Nov 15, 2009
I Interview Playwrights Part 93: Julia Jarcho
Julia Jarcho (photo by Joe Buglewicz)
Current Town: NYC and San Francisco.
Q: Tell me about your play 13P is putting up.
A: It opens in a week, so I may have lost my ability to talk about it with any coherence at all... but It's about wanting to know the truth. There's a History Detective, and a girl who's been wronged, and they're trying to figure it all out. All of it. It's kind of inspired by the National Treasure movies. I'm interested in the way that even the shiniest fantasies of American identity are haunted by an awareness of national crimes. But I'm also interested in the way that unmasking those crimes becomes a fantasy, a point of investment itself. A question for me in making this play is, how would I insert myself into this discourse? What could I possibly have to say about history? And what does it mean to know history the same way you know a movie? Stuff like that. It's a two-person play, and the persons are Aaron Landsman and Jenny Seastone-Stern. They're both extraordinary performers with, I've always thought, really fascinating kinds of presence. And they're a joy to work with. We have a crack team of designers as well. And an amazing production staff. I've always loved 13P because the other playwrights are so cool, but this is the first time I've gotten to see the whole apparatus in motion, and I feel really lucky.
Q: You worked on this play at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. What was that experience like?
A: "A very supportive environment"-- but it really was. I've been a resident playwright at the Playwrights Foundation (that's who runs the Festival) for a little while, so the whole experience was pretty comfortable for me. It was a good way to get to know the script better, identify some of the challenges a production would involve, etc. And I think anytime an organization puts its resources at your disposal and presents your work, it's helpful just as a vote of confidence. Those can be hard to come by. The actors I worked with out there were really lovely too. As were the other writers.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I'm working now on a piece about Las Vegas, where I went this summer on a kind of pseudo-honeymoon. But it's not really about Las Vegas. Hmm. It's about a kid who processes everything through a lens of popular culture. A really smart kid. I'm pretty sure Guitar Hero will be involved. Then also, the back of my mind has been harping on D.H. Lawrence lately. A pretty low-level involvement to date, but we'll see.
Q: How did you come to have plays in Paris and Berlin? Were you there to see them? What was that like?
A: I lived in Berlin for a year or so and I had a fellowship to work on a new piece there. I did a very small workshop-type production of one piece in a children's puppet theater-- it wasn't a puppet piece or a children's piece, but I was in love with the setup in this place-- they had done a version of "Where the Wild Things Are," you know, before it was cool-- anyway, while I was there I became friends with a choreographer and performance artist named Ami Garmon, who's American but has been living in Berlin and Paris for a long time, and I did two pieces with her, one in a Berlin festival and one in a Paris festival. I performed in all three of those pieces. Basically my approach to making theater at that point was that I wanted to be doing it as much as possible, that just making the pieces was an end in itself and rather than try really hard to get other people to put on my plays I would put them on myself with my friends. That possibility is still something I love about theater.
Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Hmm. I've been reading a bunch of Freud lately, so I'm a little scared to answer this question. But I will tell you that apparently my first word was "more."
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like it when theater is restive. You know, challenging and challenged and quick and mercurial. If you already know something, then don't put it in a play. I think I really appreciate specificity-- but maybe that's one of those things like "good writing" that's just a catchall. I'm trying to answer the question in a way that won't rule out any particular type of theater, because there aren't any categories I'd dismiss out of hand. For instance, my plays tend not to have real characters, and it tends not to be totally settled in them what has happened or hasn't happened, and people tend not to talk the way people talk in real life. But I can enjoy all of those things in plays I see. I think it's safe to say that strangeness is a big part of the payoff for me. Give me something weird. In whatever way. I think, actually, to be honest, that for me to really like a piece it has to make me feel that the people who made it are not quite at home in the world. That something is amiss. But this can be a really joyful experience.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights starting out?
A: I wish I knew! I guess something along the lines of, get your pieces up. Don't assume that someone else has to decide to do them-- you can do them yourself. And then you can totally decide that you'd rather have someone else do them-- but at least try. A production at whatever level teaches you a million times more than all the workshopping and feedback in the world. I think.
Q: Plug your show:
A: Opening this Saturday!
Written and directed by Julia Jarcho
Starring Aaron Landsman and Jenny Seastone Stern
Sets: Jason Simms
Costumes: Colleen Werthmann
Lights: Ben Kato
Sound: Asa Wember
One night, a Real History Detective meets a gumptious young vagabond with a harrowing past. Together, they'll follow a paper trail of blood and tears that goes all the way back to this nation's beginning. Or somewhere else.
November 21 - December 12
The Paradise Factory
64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Ave.)
November 21 - 22, 27 - 29, December 2 - 3, 5 - 6, 9 - 10, and 12 at 8:30PM; December 4 and 11 at 7:30PM and 10:00PM
tickets @ www.americantreasuretheplay.com