Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 839: Jan Rosenberg



Jan Rosenberg

Hometown: Manhattan

Current Town: Manhattan

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming play reading with Barefoot.

A:  'What's Wrong With You' is a cautionary tale about growing up in a world that's getting less and less empathetic. I mean, I see babies in strollers using iPads and elementary school kids that know what Instagram is but can't make eye contact. I wonder what it's like to come out of the womb dependent on technology.

My play is the culmination of my recurring nightmares. Or daymares, really. I wrote the first scene after witnessing something incredibly disturbing on a subway car. A teenage girl was by herself and clearly either intoxicated or about to be sick. It was pretty obvious. Everyone (myself included) seemed to be playing this game where we were waiting for someone else to approach her. Because this is New York-no one wants to get involved in other people's shit. At some point she pitched forward and hit her head-she got off by herself at the next stop. No one said anything. I found myself questioning everyone, thinking: what's wrong with you all? But then, I didn't do anything either, so what's wrong with me?

My sweet spot is dark comedy. I love finding humor in tragedy. And call me sadistic, but I like to be scared. I think there are certain things in this play that will be uncomfortable to watch. That's the kind of theater that excites me. We have an incredible cast of young folks, many of whom I've been in awe of for years of watching their work. Working with Shira-Lee Shalit as my director has been fantastic. I first met her through LAByrinth Theater Company when I was 21 (I'm 27 now). I'm so excited to be developing this piece with her.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  'What's Wrong With You' is in talks for a film adaptation, which is really exciting. I also just completed a TV pilot called 'Treat Yourself'. It's a dark comedy in the vein of Orange Is The New Black and revolves around the lives of women in an Eating Disorder Treatment Facility. And so many plays in the works. I have writer's brain. It won't let me sleep.

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

A:  My Dad let my brother and I rent all the Stephen King Movies when I was 9.

When I was 11, I discovered the best book I had ever read (at that time). I was up 'til 3AM finishing it. I could hardly wait to tell my 6th-grade English teacher about it. I thought I'd discovered gold. She was so excited to see how enthusiastic I was. When I told her the title, she made a face and was like 'Oh...wow.' It was Flowers In The Attic.

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

A:  Ticket prices. Just kidding...sort of. My wish is for theater to continue to push the boundaries of what an audience might expect or feel comfortable with. As is life, theater/art is not a neat, contained thing. It's chaotic and messy. Sometimes it's unattractive. And uncomfortable. There are times where I feel like in order to see something that's really gritty and challenging, I need to climb down a sewer in order to find it. I only do that sometimes, though.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Deceased: Samuel Beckett.

Alive and kicking: Edward Albee, Adam Rapp, Jose Rivera, Rajiv Joseph, Martin McDonagh, Jenny Schwartz, Halley Feiffer, Lucas Hnath, Aaron Mark, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jonathan Larson, Lin Manuel Miranda, Stephen Sondheim, Tyrone from Hand To God and the dog who played Sandy in the most recent Annie revival.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything that's unpredictable, uncomfortable, weird, hilarious, disturbing... I'm a horror buff. Horror movies don't scare me. I love when a play scares me. Last year Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins's Gloria, Aaron Mark's Empanada Loca and Mac Rogers's The Honeycomb Trilogy fulfilled everything I love about playwriting.

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

A:  Go outside the classroom. Read everything. See everything. Don't try to mimic other writers. No one really has any idea what they're doing, so don't worry too much.

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