Interview With Janet Preus: author of Welcome To Hell

Editor’s Note: Janet Preus’s wonderful Welcome To Hell recently closed at Open Eye Figure Theater. Because it had a very short run (a single weekend) and because Preus is a longtime reviewer at, we chose not to fully review the play. We would like to offer, otoh, the following interview:


John Olive: How did the connection with ThinkSelf come about?

Janet Preus: I met Mary Hartnett, executive director of the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MNCDHH) at a party. She was just leaving the party, but I got her contact info, told her I wanted to float this idea I had with deaf theater artists, and she connected me with others. Eventually, I met Erin Gardner, an actor and ASL interpreter, who happened to be interpreting for a project that was addressing the issue of abuse in the deaf community. She really made this partnership happen. Timing!

JO: Is deafness an issue that you have always been concerned with? How did this come about?

JP: I come to all of this new. I’m not sure if I had the initial thought, or if it came from my sister, Margi, who’s a writer. Happy to give her credit, if that’s the case. We’ve both done a bit of theater, so we talk about it now and then.

Since verbal and emotional abuse is all about language and communication and how dramatically it can impact a life, it just seemed like a fit. ThinkSelf was interested in supporting a theater project that would provide opportunities for Deaf theater artists and audiences, and a collaboration was born.

JO: Talk about the play, how it evolved, themes developed, etc.

JP: It’s been a long journey. I honestly cannot remember the worst incidences [of abuse] in my own personal experience. I know they happened, and I wrote about them. But at some point, I threw all those notes away. I wanted the play to be a play and not overly autobiographical. I also didn’t really want it to be public; it was not something I sought, shall we say, so it took many years before I was willing to put it in front of an audience. Having it co-performed by Deaf actors made it more cosmic, somehow. Weird, I know.

What really motivated me to finish this play is the deafening silence around the topic of verbal and emotional abuse. There’s no argument about the evil of sexual or physical abuse, but bring up emotional abuse and most people will say, “Hmm.. yeah” and change the subject. In fact, it’s life-altering for millions of people and it knows no boundaries – ethnicity, gender identity, physical challenges or not. It’s everywhere and it’s insidious. There’s an assumption, I think, that once the abused person leaves the abusive relationship, he or she will be fine – just go back to his/her original state like a rubber band. This is not true. If you drive 1,000 miles down the wrong road, you still have to go back, and then start over.

JO: Are there plans for Welcome To Hell in the Future?

JP: Well, you’ve brought it up, and so has Joel Sass, and a few others, so … maybe? With a sold out run, there is motivation. As gratifying as working on this production has been, I’d also like to see it done as I wrote it originally – performed by hearing/speaking actors only – just to see if it has the same impact, or if it really is something different. I’m just curious about that.



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