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1100 Playwright Interviews

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Jul 23, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 766: Jillie Mae Eddy

Jillie Mae Eddy

Hometown: Hingham, MA

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about The Boys Are Angry.

A:  Well, the script says that the play takes place ‘in the age of the new wild west: the internet’. I love writing about outlaws. I love the American fascination with the outlaw. AJ is the would-be outlaw of THE BOYS ARE ANGRY—he’s a blogger. In his life offline, he’s a mostly directionless trust-fund kid, but online he gets to be a kind of self-styled cowboy of the lawless frontier. AJ is, what David Futrelle would call, a New Misogynist. His ideology is a mash-up of Red Pill theory, Pick Up Artistry, Men Going Their Own Way style separatism, and talking points from the Men’s Rights Movement. So the play deals in some pretty hateful thinking. The words coming out of AJ’s mouth…This is the nastiest stuff I’ve ever put on paper. And my last play was about a pair of poisoning, stabbing, prescription-drug-dealing dog killers.

Quinn is AJ’s lifelong best friend. He’s a romantic. And the play follows what happens and what changes between them when Quinn falls in love. When he thinks he’s found ‘the one’.

I started writing THE BOYS ARE ANGRY in the wake of the Isla Vista Killings. Elliot Rodger wasn’t just a troubled kid—he was a part of a very real hate movement. The way the New Misogynists appeal to lonely, insecure young men…It’s terrifying. It terrifies me. My first idea was to make a documentary film about the real, flesh-and-blood people making the ‘Manosphere’ turn—but the play came out instead. And the play is funny! I don’t think I set out to write a comedy about twenty-first century misogyny, but…well, that’s what it is. AJ is funny. And charming. And, of course, he’s despicable, but he isn’t just one thing.

I mean, it’s a dark, dark comedy, but it’s a comedy. It’s scary and twisted and maddening—it’s fun in the way that monster movies and slasher films are fun. It even has a little original music. Two songs. ‘Never Again’ and ‘Don’t Say No’…I’ll let you take from those titles what you will.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Right now, when I’m not working on THE BOYS ARE ANGRY, I’m working on my first solo album. I’ve been putting it off for so long because I’m always working on so many things at once, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. Whenever I get a free minute, I’m recording. We actually used songs from the album in the first two teaser trailers for THE BOYS ARE ANGRY, so if you want a preview, that’s where you’ll find it.

I’m developing a rock show called 28. It’s about the 27 Club, but it’s also about doomed love, suicide, and selling your soul to the devil. And I get to work on it with both of my favorite directors, Sam Plattus and Maridee Slater. They’re set to play the leads but the idea is to have Sam direct the first act from his character’s point of view and Maridee direct the second act from hers.

I’m in the research phase for a musical neo-western called AMERICAN WILD, OR LAY ME DOWN. It’s set in a dystopian near-future, in a United States with disappearing coastlines and an insurmountable divide between rich and poor…as I said, it’s a near-future projection. I’m borrowing a lot from The New Economy Movement, from the legends of Jesse James and Robin Hood, and from the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone. The text is going to be a mix of Old Western, contemporary American, and Mexican slang. And for the songs—I want to take the country western idiom and filter it through hip hop and Latin sounds.

The show I’ve been working on for the longest—since 2012—is THE GIRL FROM BARE COVE. It’s a folk opera. Twenty-four songs. Right now it runs about ninety minutes, but when I’m done reworking the script, I think it will run about two hours. Sometimes it’s hard for me to work on it. I’m so close to it. It’s the story of a young woman trying to move on from a decade of sexual abuse, and it’s semi-autobiographical. The details aren’t all mine. It’s a sort of fairy-tale, magical realist interpretation of my experience as a survivor. We’ve done two workshops in New York—one at the Alchemical Theatre Lab and one at The Cell. I’m trying to figure out the next step. I need to get it out there.

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 growing up I used to sing duets with my older sister all the time. In the car. Around the house. Every year at her piano recitals. And whenever she wanted to sing a boy-girl duet, she made me sing the boy’s part. She had this lovely, tinkly soprano voice, and I ended up developing this low, brassy alto range—I think I sang like that until college. I had a wonderful classical voice teacher who unlocked my high soprano range. And it was strange because every play I acted in up through high school—I was always cast in a character role. I was never the leading lady. I think that was partly because I was such a weird kid, and I was always trying to make people laugh—I was the baby in my family, and making grown-ups laugh was the only way I could join the conversation. But I think it was also because of that low, brassy voice. Especially in musical theater, which is mostly what I grew up on, the low brassy voice goes with the character role. But I loved those parts! I loved making people laugh. And then I got to college, and suddenly everyone was saying: you’re the ingénue, you’re the ingénue, you’re the romantic lead. And I’m sure my voice wasn’t the only reason for that—I mean, it sounded really different to me, even my speaking voice, but I’m sure the difference wouldn’t have sounded so extreme to anyone else. But I was so…confused. I didn’t know what else had changed. I’m not…I mean, I don’t think of myself as ‘classically beautiful’. And then in grad school, they didn’t know what to do with me.

