Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 76: Jenny Schwartz


 
Jenny Schwartz


Hometown:
Scarborough, NY and then New York, NY


Current Town:
New York, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?



A:  A play called Somewhere Fun.
A play about Fantasy Football.
I’m also collecting exchanges I have with my two year old daughter, Phoebe, who already has a zest for words, language, and stories - especially seemingly mundane ones. It’s thrilling (and hilarious) to watch her as she tries out new words and phrases every day. I’ll list a couple of things she's said that have woken me up, in a way, to the poetry and absurdity in every day speech. I’m hoping to construct something out of these exchanges.  Maybe just a scrapbook of sorts.


Phoebe:
I like grape medicine.  
You like grape medicine?  
You like it a little or a lot? 
I like it a lot sometimes.


Phoebe:
We sometimes call him Daddy.
We sometimes call him him.


Q:  Can you talk a little about your writing process?  Is it true that you start over from the beginning each time without looking at what you wrote the previous time?

A:  Yes, it’s true.  I imagine that when composers or songwriters write new songs, they aren’t able to start from the end when they sit down to work; this is true for me too.  I find it helpful to experience the entire piece in order to continue on with it and to find holes and spaces in it. For some reason, reading it over, even aloud, isn’t enough. Typing the whole thing from memory helps me get out of my head and into the world of the play and to seamlessly, unconsciously develop and expand it.  I’m also able to experience the rhythm and momentum of the piece, and writing becomes a physical act. It’s not often that I add to the end of what I’m writing because I always get caught up in the body of the text; something will need fine-tuning which will lead me on a tangent that I couldn’t anticipate. It’s also, in a way, like ironing, where you start with a small part of the fabric and you keep going back over it until you smooth out the whole thing. That said, I don’t do this ALL the time. If I’m working on a particular scene, I’ll sometimes start only that scene from the beginning, and not the entire play. As you can probably guess, I'm a voracious typer. 


Q:  How did you like Juilliard?

A:  Juilliard was great, and I’m grateful they took me and let me stick around for two years. It was a rare privilege to have Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman responding to my work.  Before Juilliard, I studied directing with Robert Woodruff and Anne Bogart at Columbia. My years at Columbia were perhaps more formative than my years at Juilliard. It was in Robert Woodruff's directing class that I tried my hand at playwriting. Robert encouraged me to keep writing, even though my first plays were five minutes long and consisted mostly of one actor saying the same thing over and over again. (I'm still drawn to repetition, but I tend to create more expansive palettes now.) I'll be forever indebted to Robert and Anne for encouraging me to experiment, to ask questions, to think outside the box. They opened doors for me I had no idea existed. 


Q:  God's Ear is being done around quite a bit.  Are there shows coming up you can tell us about?


A:  I don’t actually know what’s coming up, but I will tell you that I went to Portugal a couple of weeks ago to see a production of God’s Ear in Portuguese.  For the most part, I couldn’t follow it word-for-word or line-for-line, but right away, I was struck by the acting, which was clearly intense and impassioned.  It was a moving experience for me - to feel so completely absent and present at the same time – to view myself as a catalyst for these talented artists having a meaningful experience doing their work so well. I’ve felt similar about productions I’ve heard about around the country (I've only seen one, a wonderful production directed by Ken Rus Schmoll at Cornell University. Ken and I were classmates at Columbia and are close friends and collaborators, so I was somewhat involved in that one.) Anyway, it's been amazing and humbling to connect with strangers in this way - very unexpectedly rewarding.


Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Hmmm… I was obsessed with Helen Keller and the Miracle Worker, and I used to stare up at the sun to try make myself blind; fortunately, I was not successful. I don't know if this explains who I am as a writer or an artist (I hope not), but I thought I'd mention it because Helen Keller tends to make her way into my work. What else?  I remember telling my first lie when I accidentally lost my Kindergarten class’s pet Guinea Pig.  This was eye-opening for me because I realized that in real life, you don't always have to get caught, like on the Brady Bunch, and you can have a secret inner life that no one has to know about. 


Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I space out very easily, so I’d have to say I’m most excited by theatre that doesn’t bore me, which can come in any and all forms, and found anywhere. I do appreciate poetry, both visual and aural, and I like to have a good laugh. 


Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  *Don't type out your play over and over again. Total waste of time.
*Try to get yourself in situations where you can actually make theatre and put it in front of an audience. (I’m not talking about readings.)
*Take everyone's advice and no one's advice and don't let anyone's advice make you feel stupid or wrong because what you really want to do is find your own unique and mutable way. (Or not.) I tend to be suspicious anyone who claims to know anything, but come to think of it, I'm probably just jealous. 
*Don't sell yourself short.


Q:  Any plugs?

A:  Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker.
Creature by Heidi Schreck.




You can get God's Ear here and places other fine books are sold.

4 comments:

Anne said...

I was lucky enough to see God's Ear and look forward to anything else she writes....

Anne said...

Jenny Schwartz is a playwright we all should watch.

ideas de negocio said...

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djsalty said...

God's Ear is the BOMB. LOVE it!