MISS BLANCHE TELLS IT ALL (a new, work in progress at Dixon Place HOT! Festival)
An Interview with Jason Jacobs
Indie Theater Now asked Jason Jacobs a few questions about this upcoming event.
Who were the key figures who made this production happen—could be other artists, people who inspired the story, producers/producing company, etc.
First of all, the piece would not exist without the inspiration of the brilliant Tennessee Williams -- he’s a giant whose shoulders I strive stand on. I've long been captivated by the rich worlds he created in plays like Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly Last Summer... and I'm also fasciated by the revelations of his psyche -- as an artist and a gay man -- revealed in his Memoirs and some of his short stories. So I immersed myself into the imagination of this artist and I've channeled an entirely new character named Lee, a female impersonator who's character is based on his mysterious aunt, Miss Blanche. The idea would never gone beyond a ten-minute play if my talented colleague, Gisela Cardenas had not proposed a collaboration to expand it into a full-length show. Gisela continues to guide me with challenging questions and insights about the unique, original story we are telling here and now. We decided that some of the story could be told through songs, and I immediately thought of Matthew Pritchard, a songwriter and performer who was a core artist with Theatre Askew. It’s been great reconnecting and making this new piece together. We workshopped the first draft with a group of amazing young actors: Robbie Tann, Jamie Boswell, and Cameron Clay. I met all of these guys when they were students at LIU/C.W. Post, and watching them play with the material in the workshop, listening to their questions and watching their choices, contributed greatly to where the piece is now.
Why is this a play, as opposed to a film or a web series or a novel (or anything else)? And what is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?
This show must be a play because it’s set in a New Orleans bar, and the audience of the play is the audience in the bar. It’s a drag/nightclub act that’s not going as planned. Normally, we’d be watching a character named “Miss Blanche” perform. But for reasons I can’t reveal here, the performer can’t do that show tonight. So instead, he is onstage as himself, working through his own stuff with a live band and the actual audience. It’s meant to feel precarious and a little dangerous, like this guy could tip over the edge any moment, and the audience is not protected by any fourth wall… (But I PROMISE they will not be harmed or forced into any audience participation!) I’ve always loved theatre and not been interested in pursuing the other formats you asked about. (Though writing a novel is a real aspiration I’d love to try some day). I think it’s the live aspect of a story being told by actors to a live audience, all of us in the room together, that keeps me revved up. The challenge is to make magic live in the room, without editing, CGI, or any kind of post-production process. It’s immediate and in the moment. And in this high-tech, social media age, the live connection of theatre seems even more rare and valuable. (That’s not an original thought. But it’s true.)
Who taught you how to be a playwright? This could be specific teachers, or role models whose work you’ve seen or read, or of course any combination.
My formal training is as a director -- Anne Bogart and Tina Landau are two teachers who really influenced me, and they are both incredibly generous, creative directors with strong authorial voices in a lot of their work. Two of my favorite playwrights are Chekhov and Williams (and of course, Williams acknowledged that Chekhov was one of his great inspirations), so they are probably closest to a playwright lineage that I would claim... certainly at this moment.
What have you learned about this play as it has evolved from first draft to the present version? And what has surprised you in this current production-what did you discover in the work that you didn’t realize was there?
I’m still learning how to tell this story -- how to reveal information? What’s the roadmap for the journey we are taking an audience on? But the really exciting learning on this production has been the process of creating a new musical -- working with Matty and Isam on identifying the moments for songs, articulating what the music wants to feel like and do for the show. The really great surprises have been watching what happens when a scene or monologue is interpreted as a song. I love when I actually get CUT my dialogue, because we now have a song that tells the story in a much more emotional, visceral way. The process is still going, the piece is still in a very early stage but it’s thrilling and often surprising to see what moments start to pop as director Gisela, actor Robbie Tann and our musicians, Robert Frost and Isam Rum, bring the piece to life.
Without giving away any important surprises—what moment or moments do you most look forward to when you see this play being performed?
I can’t wait to see the piece in front of an audience, since their presence is such a key element in this piece. And, in the section we’re showing, there’s one particular memory that Lee relays about his father that is painfully raw. It was hard to write, and I’ve only seen a little of this particular moment in rehearsal, but I was struck by how moving and intense that is. I’m both excited and a little scared to see it in full force. Mostly, I’m really looking forward to watching Robbie perform these songs with live musicians, and sharing this musical journey with the audience.
posted May 10, 2017