The delectably awesome Jen B. brought in an excellent play, IONA MEANS ISLAND, about flowers and weirdos in love for our perusal. Tim E. chimed in to ask her a few questions.
#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.
TIM E. Hello Jen Browne! What’s new? Having a good summer?
JEN B. Hello to you too Tim! I feel like I haven’t seen you in a very long time. Summer has been pretty good, very busy, so much so that I find myself wondering when summer will actually begin; though summer hasn’t really been summer since finishing school and entering the working world. Aside from enjoying all of the extremely fruitful Lather, Rinse, Repeat Tuesdays, I’ve continued work on a new play with Purple Threads Ensemble, smuggled delicious dumplings from Toronto (my boyfriend and I have a major hook up with a noodle factory), pulled off some awesome kids programming at the ol’ day job, visited Woodstock, NY where I ate the best lamb chops of my life and found the greatest jar of classic dill pickles. (I love pickles, especially when they’re crisp and fresh and essentially a vehicle for transferring vinegar into my body. I also love vinegar. ) 2013 is also the “The Year of the Wedding” as many of my close friends have decided to get married and turn 30 all in the same year so lots of energy has gone into planning bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and organizing wedding things . I’ve also squeezed in two baby showers, so while busy, VERY busy, this summer has been overflowing with happiness celebrating lots of life sized milestones.
TIM E. I loved the first draft of your play IONA MEANS ISLAND. What made you center a play around such a simple beautiful gesture as a girl getting a flower from a stranger?
JEN B. Thank you! Well, the actual image of the gift of a flower came from an afternoon many years ago when I was people watching and writing little stories and end up with a tiny paragraph about a girl crossing the street, a seed if you will, that grew into the image of a stranger giving another stranger a flower. I’ve carried the image in my head for a while rolling it around and over time it became a metaphor for love and its ability to surprise us or show up when we least expect it and the full story will hopefully ask, well, what do you do with it, once you’ve got love in your hands, do you nurture it and let it grow or do you put it on a shelf and let it wilt and dry up? I believe in the presence of choice in matters of love and the need to actively cultivate and care for relationships.
TIM E. And can you tell me a little more about the male characters in IONA, they seem to be romantic types we’ve seen before, but yet they seem to have something internally fragile about them too.
JEN B. Jason and Mike are both amalgamations of guys that I have met or know and they’re also a little bit of me. I think that they’re a little bit of an odd couple but I also think that’s why they work. My hope is for both of them to be vulnerable. I just came back from a staff retreat in the Catskills where a major thread was vulnerability in the work place and the retreat leader said something that I think will be extremely applicable as I continue with these characters and that is that vulnerability is and I’m actually going to have to paraphrase but, that vulnerability is not a down fall but just hard honesty, it’s being truthful. Vulnerability is something I struggle with myself both in my writing and in my life so as I continue with this play and these two characters I hope they will be honest and that there might be some conflict in the struggle with the decision to do so.
TIM E. You seem to have a very relaxed, naturalist voice in your writing, your dialogue rings really true to me. Is that something you’ve worked on in classes? Have people mentioned that before?
JEN B. It is something that I have worked at and am still trying to hone. When I first started writing plays my writing was very flowery and almost narrative, I got a note from a teacher saying it was too much like something you’d read in a novel, so then I went in the complete opposite direction and was writing very short clipped lines and now I think I’m starting to settle somewhere in the middle. I try to listen to people around me and I do a much better job of listening to the characters in my head. Usually, I’m just the fly on the wall of my brain, typing everything the characters are saying as quickly as I can on a very tiny, fly sized laptop. Where I am currently is very much due to my time working with teachers at ESPA and with the LRR gang.
TIM E. In all honesty, in a group of funny playwrights, you might be the funniest. You’ve been known to walk into a room with all of us and just have everyone in hysterics. Were you always a funny person?
JEN B. I love laughing; nothing is more fun than laughing and nothing is more gratifying than making people laugh. The laugh I have now, which is very big and witch like is the same laugh I had when I was a baby and coming from a very funny family where I’m maybe only like the 7th or 8th funniest person in the room (and that’s only if half the family doesn’t show up) I used it a lot. I grew up listening to hysterical happenings from my mother’s childhood and getting the dining room to laugh after a holiday dinner was a sign of major storytelling skills and also proof of one’s own comedic prowess. I’m actually terrible at telling funny stories they always end somewhat anticlimactically, like— and then we left….silence. Really I’m not funny at all I’m just smart. I surround myself with people who are weird like me and who will laugh at all the weird things I do or let fall out of my mouth. I make lots of jokes that people do not laugh at or I’ll make jokes at work or some other inappropriate time or worse start laughing in the middle of an argument, a lovely defense mechanism passed down the family tree, but even laughing during an argument is fun, terrible but fun.
TIM E. I know you and Lauren Ferebee mentioned to me that you occasionally work on devised performances and improvised dance projects. Can you tell me a little more about that?
JEN B. First, I just want to say that Lauren Ferebee is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world and that is because she says things to me like, hey my apartment is currently a construction site, do you want to get some paint and make a dance video? She is also full of ideas and lucky for me she shares them with me and then even better invites me to work with her on making them happen. Lauren and I have known each other for a good long while now; I was Olga to her Masha in her company’s production of Three Sisters. I honestly don’t know how we got from Olga and Masha to making dance pieces and artsy videos but we did and I’m very glad. The first dance piece we worked on together was called Maps and featured a lovely man named Ben, that piece was then adapted into a new piece about Ben being gone, as he was out of town for a scheduled performance. Over the past year we started gathering footage for a project called Painted Creature which is focused on the idea of women as objects and has been extremely educational both from a technical and artistic point of view. We also have some exciting plans for future endeavors and collaborations as well. This type of work also really appeals to my devising background which is something that I love to do, playing makey-uppey is the best.