Lloyd Suh on William and Ben Franklin, America as a Social Experiment, and FRANKLINLAND

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One of three plays receiving a RoughCut production during this year’s *EST/Sloan First Light Festival is FRANKLINLAND by Lloyd Suh on November 21 and 25. The play reimagines the rich and at times contentious relationship between Founding Father and indefatigable inventor Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate (and only) son, William. We were curious what intrigued Suh about the Franklins.

FRANKLINLAND seems to stick pretty close to the historical facts of the life of Ben and William Franklin. Did you take any liberties? Is the name “Franklinland” your invention?

It’s nice of you to say I stick close to the facts – I’ve tried to be respectful of the history, while inventing some things within areas that are more apt for speculation. The idea of Franklinland is completely my invention, but it’s rooted in some really interesting things I learned about Ben and William’s relationship. In his will, Ben left him only a patch of land in Nova Scotia, and the significance of this is really unclear. I couldn’t help but imagine that this gesture was loaded with meaning somehow, which led to me speculating on what that meaning might have been.  And that turned into this elusive dream of a place called Franklinland.

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Totally. He was a noted humorist, and really famous for his disarming wit, so it made for a really fun ride in trying to honor that sensibility.

What kind of research did you do in writing FRANKLINLAND?

Before I started, I read two different biographies, one by H.W. Brands and another by Walter Isaacson, along with a lot of Ben’s own writing. There has been so much written about Franklin (and by him), and thankfully a lot of it contradicts – which I take as an invitation to pick and choose what serves the play dramatically. Once I started actually writing the play, I tried to respect the simple truths and facts, but be less beholden to the depth and breadth of all that history. That lets me focus more on the speculative aspects that I’ve decided to run with.

Your previous plays all dealt with Asian American themes, American Hwangap, The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space, Chupacabra Go!, among others. Does FRANKLINLAND represent a change in direction for you?

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You’re an alumnus of EST’s Youngblood program. For how many years were you a Youngblood? How has being part of that program affected your playwriting? 

I was in Youngblood from 1999, I think, until about 2003. I can’t really quantify how it’s affected my writing, but it was certainly an amazing community at a time when I needed exactly that. I can confidently say that being a part of it made me happier, and probably at least a little bit cooler.

What’s next for Lloyd Suh?

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*The First Light Festival is a monthlong series of workshop productions and readings that is part of the play development process of The EST/Sloan Project, a joint venture of the Sloan Foundation and the Ensemble Studio Theatre. 



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