San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

WINDOW OF SHAME–An Interview with Aleta Barthell

on January 3, 2016

Aleta Barthell’s play, Window of Shame, is a finalist for the 1st Annual Humanitas/Center Theatre Group Playwriting Prize. The award will be given to the best new and unproduced play written by a Southern California playwright.

aleta barthell playlaprize

Aleta Barthell

Tell us about yourself.

I am an actress turned teacher and writer. I found myself frustrated as an actress with the roles that were available for women.  I decided to focus my effort on writing…and writing stories that show women making choices in their lives.

Tell us about your play.


Carlsbad Window of Shame

My play, Window of Shame, is based on a real event that I learned while on a ghost tour in New Orleans in 2002.

fran end

Yolanda Franklin in New Village Arts Theatre reading 2012

In 1834, Doctor and Madame LaLaurie are famous in the French Quarter for their elegant parties in their resplendent home, but suspicions arise after a young slave woman climbs out of a darkened window on the second floor and jumps to her death, leaving Sally, the cook who is chained in the kitchen, to risk her own life to expose the horrifying secret that lives upstairs.

sbelle fly

Katie Calvin, Ashleyrose Gilham (on floor), Rhys Green and Kiana Jackson in New Village Arts Theatre reading 2012


In Window of Shame, I want to explore how moral atrocities are ignored and/or go undetected in a community and what finally pushes an individual to step forward to stop it. I want it to be a story that fills our senses with sounds (rhythms, chains, trumpets), flashes of light (lightning) and visual images using choreographed movement to convey the supernatural and grotesque in the story. I want the play to show an individual with seemingly the least amount of latitude for action, who exposes the moral outrage around her.

What are your challenges? What are your successes?

window of shame reading

Aleta Barthell in rehearsal for Fountain Theatre reading 2011

My initial challenge was to decide why it was important to tell a story about slavery and torture today. Then the U.S. invaded Iraq.  Then the U.S. tortured detainees.  Then Hurricane Katrina ripped open a window to life in New Orleans that no one believed had existed.  Suddenly, this story felt very resonant.

I also have wrestled with telling a story from a voice that is far away from me culturally. I have been fortunate to have an uncle who is a professor of slavery in the south who helped to guide me in my research to understand this world.

I had an actress, Judith Scott, drive down from LA for an initial reading of the play. She liked the piece so much that she gathered actors in LA and we had two readings of the piece in theatres in LA and also two readings in San Diego.


Rhys Green, Kristianne Kurner, Manny Fernandes, M’Lafi Thompson, Abner Genece, Yolanda Franklin, Jarrod Weintraub, Fred Harlow, Katie Calvin, Milena Phillips, Aleta Barthell, Kiana Jackson and Ashleyrose Gilham in New Village Arts Theatre reading 2012

What is your next step?

Before I knew I was a finalist for Humanist prize, I had been working with a director/dramaturg from LA, Alan Freeman. Alan approached me after he heard me speak about the piece at the Dramatists Guild National Conference this summer in La Jolla, he wanted to know if I would be interested in doing some readings in LA and San Diego to garner interest from producing bodies and get the play on the road to production.  I said, “Yes!”

We are tentatively planning a reading here in San Diego at New Village Arts Theatre in February. I have also been fortunate to have the support of an excellent San Diego grant specialist, Lorraine Demi, who is helping us find grant sources for these readings and future productions.

Click here to watch the Window of Shame video promo.

Thank you for talking with us, Aleta! And good luck with Window of Shame!


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