Apr 22, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 342: Rachel Jendrzejewski
photo credit: Rafal Nowak
Hometown: Vincennes, Indiana
Current Town: Providence, Rhode Island
Q: Tell me about Theater Masters National MFA Playwrights Festival.
A: Theater Masters is a splendid non-profit organization based in Aspen that (among other things) supports emerging playwrights, especially in the transition from grad school into Next, through this annual festival. It's pretty extraordinary. In January, they flew us out to Aspen to see workshop productions of our short plays and meet all kinds of wonderful generous people; and then we went home and made revisions to our plays, if we wanted; and soon we'll reconvene in NYC for full productions of those pieces, plus meetings with folks in the field, gallivanting, festivity, etc. The whole experience has been quite a gift.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: Most immediately, I'm helping Erik Ehn throw some lunches and dinners centered on art and peace-building, aka the sixth annual Arts in the One World anti-conference (open to all: http://brown.edu/Departments/Theatre_Speech_Dance/grad/aow2011.html)! I'm also revising my most recent full-length play, MERONYMY, for a reading at Playwrights' Horizons in May, directed by the wonderful Kristin Marting. It's a highly visual piece, developed in collaboration with installation artists Megan & Murray McMillan and composer Peter Bussigel -- hence I'm trying to figure out how it might properly function as a 'reading' at all -- but I think it can! And I'm preparing to finish my MFA. Binding documents, ordering regalia, packing up to move.
Q: Tell me about your time in Poland.
A: oh I never know how to answer this question... it was wild and wonderful. I'd always been curious about Poland, both personally (family history) and artistically (Grotowski et al); and then a string of star alignments brought me to Wroclaw from 2008-2009, assisting the illustrious Joanna Klass on worldwide events for The Grotowski Year 2009. I worked long hours at the Grotowski Institute editing English texts, writing grant proposals, coordinating logistics for guests, producing all kinds of events; but I also collaborated on some independent performance projects at Galeria Entropia and Art Cafe Kalambur, as well as took part in some phenomenal workshops. And made some lifelong friends. And wandered. Saw buckets upon buckets of stunning art and performance. Dug into the country's history. Studied the language. People-watched. Had a glorious reunion with long-lost relatives. Did voiceover work and sold valentines to make ends meet. Danced like crazy. Bopped over to neighboring countries. Got lost on trains. Wrote, wrote, wrote.
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 little, I was super shy in public but made all kinds of plays, movies, and radio shows at home with my sister, Ingrid. She's six years older than me, so obviously she was always in charge. When I was 6 and she was 12, she decided we should make our own filmed version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, casting herself as Scrooge and me as everybody else. When it came time to shoot the scene from Scrooge's past in which Belle breaks their engagement, I was so moved by the situation that I started to cry and couldn't stop. I was in kindergarten, but I remember feeling so desperately sorry for both characters that I couldn't do the scene. My mom had to intervene and we almost didn't finish the project - but eventually Ingrid made me laugh so we pushed through. Later in the film, there's a classic shot of me running through our living room with a scarf tied over my eyes, as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, gleefully yelling "woobawoobawoobawoobawooba!" and slamming straight into a chair. So I guess this story reveals that I've forever been very empathetic and very clumsy.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Too many to list! but a smattering of highlights (who may or may not identify as theatrical): Maria Abramovic, Robert Ashley, Pina Bausch, Beckett, Brook, John Cage, Laurie Carlos, Anne Carson, Caryl Churchill, Cornerstone Theater Co, E. E. Cummings, Dah, Lisa D'Amour, Derevo, Elevator Repair Service, Erik Ehn, Thalia Field, Grotowski, Uta Hagen, Coleman Hough, Ruth Margraff, Ariane Mnouchkine, Cindy Sherman, Gertrude Stein, Robert Wilson, Teatr Zar, Zeami, Guy Zimmerman... plus of course my family!
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that promotes divergent thinking and compassion through an ongoing becoming of itself -- work that's ever-pushing to get at something ineffable. Intimate immensity. Process as performance and vice versa; theater as gathering and evolution. Work that is startling and weird and hysterically funny. Work that reflects the diversity and surreality of our world.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Take time to figure out how you like to write and pursue that, without worrying over any seeming Shoulds! Find your people and make things happen, at whatever pace works for you. Be gracious to yourself. Invest in friendships outside of the theatre/arts world. Take walks and explore. Avoid debt. Exercise. Sleep.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: If you can get to Providence this weekend, come enjoy free food and good conversation at Arts in the One World! full schedule and info at http://brown.edu/Departments/Theatre_Speech_Dance/grad/aow2011.html. Otherwise, forthcoming in NYC: BACTERIA at the Theater Masters National MFA Playwrights Festival, dir. Adam Immerwahr, May 3-7, Wild Project (http://www.theatermasters.org) + a reading of MERONYMY, presented by Brown University at Playwrights' Horizons, dir. Kristin Marting, May 13, 3pm.