Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 907: Mark Jackson



Mark Jackson

Hometown: Placerville, California.

Current Town: San Francisco.

Q:  Tell me about Messenger 1.

A:  It’s a play close to my heart. Art Street Theatre had a great success with it when we produced it in 2000, which was such a weighty historical year given the turn of the millennium and the play spoke to anxieties people were having then about the internet and media. The Catamounts, in Denver, had a good time with it in 2012 and my old EXIT Theatre buddy, Meridith Crosley Grundei, played M#3, which delights me. A professor at William & Mary University used it in her curriculum for a Feminist Theater history class, and I really enjoyed reading the papers students wrote on it. I’m very taken by the inner struggles of the messenger characters, their conflicted feelings about class and what defines their personal sense of integrity. And I think Electra is a very interesting character. She has the potential to open her heart but is afraid and protects herself with violence. I think the play gives actors a lot to do, something passionate to say and an opportunity to work in a really physical way that marries humor and emotion. When actors enjoy material it's infectious for an audience. I really look forward to what Hunger & Thirst do with it, and am tickled that Emily Kitchens, whom I worked with at A.C.T., is now taking up the M#3 role. She’s perfect for it, really tough and passionate and open and honest.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m in pre-production for THE BLACK RIDER, the musical by Waits and Burroughs, at Shotgun Players. Also I’m writing a book about the 2016 Shotgun Players HAMLET production, in which the actors learned all the roles and found out who they were to play on a given night in a drawing held before the audience five minutes before curtain.

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 don’t have such a story… I think I was making theatre in the womb and birth was my first opening night. Or, morning rather. I was born at 9:04 in the morning.

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

A:  About the American theater I presume? That it be better understood and also better supported financially in this country. That might require magic powers at this point... In the meantime I try to change theater slowly, one show at a time, by changing how I work myself in order to up the odds of my helping the group involved to make something together that is fresh and alive and provocative in some useful way. “Useful” to me means an audience goes away thinking anew about what they experienced and what they felt. If I could change one thing about the American theater it would be that it was more consistently useful.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Ariane Mnouchkine. Vsevelod Meyerhold. Beth Wilmurt.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Many kinds! I’m most excited by theater and performances that embrace the metaphorical nature of theater and performance, and that exploit all its aspects and artists to impact audiences. I’m excited by theater that offers something to see, something to hear, something to feel, a LOT to think about, and that changes my body temperature. I’m excited by theater that compels me to keep thinking about it for weeks, months or years. Whether I “like” it or “don’t like it” matters less to me than what I take from it that stays with me and continues to feed my imagination and thinking.

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

A:  Write a LOT. See a LOT. Do other jobs in the theater too. Do things that have nothing to do with theater. Seek out real news and information and read it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I’m excited by the entire 2017 season at The Shotgun Players. Other than that I’d like to plug the idea that we all be extremely conscious as citizens of this country in the coming four years and thereafter, and that we endeavor to eradicate the narcissism we’ve embraced and replace it wholesale with as much empathy as possible.


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