Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 152: Jami Brandli


Jami Brandli

Hometown: North Bergen, NJ

Current Town: Pasadena, CA

Q: Tell me about the play you have going up at HotCity Theatre in St. Louis.

A: In essence, The Sinker is a single set, three person play that explores how far friends will compromise themselves for love.

In June of 2009, The Sinker won HotCity Theatre’s Jury Prize for their GreenHouse New Plays Festival, with the grand prize being a world premiere production in their 2010 season. They brought me back to St. Louis for a week-long workshop in December where I got to work with my dramaturg, Erica Nagel (Resident Dramaturg at Premiere Stage in NJ), my director, Annamaria Pileggi, and my cast. The setting was intense—which is the way I prefer to revise. We rehearsed for about four hours each night, and then the next morning and afternoon I wrote new pages, which were then explored and rehearsed that night. The workshop ended with a staged reading of the newly revised draft, which was open to the public. That week was simply heaven, and everyone at HotCity Theatre was phenomenal. The world premiere runs May 7th to May 22nd and I’m going back to St. Louis for the last week of rehearsal and opening weekend. I can honestly say I’m in love with this theatre company. In love!

Q: What else are you working on?

A: My latest play, Technicolor Life, is about a young female vet, Billie, who returns home from Iraq without her left hand and how this affects her family, particularly her teenage sister, Maxine. My play also deals with voluntary euthanasia and the Final Exit Network, an all-volunteer organization that serves members in all 50 states who are suffering from intolerable medical circumstances and want to end their lives. Franny, the dying matriarch who loves American musicals, asks her family to throw her a final goodbye party, forcing her daughter and granddaughters to wrestle moral decisions.

So far, Technicolor Life has been getting a great response. It’s been accepted into the 2010 WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab (starts this June) and is currently a semifinalist for the Ashland New Plays Festival. It was also a semifinalist for the O'Neill and Seven Devils Playwrights Conference. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited to dive into WordBRIDGE this June and get to work on my next draft of Technicolor Life.

I’m also at work on my novel, The Big Mouth of New Jersey, and the beginning of my new play, HOOKS, which is about infidelity, turtles, body suspension and rebirth.

My husband, Brian Polak (who is also a playwright), and I are writing partners for TV and screenwriting. In 2008, we were finalists for the ABC Disney TV Fellowship, which was nice, but we’re still trying to break in. We moved from Boston to Los Angeles in the summer of 2007 to pursue TV and screenwriting as a team, but interestingly enough, it’s the LA theatre scene we’re drawn to more. They’re good people, and we’ve made great friends.

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

A: I have a large family, so without question, they’ve helped shape me into a writer.

And then there’s pizza…

I grew up in the restaurant industry, literally. Soon after I was born, my parents, both barely 21 years old, opened up their first pizzeria in North Bergen, NJ. After a few years, they expanded into a larger pizzeria with a video arcade with forty games (I lived the dream in the 1980s), and then worked their way into opening up Italian restaurants. Most people who work in the restaurant industry are transient by nature, which means they all have interesting stories to tell. And lucky for me, most of my parents’ employees loved to tell stories. I’ve heard stories from drug addicts, ex cons, working moms, college boys, exchange students, pregnant teenage girls, vets, and many more. And then there are the employees who stay. It’s especially interesting to track the stories of the ones who been with my parents for over twenty years, as I get to hear about the deaths of their parents to the births of their grandchildren and all the drama and laughter in between. Every story I’ve been told is a gift, and I know—either consciously or subconsciously—they inform the stories I write.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A: I would love for big theaters to take more risks by producing new plays. And I would also love if there were a way for these theaters to charge less for tickets so more people would come to the theater to see new plays. It’s a pretty simple request, right?

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: I have three types of heroes:

1. The playwrights who shake up theatre, and at the same time strike a universal cord with their plays. This is hard to do. Just to name a few: Sam Shepard, Naomi Wallace, Caryl Churchill and Paula Vogel.

2. The people, theaters, and organizations that promote and produce new plays.

My friend, colleague and fellow teacher at Lesley University, Kate Snodgrass, is one of those people. As the Artistic Director of the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, all she does is promote and produce new works. She didn’t receive the 2001 “Theatre Hero” Award from StageSource in Boston for nothing. Plus, Kate is an amazing playwright and director. She’s a triple threat. I’m continuously inspired by her drive, talent and enthusiasm.

One of those theaters is The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena, CA. This year they’re producing four World Premieres. Four! http://www.bostoncourt.com/index.htm

And WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab is one of those organizations. Their sole purpose is to help the playwright develop their play with no pressure of a production. I can only speak for myself, but this type of environment will allow me to explore, make mistakes and have profound discoveries without having a nervous breakdown. http://www.wordbridge.org/

3. My other heroes are the countless playwrights who get up and write everyday with no confirmation their play will ever get produced.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: New works and plays that are inherently theatrical. I go to the theater to see a piece of theatre.

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

A: Take playwriting classes, go to the theatre, read as many plays as you can, surround yourself with honest people, and volunteer at your local theater. And by “volunteer” I mean volunteer to do anything from ushering to painting sets to reading plays. I feel it’s so important for beginning playwrights to understand the entirety of theatre, not just learn how to write a good play.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: If you’re in St. Louis in May, come see The Sinker at HotCity Theatre! http://hotcitytheatre.org/index.html

Support your local theater and please, go see new plays!

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