Jenny Rachel Weiner is a 2014 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.
Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.
My play is a father/daughter road trip story set to classic rock. It’s my way of putting two people who haven’t ever really communicated, in the absence of the one person who held them together, in a confined space that requires them to face each other. It’s my way of exploring my own relationship with my father, who I am only now starting to really get to know. It’s fascinating to grow up and begin to see your parent as a human being, not as just a Dad. part & parcel is a play about two people, who seemingly know each other better than anyone in the world, discovering each other for the first time.
How did you come to be a playwright?
I became at playwright during my undergrad days at Boston University. I began there as an actor, and as an eighteen year old, was steadfast and determined to remain one. During my sophomore year in a class called Theatre Ensemble, led by the inimitable Lydia R. Diamond, I wrote and performed a monologue from the perspective of a window that had shattered my childhood home, a product of Hurricane Irene that, in 2005, wreaked havoc on South Florida. After that class, Lydia pulled me aside. She looked me straight in the eye, and she said, “I don’t know if you know this, Jenny, but you’re a writer. You may not be able to see it yet, you may not be able to acknowledge it now, but I want you to know that you are a writer.” Lydia saw something in me that day, and although it did take me a couple of years to allow that path to unfold, I think that was the day that the beast was unleashed.
Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.
In 2012, I was lucky enough to be a part of the International Crisis Arts Festival in Tuscany, Italy, where I brought a documentary theatre piece about female experiences of survival and hope. While I was there, I met a group of theatre artists from Greece who didn’t speak a word of English, but who I connected to immediately. One evening it was their turn to share their work. They brought us all up to the roof of one of the buildings; it was a quiet and windy night, the light from the moon was incredibly bright, and there was a feeling of electricity (maybe it was the building’s voltage, who knows, but it was present!) A violinist played, and we sat down while we watched three actors interacting onstage with water. They began the play with a man standing in the center, flanked by the woman and second man, in an exercise where the only actions were a kiss or a slap. It was clear that the actor in the center didn’t know which was coming, and as he spoke the text in Greek, the two actors on his side would respond with either action. It was hilarious, heartbreaking, and so human. I didn’t understand a word of the piece, but for an hour and a half I cried my eyes out, laughed hysterically, and felt elevated by their storytelling. That was a moment of theatre I will never forget.
Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?
My favorite playwrights range from Wendy Wasserstein to Sheila Callaghan, from Tennessee Williams to Tony Kushner, from Sarah Ruhl to Chuck Mee. I am drawn to writers who ask questions of us we never tire of asking, who make me belly laugh with their perceptive portraits of families, communities, isolation, matters of the heart. I am drawn to theatricality and moments of poetry amidst very real and very grounded circumstances, because I think life is full of those and if we blink we might miss them
Seen or read anything good lately?
I saw Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Appropriate at Juilliard a few weeks ago and it TOTALLY blew my mind. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
What else are you working on right now?
Other than continuing to work on Part & Parcel which is in a very early stage of development, I’ve just begun working on my next play which explores epigenetics and the way experience is carried through DNA. I am also working on a commission for Roundabout Theatre, where I have just begun my post as an Associate Artist.
Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?
I’d like to be less judgmental and critical of myself, and be accepting of the process without being anxious for the final result. This resolution works well in preparing for the reading of this new play!
Catch a reading of Part & Parcel: A Father/Daughter Road Trip Play Set to Classic Rock by Jenny Rachel Weiner on Thursday, January 12 at 2PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.