But I think my takeaway from all of that, especially as a writer—I’m not interested in two-dimensional characters. Unless it’s to make a point. All of my characters are ‘character’ roles. They’re complicated people. I don’t write ingénues. Again, unless the lack of agency and complexity is the point. And I’m especially interested in writing complicated, three-dimensional roles for women because we’ve gotten the short end of the stick for so long. When you’re being ‘typed’ as a woman, you’re either the romantic lead or the best friend. And when you get older, I guess that becomes the mother—or you’re not getting work anymore. There are so many more ‘types’ out there for men. And I was so heartbroken when nobody saw me as the character actress anymore because all of the ingénues I saw and read were so boring!

I also write a lot about gender. In every play I write, I’m looking at that sort of forced—and totally false—binary opposition. THE BOYS ARE ANGRY is all about gender roles. How we teach boys to be men. How we teach girls to be women. What’s nature, what’s learned. What happens when we don’t fit in the categories we’re stuck in. I was asked recently, in another interview, to name some of my favorite roles—and I realized, maybe for the first time, that the two roles I was most excited about…neither of them were women. Petruchio in TAMING OF THE SHREW. And Crow in THE TOOTH OF CRIME—who I got to play as this badass, gender-fluid, Bowie-esque rock star with red eyes and hollowed out cheeks. I got to be scary and deadly, and I loved it. It all came full circle—right back to singing the boy parts because my sister made me. So thanks, Leesie.

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

A:  I wish it were more accessible. And I don't just mean the subject matter. I wish it wasn't so all about New York. People can watch movies and TV almost anywhere now--all they need is a WiFi connection. So, I mean, first of all, I think the current landscape of endless adaptations and jukebox musicals is completely unsustainable. It's making commercial theater completely irrelevant. If I can stay home and watch the same story from my couch, I will. And if the music is really good, maybe I'll buy the soundtrack. But I'm not going out to the theater. The culture of risk-aversion in theater right now...it's so short-sighted. Financially and artistically. If you only looked at the musicals on Broadway right now--with the exception of HAMILTON, maybe FUN HOME, maybe a few others--you'd never guess we were in the Twenty-First century. We need to revive our regional theaters. And we need to start more. We need to bring theater into people's communities. We need to make it relevant. Make it matter. No more same old stories by the same old white men. We have to move forward already. And I think we need dedicated companies of artists making theater outside of New York. Making theater out in the world. Getting invested in their communities. Getting their communities invested in them. I think we need to change the conversation. It's not: how do we bring people back to the theater? It's: how do we bring theater back to the people?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  When I was growing up, Julie Andrews and Judy Garland were the big two for me. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was the first song I ever knew by heart. When I got a little older, Madeline Kahn slid into the top three. As far as playwrights go…Sarah Ruhl. Lin-Manuel Miranda. A lot of the people who influence me as a theater-maker come from outside of the theater. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Sandra Cisneros. The Muppets. Maria Bamford. Hari Kondabolu. Mike Birbiglia—he walks the line a little bit. He’s a comedian, but his more recent one-man shows are incredible works of theater. His technique as a storyteller, his ability to tie together so many disparate threads—it blows my mind.

I think my biggest heroes in the theater world right now are my collaborators. The whole creative team on THE BOYS ARE ANGRY: Sam Plattus, Xander Johnson, Nate Houran, Lily Prentice. Maridee Slater, my partner in crime—who’s also producing THE BOYS ARE ANGRY for FringeNYC. I’m surrounded my so many brave and talented artists—it’s inspiring. I feel so lucky.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that has something to say. Something new to say. Or a new way to say something old. I love theater that's inventive. I love feeling like I've never seen this before. One of my favorite shows that I've seen in New York in the last two years--since I moved here--was Peter Petkovsek's production of THE BLIND. The audience was scattered around the playing space, seated on pillows. And the actors were all around you. But the theater was completely dark. Pitch black. So you can't see a thing, but you can hear voices coming from everywhere. And the way Peter did use light in that show--I don't know that I can explain it in any way that would do justice to what an incredible experience it was. Because it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before—and it’s still like nothing I've experienced since. That's what I want when I go to the theater. And it doesn't have to be a technical feat. It can be the playwright's ideas or way with prose. It can be an actor's performance. But I get most excited when I see something new.

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

A:  Find the people you want to work with again and again. Find your artistic family, the people who will support you unconditionally. Help each other. Grow together, take risks together—if you want to go far, go together.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  THE BOYS ARE ANGRY is going up at The New York International Fringe Festival on Friday, August 14 at 5PM; Tuesday, August 18 at 7PM; Friday, August 21 at 2:30PM; Sunday, August 23 at 3PM; and Friday, August 28 at 9:15PM. And we're performing at The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre, which is on the third floor of The Player's Theatre at 115 MacDougal Street in the West Village.

Tickets are available online at fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=B#TheBoy--just click on the date you want tickets for. Buy your tickets early because we have limited seating! And you can follow us on Twitter @mainelandprods or read more about the show at mainelandproductions.com/theboysareangry.

If you want to know more about any of my other upcoming projects or about my album, you can follow me on Twitter @missbogencounty or check out my website jilliemae.com.

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