Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 299: Jennifer Fawcett
Hometown: Toronto… well technically a farm near a village you’ve never heard of in Eastern Ontario but let’s just say Toronto because I lived there for a decade and still miss it.
Current Town: Iowa City… cool town. Cooler than you’d think.
Q: Tell me about Atlas of Mud.
A: ATLAS OF MUD is the biggest play I’ve ever written - - cast size (six, plus an optional ensemble – we did it with two additional cast members) and subject-wise. It needs kick ass designers - I like to think it gives a platform for designers to kick ass. I worry that lit managers read it and can’t get past the stage directions, but we just did a production of it here in Iowa with our company. It was gorgeous. And we did it for almost no money.
I was originally commissioned by a Canadian theatre company (Union Eight Theatre) to write a play about flood mythology. Then I moved to the US and Hurricane Katrina hit. Then I graduated from grad school and Iowa was covered in floods so I got to experience the damage water can do first hand. All of this influenced the play. I developed it with this Canadian company and also at the Lark in Playwrights’ Week and with our company. It won the 2008 National Science Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center. It’s about faith and hope in the midst of a global disaster. The second act takes place on a boat with the Bird Keepers and a stowaway child called Mud who is looking for her mother. For our production, we had a 23 foot long boat on stage that looked like it was coming out of the floor. All made out of recycled materials in stock at Riverside Theatre, where we’re Company-in-Residence this year.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I’m writing a new solo show called 3 MAPS that Working Group will be producing this spring as part of a festival of international solo shows. And I’m writing another show for Halcyon Theatre in Chicago for their Alcyone Festival this summer.
I’m part of a team of three writers working on a play called RUST about the closing of a GM plant in Michigan. We got a Creative Fund Award from the National Performance Network and are getting ready to start touring this piece in Fall 2011.
Q: What is it like to be Playwright in Residence at Curious Theater?
A: It was great. The best thing about it was that it gave me a way to get to know the people at the National New Play Network theatres. I also worked in the Literary Department at Curious, so I got to see the other side of the submission pile. I loved reading all these new plays. I hated writing rejection letters.
But aside from that, the residency was great. I developed my girl scout sex farce, BONNY GIRLS there and got to work with some of the very talented Company members.
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 grew up on a goat farm. My parents were city kids, it was the early 70’s and the back to the land thing was big. They had this crazy idea and they followed through on it. It didn’t work, in the end, and it almost destroyed their marriage but they made it through (still married, 40+ years). Years later when I looked at this goat thing I’d taken for granted as a kid, I saw it for what it was: a major risk. They’ve always been really supportive of me, even though there’s nothing glamorous or even remotely stable about playwriting, and I think it is because they understand from their own experience that you have to take risks to follow your dreams. I realize that may sound corny but it isn't. That day to day push towards a goal isn't corny at all.
Side note: the first show I ever wrote was all about this. Called it GOAT SHOW. I’m still touring it. I am in negotiations with a Canadian theatre to bring the show in for a run next year. So those goats have both indirectly and directly affected me as a writer and a person.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: More new work. Not the one new play that played Off Broadway and is now being produced in eleven theatres across the country - - that's fine - theatres can do that play. It's probably a really good play. But it SHOULDN'T fill the one new work slot that they supposedly have. I go to readings of exciting, messy, new plays - I have my own readings of my exciting messy new plays - and the audiences are engaged. They have conversations after. They ask questions. And then these new plays are rarely produced because supposedly the audience won't accept new work. Even though they just did. That doesn't make any sense. Theatre is risky. No matter what theatre you do, it will always be risky. It will always be easier for the audience to stay at home and watch TV so why not go farther and really take risks? Theatre is only dying if we stop feeding it.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Robert LePage, Bertolt Brecht, Naomi Wallace, Caryl Churchill
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that surprises me with sudden moments of beauty, silliness or cruelty. Theatre that appears out of nowhere - sneaks up on me and suddenly I'm watching something magical. Theatre that has a minimal set and inventive design and great language and is made by people who understand that the play happens inside the audiences' imaginations.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Available Light Theatre (www.avltheatre.com) their work needs to be seen by more than just the folks in Columbus because it is fantastic and they are a company who take true risks instead of just talking about it in their mission statement.
Working Group Theatre – the company I’ve co-founded with some other fantastic artists. We’re shaking things up in Iowa. www.workinggrouptheatre.org.
ITLP: the International Theatre and Literacy Project - - we went to Tanzania with them last year as part of a small team of artists who helped rural Tanzanian school kids create a play and then perform it for their village. My husband and I are currently talking to them about another project for this summer – same idea, different country. www.itlp.org.
Halcyon Theatre – check out their Alcyone Festival, June 9 – July 10. As I mentioned, I’ve got a play in it along with some kickass female playwrights who I’m awed to be in the same festival with… and because Tony and Jenn are true advocates of new work and fantastic people. http://www.halcyontheatre.org/alcyone11