In episode ten I chat with Jenny about what it’s like to be a playwright and writing “kitchen sink magical realism,” why women are underrepresented in this industry, and how she and her husband have found unique ways to make career ambitions, education and family work as a team.
Jenny is a Playwright, performer, and teacher. Some of her plays include END OF SHIFT, GODDESS OF MERCY, THE PSYCHE PROJECT, and THE DRAGON PLAY, which have been produced and performed at theatres across the country. Her short film, Fatakra, played at over 75 festivals worldwide and earned more than a dozen audience awards and jury prizes. When she’s not writing, she works as a teacher and college admissions counselor and is also wife and mom.
- What a playwright does – Can vary a lot play to play. In general, first you’re inspired somehow and identify a story/character/issue you want to research. Can be 1-2 years of educating herself on a topic.
- Example: writing about a play inspired by a friend’s experience with sexism in the sciences. Did years of research and then started writing. Play sat in a drawer, then she revised based on feedback. Now production conversations happening.
- Another example: Dragon Play was much quicker.The first draft was a disaster but an acquaintance fell in love with it and wanted to produce it. Jenny was involved and had several opportunities to be involved in re-writes along the way- will have had it’s 5th production this winter.
I wrote a first draft and it was a disaster… this is a common theme!
- Her style – “Kitchen sink magical realism” – plays with real people experiencing real problems, but things that can happen in theatrical environment that can’t happen in real life. For example, Dragon Play is a story of a love triangle – just so happens the ex-lover is a dragon. In general, she picks topics that involve her learning about something new.
Almost always what starts a play is something that frustrates or bothers me… If I could put it into a neat sentence, I wouldn’t need to write a play.
- The lack of diversity in screenwriting – Many feel that the most interesting work being written for the stage is coming from women, people of color, LGBTQ community, etc. who are the least represented in the arts. Their perspective is unique which means the story and the format is different – something entirely new. However, average subscriber of theater is 50+ and often white. Artistic directors must worry about what the audience wants. Everyone in the theater community is aware of this problem. There are groups within screenwriting finding ways to publicize plays written by underrepresented groups, trying out seasons with 100% plays written and/or directed by women, etc..
- Challenges –
- Playing the long-game – Was very focused on schoolwork in grad school, not enough time on producing, planning for the the long term. Made it tougher the first few years after school.
- Investing in Relationships – Have learned over time to trust her gut on relationships to build, foster relationships with those who she connects with. Had assumed that her career would be all about the writing, but the plays need to get read and people need to trust that you’ll get the play to where it needs to be – requires good relationships.
I didn’t understand the importance of knocking on doors, of looking for my allies.
- Putting eggs in too many baskets – Has always hedged her bets, but can end up splitting those eggs in half.
What feels like keeping your options open can sometimes become a lack of focus.
- Balancing her career with her husband’s – Met in Austin, both were heading to NYC for careers. Kyle’s career path shifted but he stayed in NY for her. They moved to Baltimore for him to pursue a graduate program in Genetic Counseling – Jenny worked at a school there and worked in NYC the first year. Their son was born so she started to work from home. After grad school, they decided to move to Austin to be closer to one set of grandparents. Kyle got a remote job as well so they could be closer to family and Jenny could be free to travel for work knowing he had support. If a crazy opportunity came their way and required re-location, they could make it work.
- How they manage childcare – Had Gabe in school part-time, during which Jenny could write. Additionally, Kyle can lean in on the weekends more and Jenny can write. This summer have spent time at Jenny’s parents house so Gabe can spend time with the other grandparents and both can write more. In the fall, Gabe will do full-time care.
- Protips for others balancing dual careers and family –
- Communication is very important – about what they want, whether they can/cannot make it work. Recognizing when something is a big ask, but explaining why it’s worthwhile. Sometimes they send the other one away for a weekend to focus.
- Recognize all the elements your situation needs – for them, having support from grandparents was critical, so they needed to make decisions that would allow more time near grandparents.
- Be deliberate about staying aligned with partner – priorities shift over time, need to ensure you and partner agree on this.
See Jenny’s work: