Quincy Long, playwright of Daughters of Io to discuss the journey the play has taken to its first performance at Bennington. The coming Friday, seven other students and I–along with a student band–will put on our milkmaid costumes and walk onstage perform in this special production. Daughters of Io takes place almost entirely at the college and studies the relationships a group of students form at this progressive sanctuary (with a particular focus on female friendships). The play is loosely structured around the play The Suppliant Women by Euripides, where fifty women are sold off to fifty men as their wives, but instead decide to run off and find a new home away from the men. In this case, this new home for the women happens to be a fictional version of Bennington College.
Before our big day I decided to sit down with Quincy, who I have been working with since early September, to explore what performing and creating a play specifically for Bennington is like.
Literary Bennington: Hi Quincy!
Quincy Long: Hello!
LB: My first question for you is how did Daughters of Io come about?
QL: Well, Kathleen [Dimmick, the play’s director] had noticed, not only in her work at Bennington, but also our work together professionally and her years of acting, that there were many more parts written for male actors, although there are many more female actors. So she challenged me, commissioned me, to write a play with an entirely female cast. Well, there is one male, but that was the original impulse behind it. I thought I could use a classical play to be its framework. Kathleen, who knows classical theater very well, directed me towards The Suppliant Women by Euripides. And I thought fine, but what’s the other turn?
I’ve been coming up to this college with Kathleen for years, and I thought the history of the school is fascinating, particularly how this place came to be. So somehow, it came about that the play would take place here. The myth behindThe Suppliant Women is what happens in the play: fifty young women are chased by fifty young men across the sea, they capture them in Greece, the women agree to marry them, but they make a pact that they will murder their husbands. One of the young women doesn’t murder her husband and instead falls in love with him. So I took that myth and stuck it at Bennington College, and I thought okay, what will the girls be? What is the city where they are seeking solace? What is the place? Also, who is being chased and why?
That’s where the Milkmaids came in. What could be funnier thank Milkmaids, they are wonderful. So, that’s the genesis.
LB: I’m assuming you had to do a ton of research about Bennington.
QL: I read two of the Bennington histories and then just talked to people. By the way, the college in the play is not Bennington College. It is a college in a parallel universe. I never use the name. It’s just a progressive college founded during the Depression in New England, like Bennington, but it is not Bennington.
LB: I’ve recently been reading all these Bennington writers that use Bennington in their fiction, but never call it by it’s name. They use fictional names, like Camden and Hampden.
LB: What I’m really curious about is what it must be like to write a play that takes place in a very specific location, and then see it go up and be performed at that location?
QL: It’s a treat, and it’s never happened to me before. It’s fascinating. I’ve been coming up to the college for eleven years with Kathleen …
LB: And it’s her last semester? Did you both know you wanted to do something here for her last semester?
QL: Yeah, it was kinda a swan song idea.
LB: Do you have a character you are more attached to than the others?
QL: No, not really. I mean, everything in the play is autobiographical to some extent, but no, my plays aren’t usually formed around a character that’s me. I mean, there are two women who are the leads.
LB: It’s mostly women. And women are also playing men.
LB: Do you view the Milkmaids as a greek chorus of sorts?
QL: Yes. The part about Io (mother of the Milkmaids) is really a nod to where the play comes from.
LB: Overall, how long was the writing process?
QL: I think we started a couple of years ago.
LB: Oh, wow.
QL: Two or three years.
LB: So in general, being at Bennington so often, and also being in New York, why do you think Bennington gets so much attention in literature?
QL: Well, I think it has such a good literature department which turns out a lot of writers. But beyond that, Bennington occupies a certain place in culture that’s pretty rich. I mean people don’t really know what it means, they just have this idea of this college, it used to have this reputation, which is no longer true, that it was the most expensive college in the country, so that sticks in people’s minds. And what attracted me to it was the oddity of putting a progressive college, a wildly progressive college, a women’s college, in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Depression. It’s insane. It’s mind boggling. People persevered. It was brave, very brave. That progressive spirit is in retreat these days pretty much–well, it’s actually not in retreat if you think of Bernie Sanders. It has been in retreat, but it seems to be coming forward again. I think people are attracted to that progressive ideal, particularly people who come to plays and write books. Bennington has a reputation for intense freedom.
By Lily Houghton