Phoenix Playwright Beth May's Poetry Album, The Family Arsonist, Explores Bipolar Disorder and Feminism

Beth May has a way with words. And having just graduated from Arizona State University's screenwriting program, there's no telling where or in what medium those words might land her.

At 23, May has already sold her first screenplay, a possible movie adaptation of her end-of-days play, Earthlings, which she wrote, co-directed, and debuted at Binary Theatre Company in April 2014. But it's not just plot lines that are propelling her career forward. May is also making a name for herself as a poet, having just released her second spoken word album, The Family Arsonist.

See also: Tempe Playwright Beth May: 100 Creatives

A follow up to May's first album, The Dueling Compass, which refers to the up-and-down experience of her bipolar disorder, The Family Arsonist deals with the dynamic between May and those closest to her.

"I've taken this year to realize how [bipolar disorder] affected my family," she says. "I guess I'm more of a fan of juxtaposition, so you've got the The Dueling Compass, The Family Arsonist -- all those weird names. I guess they're more nonsensical than anything."

But don't let her modesty down play it. The Family Arsonist paints a clear pictures of May's sentiments, thanks in part to her clever word play. Take track nine, Pheminism, for example. Here May contemplates how different her life would be if she were born a boy, starting with the knowing that her mother would have named her Stephen (hence the spelling of the title). Throughout the poem, May compares her life experiences to that of her hypothetical male self, the gender-based struggles the she ultimately concludes shouldn't exist:

"I talk about Stephen like we're two different people

But I'm just jealous, Mom, because in the womb we were equal."

Of course, it's not just the words that work in May's favor, it's the serious emotion that comes form her raw performance style. She credits this to local spoken word artist, Myrlin Hepworth.

May, who had begun her poetry career as a freshman in college admits, "I was awful and I hated it... Then I saw Myrlin do it was I was like, 'Okay, so I can say words and even if they don't really really make sense, if I say them with enough musical intonation, then people will think they do.' And I've been using that ever since."

It's this flawed and honest approach to her work that May hopes will rub off on others when they hear The Family Arsonist.

"I hope that people realize that it's okay to say 'um;' that it's okay to not know what they're doing; that it's okay not to be the best."

Despite covering subjects such as bipolar disorder and feminism in her latest 12-track album, May doesn't claim to be an expert on either. Because to her it's not so much about stating what you know as it is "saying what you believe."

Perhaps we could all benefit to take a page, or a track, from May's book.

The Family Arsonist can be downloaded for $5 on Bandcamp. Her works can also be sampled for free on Soundcloud.

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Katie Johnson
Contact: Katie Johnson