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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Aug 29, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 783: Jennifer Kirkeby

Jennifer Kirkeby

Hometown: State College, PA, then moved to Southern CA for 20 years

Current Town: Minneapolis, MN

Q: What are you working on now?

A: 2 musical adaptations, 2 young adult novels.

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 in the first grade, I couldn’t wait to dance for Show and Tell. I had choreographed a solo to Swan Lake. I was bursting to perform this dance. Begging the teacher. I was convinced that my dance would somehow ignite creativity and light in this dark and not particularly fun classroom.

My teacher, Miss Farrell, put me off at least two times, but it didn’t stop my insistent pleading. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure she was afraid that if I danced in her classroom, (which was in the basement of a church, by the way) the students might join in, and next she’d be watching a scene similar to The Crucible, with kids chanting wide-eyed, jumping on their desks, gyrating with scarves, and spewing devil worship. In any case, Miss Farrell finally acquiesced with a pained look on her face.

The day of my premiere, I carefully brought my dad’s Swan Lake album to school. Miss Farrell took a really long time putting it in the record player. As I waited, holding a scarf in each hand, my little heart was fluttering like a family of hummingbirds against my ribs. The music began. I danced my heart out. Up and down the aisles. Twirling, leaping, flying, turning, and throwing my scarves into the air as the melody built in intensity. I didn’t want anyone to feel left out of the music and dance that touched me so deeply.

After my death scene in which a scarf somehow managed to end up falling squarely on my face, I held my final pose and waited for the earth shattering applause I had imagined for weeks. It sounded more like the reticent raindrops of a passing cloud. Then a boy raised his hand. “Yes, Bobby?” Miss Farrell asked, circumventing any conversation that might lead to witchcraft. “What was that?” he asked, his face puckered as if he’d just sucked a lemon wedge.

What that experience taught me at a very young age was that you have to be strong as hell to be an artist, yet retain extraordinary sensitivity. Not everyone is going to get you, or even appreciate you, so you need to be sure you love what you’re doing.

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

A: Accessibility. I wish there was a theater program in every school. I’ve taught theatre arts for years, and I’m convinced that students can learn about our world in ways that standard curriculum cannot always provide. I’ve seen amazing breakthroughs when suddenly a wave of compassion and understanding shines through because a child successfully created their own scene, and then watched wide-eyed as other students performed their work for the class.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Sam Shepard, Tanya Barfield, Bob Fosse, Annie Baker, Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, Marsha Norman and so many more...

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Bold plays or musicals that are unpredictable, vulnerable, truthful, beautiful, ugly, on the edge, and sometimes just crazy. The kind of theater that smacks you upside the head with a different way of seeing the world. I am fortunate to live in Minneapolis, MN. (Well, not so much when it’s below zero, but for the arts.) We have the Playwrights’ Center and the Loft Literary Center, and many great theater companies, so there is always an abundance of wonderful, creative minds and opportunities for writers.

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

A: Ask yourself why you want to write. Chances are you are already aware that very few people can make a living as a playwright. It can be disappointing, heart breaking, and there are no guarantees. However, there is nothing like being in a theatre on opening night with an audience who has come to see something that you helped to create. There’s also no greater way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

If you decide this is your path, work hard and be brave. Don’t be afraid to dance with scarves. Do anything and everything you can in the theater. I’m an actress, I’ve choreographed, directed, and stage managed, and I firmly believe that the more you know about theater, the better you will be as a playwright. It only makes sense. You need to understand the limitations and the possibilities of theater in order to create effectively. Write the play that you would want to see.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My adaptation of The Bear Snores On, book by Karma Wilson, music and lyrics by Blake Thomas: Jan. 22 - Feb. 15, 2015, and The Snow Queen, music by James LeKatz: March 4 - March 20, 2016 for Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, MN. www.stagestheater.org. My adaptation of Twelve Dancing Princesses, music by Shirley Mier, is currently being published by Dramatic Publishing Company. www.dramaticpublishing.com. My original play, Eyes Wide Open, about a teen-age girl with an eating disorder, is being re-released by Samuel French. http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/3949/jennifer-kirkeby

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