Wednesday, January 11, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 418: Jennifer Lane
Hometown: Troy, Michigan
Current Town: Astoria, New York
Q: Tell me about Fizz.
A: The Fizz Plays are a collection of 10-minute pieces written by the 2012 terraNOVA Groundbreakers Playwriting Group: Krista Knight, Crystal Skillman, Andrea Lepcio, Ken Urban, Matt Olmos and me. We were given the word "fizz" to inspire our plays, and mine is called Tummy Bubbles. It's about a gamer girl who has planned what she thinks is just the perfect night for her and her roommate, but her roommate has other things in mind... It's on Monday, January 16th at the 14th Street Y. More details can be found here. You should come! It's going to be a lot of fun!
Q: What else are you working on now?
A; For Groundbreakers, I'm reworking a play I wrote early in Grad school that used to be called Asylum, but is not called that any more. In fact, it is currently for want of a title. It's about women in mental institutions in the past and present and deals with gender stereotyping within the mental health system, as well as the rather tumultuous history of the system itself.
I'm also working on a solo piece called Convergence with actor Avery Pearson and director Calla Videt. I'm really excited about it because it uses video projection and I've never done that before. In fact, I've never written a solo piece before either, so there are a number of firsts for me in this project.
And I'm also working on a play called The Burning Brand, which is inspired by a town (Centralia, PA) that has been on fire since 1962. Like actually on fire. A coal mine has been smoldering steadily under the town for decades now, and yet as of 2010 there were still about a dozen or so people who live there. Fascinating stuff.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: So, in the 5th grade at the school I went to, they had this thing called the Young Authors Tea. Every year the 5th grade class would write a story and then bind it into a book using cardboard and fabric and staples and tape, and the books would be displayed in the library right alongside the real books. And the students could read them and write comments on them and everything. As a third- and fourth-grader, I read all of the 5th grade books, so I was pretty stoked when it was my turn to write. My story was based on something I read in the newspaper -- because I read the newspaper in the 5th grade -- about a woman who got drunk and took her baby for a walk in the middle of a highway. People tell me my writing is dark. Well, I started young. The kids who read it and left comments said things like, "This is good, but it should have a happy ending." or "I don't understand why a mother would do something like that." Well, kid. Me either. I wrote to figure it out.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would magically make it so that not only was it inexpensive and accessible to all, but all of the artists that worked in it would be able to make a comfortable living. And then I would magically make it so that there was gender parity. Boom. Just like that.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Chuck Mee, Lucy Thurber, Kelly Stuart, Sheila Callaghan, Sarah Ruhl, Stuart Spencer and Robert Murphy -- all such brilliant artists and teachers and people who have touched my life in innumerable ways. But I think the work I come back to the most frequently is that of Sarah Kane and Bertolt Brecht. When I'm stuck, that's who I read. Also, my dear friend Trystan Trazon, whose gift with music and language is what inspired me to write plays in the first place.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Things that use what one of my favorite collaborators (director Jess Smith) calls "Phenomenologically hot" -- running water on stage, for example. I'm also really into interdisciplinary performance right now, and to see authentic and human stories told through various mediums is really exciting to me.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A; I myself am a playwright just starting out, but here's what I can offer from my limited experience: 1) Just ask. People are pretty nice, generally, and if you ask for help you will probably get it. 2) You don't know what you can do until you try it. So apply to that Thing You Think You Probably Won't Get, and write that Play You Think Will Probably Be Too Difficult To Produce. You may surprise yourself. And 3) Don't wait. If no one wants to do your play, do it yourself. Raise money, rent space, and do it. Or do it for free in a park, or read scenes of it form a coffee shop. But do it. And ask someone to help you.
And also? This might sound weird, but get on Twitter and follow the amazing conversations that are happening about theater and new play development. Start with @HowlRound and go from there.
Oh, and have a website. As a lit manager, I love looking at playwright websites -- it's a way that you can assert some control over your professional web presence. Take advantage of that.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: terraNOVA Collective - Fizz Plays, January 16th. And look out for our Groundbreakers Reading Series coming in April, 2012!
Also: The Washington Rogues are doing a reading of my play The Would-Be Room on February 17.
And finally: The Astoria Performing Arts Center has some great programming coming up (I am the literary manager there).