Author of Notes on Drowing: For the Man Who Cannot Make the Journey (Quickies, 2010)
Jen Silverman is a second-year MFA candidate in playwriting at the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and received her BA from Brown University. Her plays include: Lizardskin, developed with New Georges in NYC, New York Stage & Film/ Powerhouse Theatre Company at Vassar College and produced in the NYC International Fringe Festival in 2006; The Education of Macoloco, produced by FUSION Theatre Company in New Mexico, LiveGirls! in Seattle, Circus Theatricals in LA, and a 2009 winner of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Play Festival, published in “Off Off Broadway Festival Plays, 34th Series”; Crane Story, developed with New Georges, the Bay Area Playwrights Festival in San Francisco, 2009 HotINK International Festival in NYC and The Playwrights Realm in NYC; Nila, which received its first workshop at The Lark’s Playwrights Week 2009; and Gilgamesh’s Game, workshopped with New Georges in NYC and given a workshop production in the Iowa New Play Festival. Jen was a 2009 playwright in residence at the Hedgebrook International Women’s Writers Residency, and is the recipient of the 2010 Marcus Bach Fellowship to research and develop a new play.
Where did you get the idea for Notes on Drowning: For The Man Who Cannot Make The Journey?
Bizarrely, it started with the title, and I can’t think of another time in my life that I’ve started with the title. Sitting down with the title, I started wondering who would be an authority on drowning—and why—and from there the characters took on weight and life.
What is your favorite moment in the play?>br>The moments in which Marie kicks back in the bathtub and delivers her treatises on drowning. Seeing an actress play Marie, I discovered something deliciously macabre in the scenes that I hadn’t quite realized was there when I wrote it. I love theatrical moments that make me laugh and shudder at the same time.
Who is your current playwright talent crush?
Young Jean Lee. I saw her LEAR at SoHo Rep this winter and it made a huge impression on me– the absolute daring, the boldness that it required.
What advice would you give to aspiring playwrights?
In an essay called “36 Assumptions About Writing Plays,” Jose Rivera gives the best advice I’ve ever heard: “Find your tribe.” I’d tell any aspiring playwright first to read that essay, and second to find the actors who make you want to write for them, the directors who make you look at your work with new eyes, and the playwrights whose plays you wish you’d written. And, last but not least, find a small theatre company that will nurture you and to whom you can give back. I’ve been working with FUSION Theatre Company in Albuquerque since 2008, developing a trilogy of plays based in Albuquerque, and I actually just got back from a two week workshop with them. My relationship with FUSION has been deeply nurturing– I trust them as artists, enjoy them as friends, and love that there’s a place I can go where I feel inspired, supported, and challenged.
What kind of theater do you love?
Theatre of hunger and desire. Bold, dangerous, visceral theatre that is written on and through the body. Theatre that is fearless and requires the same from an audience. Theatre that tells tremendous stories, across and between cultures and languages, and gives a voice to people with complex conflicted identities. Theatre that leaves bruises.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a play called Crane Story that’s currently under option with Playwrights Realm in New York. It’s a wild epic play about America, Japan, and the underworld, that I wrote after returning from living in Japan a few years back. The draft has gone through a number of workshops, so at this point we’re talking about design elements — bunraku puppetry, music, all that stuff– which is a really exciting place to be at.
In terms of newer plays, I’m working on a play called Gilgamesh’s Game, that’s getting a workshop production at the New Play Festival here at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. I just workshopped the draft with New Georges in NYC and completely restructured it, and rehearsals here in Iowa started [March 30th]. It’s so exciting to take this latest draft into a room with actors and a director and see where we go from here.
Outside of theater, what are you really into right now?
The part of my life that balances theatre and keeps me a (semi) sane human being is travel / language. I was born in the US but raised both here and in Asia, Europe, and Scandinavia. As an adult, I returned to Asia, living and traveling there and in North Africa before I came back to the US for an MFA in playwriting. The more immersed I get in theatre, the more I try to make sure that I’m always studying a new language or brushing up on an old one — there’s something about language that keeps me really grounded, really calm. These days I’ve started studying Chinese, while trying to make sure my Portuguese doesn’t slip too far.
Do you have a favorite and least favorite word?
I love the word “luminous.” To me it sounds like what it is. I hate the word “panties.” But I guess “Luminous Panties” would be a good name for a chick punk band, so if I saw “panties” used in that context I’d be OK.
Is there a question you would like to see posed to playwrights featured in future spotlights?
If you could relive one single day in your life, what would it be?