Supporting creative work by women
Works by Women catches up with Brooklyn-based playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury about being the inaugural recipient of the Jerome New York Fellowship for 2012-2014. The fellowship is administered by the Lark Playwright Development Center and funded by the Jerome Foundation and the Lark. The fellowship provides $40,000 over two years plus $10,000 toward a research trip. A graduate of Brown’s MFA playwriting program, Jackie’s plays include We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 and Social Creatures.
Jackie spoke to Works by Women about Deb Margolin’s influence on her playwriting, what this fellowship means for her career, and why she’s excited to spend her research time in Morocco.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why playwriting? What was your first impulse/inspiration to become a playwright?
JACKIE SIBBLIES DRURY: I guess my impulse to try to write a play really began in college. I’d always thought of myself as an actor, but wasn’t always very good at it, and in college I tried to be a philosopher and was not particularly great at that either, but I still loved those things. I loved live performance, and I loved thinking through ideas, and so playwriting seemed like a logical step. Granted, it took about seven years for me to actually take that step. My first attempt at writing for performance was in Deb Margolin’s class when I was in college — a class that tends to be a life altering experience for everyone who takes it, which is pretty remarkable.
WBW: What type of writing excites you?
JACKIE: I get excited by brave and honest writing. And I think that most brave and honest writing has moments when it’s really, really funny.
WBW: You are a Van Lier Fellow at New Dramatists, and have been a a 2010-12 New York Theater Workshop Emerging Artist of Color Fellow as well as part of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. How have these fellowships nurtured your development as a playwright? How important have they been for you?
JACKIE: The support, and the people. I’ve formed friendships and professional relationships with people at NYTW and New Dramatists and Soho Rep, and I have so much respect for the work that comes out of these organizations, so it has been inspiring to have a view into how these places work. But also it’s been so important to get to know the amazing artists affiliated with these organizations, to feel like there is a community of people who are making work that I can geek out over.
WBW: How is the Jerome New York Fellowship a game changer for you? How do you expect it to impact your career? What are your goals for the two years?
JACKIE: It’s amazing. It means that I don’t have to temp for two years, which means that I’ll be much less likely to injure myself or others for two whole years. So that’s pretty great. My goal, generally, is to do good work — and by good work I mean take space to think and read and write thoughtfully, rather than to panic and expel half-formed ideas by deadline induced peristalsis. The space and time to do good work is an incredibly rare opportunity for an un-established writer, so I’m incredibly thankful to the LARK and to the Jerome Foundation. I’m working on two productions this season — this fall at Soho Rep with Eric Ting, and in the spring at Trinity Rep with Curt Columbus, so I’m excited for the support so that I can work on what’s happening right now while also developing projects for the future.
WBW: I read that you are going to use the research money from the fellowship to go to Morocco. What attracts you to the country? What type of research are you going to do while there?
JACKIE: My initial interest in Morocco came from my husband, Mark. He’s an anthropologist, and has been studying various aspects of politics in that part of the world, and I’m really inspired by his work. I visited for the first time a few years ago, and was, as most Westerners are, completely taken with the landscape, the food, the music. But even more than that, I was fascinated by women in contemporary Morocco, and also my experience as a black American woman visiting Morocco. I’m hoping to spend my time talking with people, observing people, and reading a lot, while thinking about the intersections between politics, Islam, and feminism, both in a predominantly Islamic state as well as in African-American communities in the U.S. I’m probably not the best person to be writing a play about this, but I’m pretty interested in it.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
JACKIE: To be honest, I’m more interested in the challenges facing women in America. I am, as many people are, incredibly concerned about the concerted effort by both fringe and mainstream politicians to not only prevent women from advancing in this country, but to roll back the gains that have been made in the last 50 years. I’m also bothered by our continued interference in women’s rights abroad, both through international policy and aid. So, I think that women in American theater owe it to ourselves and to our broader community to be politically articulate. In other words, at the risk of being glib, I’ll say that instead of thinking about the challenges facing women in theater, I’d rather think of ways women can be more challenging with our work.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
JACKIE: I’m totally and completely inspired by many of my peers working in theater today, both men and women that are making work that is really, actually, genuinely interesting. And I think that a lot of the most interesting work is made by people who are “other” in some way, or a minority in some way. Every time I see a piece that provokes or moves me, I look at the program and see that the piece was created by a diverse group of artists. This makes me hopeful.