Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 159: Jessica Provenz

Jessica Provenz

Hometown: Merrick, NY

Current Town: NYC and Princeton, NJ (my husband and I have yet to move in together)

Q: Didn't you recently have a short film screened? Can you tell me about that?

A: I wanted to *make* something. Last year, I wrote a screenplay and a pilot, but I wanted the words to go from my computer screen to the big screen - not in 1 year or 2 or 10 - but now! So I wrote the short NOTHING HAPPENED, a comedy about the one conversation girlfriends should never have... I co-produced it with Jessica Henson and Sarah Louise Lilley, and we wore a ton of hats from fundraising to hiring the team to learning about color correction and editing and sound mixing. After the movie was locked, we applied to festivals (which is like applying to college - equally as lengthy, competitive and expensive). We premiered at Cinequest in San Jose, played in LA, and have a half-dozen festivals coming up this summer.

The big difference between seeing your play performed vs. your movie is that the movie is fixed. There's no question of whether a moment will work or if the pace will be right; you press "play" and go on the same ride every time. I also learned the importance of telling a story with visuals. I initially set the film in a cafe (that's my theatre background at work for you), but director Julia Kots's first request was for a more visually stimulating location like an art gallery, which I turned into an erotic art gallery. Third, I caught the bug. I'm writing/directing a feature for our next indy venture. We hope to apply everything we learned on the short tenfold.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I'm writing the book for a musical, MATCHBOOK, for The Araca Group. Dan Lipton and David Rossmer are writing lyrics/music. It's based on a book by Samantha Daniels about her life as a divorce lawyer turned matchmaker. It's sexy and romantic and fun, a "Sex and the City" for the stage. A musical is a whole new ballgame for me, so I'm grateful that Marsha Norman spent so many hours at Juilliard talking to us about writing musicals and things like "how to lead into a song."

I'm also writing a feature called ONE NIGHT IN BERGDORFS for Alicia Keys' company, Big Pita Lil Pita, and a pilot, TOWN & COUNTRY - about the fact that I live in Manhattan and my husband lives in Princeton (which seems to fascinate a lot of people). And this week, I wrote my favorite three words ever: "End of Play" on TRUE ART, a new work about the underbelly of the art world.

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

A: When I was 11, my parents shipped me off to Stagedoor Manor for 9 weeks. I remember 2 things: unlimited grape soda and directing. I got to direct a one-act in a competition called "Festival." I selected William Inge's "The Rainy Afternoon," and I loved every second of it - casting, creating the set, the costumes. I'd spend hours in my bunkbed moving my shoes around, pretending I was blocking the actors. At Stagedoor, they gave out replica Oscars on "Award's Night", and I won the award for Best Director; I was so excited, I slept with it for a week. I was this awkward, 4'5" kid with glasses, braces, oversized sweaters, and a perm?! I was average in school, terrible in sports, the worst in my tap class - but when I directed this play, I knew I'd found my home.

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

A: I would love the possibility of a livable wage in playwriting. I don't have to earn it, I just want to know it's out there somewhere.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love being blown away emotionally. Often a line or a moment will sucker-punch me, and I'll turn into a sobbing mess. I have some of my most honest moments watching theatre, because it can articulate what is so often left unsaid. I found the Off Broadway production of "Our Town" profound - I bought tickets for everyone I know. I love the emotion of plays by Wendy Wasserstein, Lee Blessing, A.R. Gurney, and musicals like "A Chorus Line" and "The Fantasticks."

Also love playwrights that perfect the twists-and-turns like Neil LaBute and Craig Wright. For a great laugh, I'll take Alan Ayckbourn any day.

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

A: Save money when you have it (I'm still grappling with this).

Be tenacious. Don't give up. A "no" is rarely firm. With grad school. With agents. With theaters. Send your material, and if there's any interest at all, send reinforcements - have someone make a call on your behalf - preferably someone they know and respect, or forward some press on the play, or about the source material, anything to keep you and your play in the reader's vision.

Finally, surround yourself with people who believe in you even more than you do. Whether it's parents, friends, a partner, or a mentor, having people who can remind you that you are on the right path is huge.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: NOTHING HAPPENED will screen in June at Berkshire International, New Jersey International, and New Fest in Manhattan with more festivals following in July and August. For details, go to our Facebook page. My play BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE will be workshopped by the Berkshire Playwrights Lab this summer. Details at

John Logan was my first playwriting professor at Northwestern. His play RED is thrilling


diane said...

Terrific interview - great insight into the playwright and the process.
This girl is going places

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring article! I've seen her work (both plays and film) and she's an obvious super-talent! Keep articles like this coming. It makes us think about what more we can all be doing to push our own careers forward! Thanks and go Jessica!

Janie said...

Thank you so much for this insightful interview, Adam! I have known Jessica for years, as both a colleague and a friend, yet here I sit with new appreciation for her work, her drive, and her unique voice. Good words for a great writer - well done!

VRB said...

I know her pretty well and she does have a lot of talent and determination! i wondered when she was going to be included in these interviews. i hope she keeps going in both mediums!

Anonymous said...

It is great to see new talent step forward and achieve. We look forward to more of her creative work. She is what we need to see more of- bright, off beat and yet can appeal to the mainstream and to aventgard too.

bg & mg

Arthur's Blog said...

My daughter is all a father could ever want , a caring, intellignt person, always aware and sensitive for the success of others. Her by product is that she is a very talented writer. I offered her medical school, but she was not about change- and thankfully so. I love you Dad

Carla said...

I have never known a harder working writer. Jessica's discipline and enthusiasm is inspiring. She is the real deal.

Malachy Walsh said...

Excellent. Jessica is terrific.