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1100 Playwright Interviews

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Nov 3, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 800: Jess Foster

Jess Foster

Hometown: Sidney, Maine

Current Town: Canton, MA

Q:  Tell me about Hard and Fast.

A:  Well, here is the synopsis: “Roger, a struggling mechanic, has a real passion for restoring classics. He’s finally found his dream car, “Audra”, a 1958 Austin Healey. When a wealthy lawyer wants the car for his 16-year old son Parker, the offer’s too good for Roger to refuse. He makes one stipulation: Parker must help finish the car’s restoration to understand its true value. When the time comes, will Roger be able to let the car go, or will his strange new feelings for Audra make it too difficult to give her up? Is this a bizarre obsession or something much more?”

For me, though, the play is about the relationships men have with their cars. There’s often something sacred to that relationship and it first develops right when boys are learning to be “men”. I wondered how that experience shaped them as they were coming-of-age and learning about the world. I certainly grew up feeling close to cars as well, naming each one along the way. I was often around car guys and wanted to tell their story, though I wanted to explore the extremes.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on a play called Full Term about a woman in her late-30’s who has just gone through a break-up and is left to pick up the pieces with her not-always-helpful sister. Ironically, it’s a 3-hander with women instead of 3 men like Hard and Fast. I swear I don’t only write 3-handers.

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 grew up in the woods of Maine and I love nature and time to sit and meditate about big ideas. My mother likes to tell people that she never worried where I was when I was outside playing because she could always hear me talking to myself. I like to think that those were the beginnings of my first plays; I was always creating stories and new worlds filled with many characters. Not unlike my role as playwright now, I was the voice for all of them.

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

A:  I don’t think this is original, but I wish more workshop processes would be serving eventual productions. You learn so much more about a play when you have it on its feet and have actors, directors and designers asking questions to make it live in space. A lot of theater artists seem to be working on this issue so I hope it will continue to improve.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A:  Sam Shepherd, Caryl Churchill, Mac Wellman, Martin McDonough, and Charlotte Meehan. They’re all playwrights who push boundaries and also have an element of dark humor that explores life issues in a way that feels real to me. Life can simultaneously be heart-wrenching and funny.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  I get excited when I see plays that are experimenting with something new, whether it be the way they let the story unfold or a different type of character. I also really appreciate smart, dark humor. To me, plays like this explore life issues in a way that feels real to me. I’m a firm believer that life can simultaneously be heart-wrenching and funny. I really enjoy watching that contradiction play out on stage and making the audience really grapple with what they’re feeling in any given moment.

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

A:  Find the people that inspire you and find ways to get your work done. Don’t worry about writing what you think theaters want to see. Write what you need to write and find the people it resonates with; eventually you’ll look around and notice you have collaborators. Then, figure out how to produce the thing.

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