Interview with playwright Laura Jacqmin

Laura Jacqmin has had a number of critically acclaimed productions in her hometown of Chicago; won the 2008 Wasserstein Prize and the 2013 Kennedy Center David Mark Cohen Award; and was International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Court in 2011. She is also a staff writer on current Netflix series 'Grace and Frankie' starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. She received rave reviews for her latest production in the US, 'Look, we are breathing' staged by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble who are Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women at the core.

'A Third' at the Finborough Theatre, June - July 2015, is extremely interesting: it deals with both the practicalities and the emotional consequences of attempting an open relationship. At Female Arts, I'm keen to find out more from Laura:

A Third’ is a play about a threesome and the after effects. Can sex and emotion be separated if you are in a relationship?

Short answer, nope. Long answer, nope. Despite our best efforts, I think it's much more difficult to compartmentalize sex and emotion than we progressive, sex-positive folks think. The play explores what happens when you try to put something back in a box after taking it out, and the impressions left on us by the people we bring into our beds.

Do you think both people in a couple want a threesome to the same extent, or is one trying to please the other?

In the play, both Allison and Paul have the same desire to push their own boundaries -- it just shifts and changes as they get more experienced. Both get jealous, and yet both keep going back for more.

You’re part of a current phenomenon of smart female US playwrights storming London theatre (Jennifer Haley 'The Nether', Gina Gionfriddo, Anne Washburn, Rebecca Gilman's 'Luna Gale' is currently on at Hampstead, Nikole Beckwith, Bekah Brunstetter) – how does this make you feel?

I couldn't love it more. I'm so pleased that this play is premiering in London. And apologies if it feels like we're storming the gates.

Do you think there is gender equality in playwrighting? If not, then why?

Oh, man -- I could write a book about this. I'm actually part of an arts advocacy group in the US called The Kilroys, an LA-based group of playwrights and producers pursuing revolutionary actions towards the goal of greater gender parity in the American theater. Our main tool so far has been The List (http://thekilroys.org/list-2015/) -- we're trying to create a pipeline of the most recommended new plays by women so that people can push past their implicit biases and find these supposedly "unfindable" plays and produce them. The short answer is, no. Women's stories are not seen as important or as universal as men's stories are. We make incremental progress every year, but the bitch about implicit bias is, you can't just fix it once. It requires constant vigilance.

What are the differences and similarities between the US theatre scene (Chicago) and the UK (London)? Is gender equality better or worse?

I spent a summer in residence at the Royal Court in 2011, and we were seeing 4 plays a week, so I did get to see a cross-section of what was being produced that year. I do find our cultural differences are much more extreme than I thought -- and it's not even something I can specifically put my finger on. But the plays are different, and the audiences are different. I'm still trying to figure it out.

In terms of gender equality, hard to say. It fluctuates so much year by year, but on the whole, the numbers have not shifted significantly. New plays by women make up less than 20% of productions each year. London seems better attuned to diverse work, as a whole, and international work.

You earned an MFA in Playwrighting from Ohio University. Do you think playwrights need an MFA to be taken seriously? Can you gain success in writing without academia?

Nobody needs an MFA, but mine did make me a better writer. It was also, vitally, free. I don't recommend anyone take on debt for an MFA in Playwriting -- it's not a degree that pays you back. I know a large number of successful writers who didn't even go to college. If you go see theater and stay active in the theater community, you can create your own opportunities and develop a voice outside of academia.

You’ve won multiple awards and honours (including the prestigious Wasserstein Prize - I love that you call this ‘braggy stuff’ on your website). What award means the most to you, and has made the most difference to your career?

The Wasserstein was huge. Undeniably huge. And not even from a concrete, now-your-plays-are-getting-produced kind of impact, but to have people tell me, you are good at this, and we're going to pay you the most money you've seen in your life so you can keep writing? That was stunning. I cried when I listened to the voicemail from Christopher Durang. And to win an award named for Wendy Wasserstein -- I could hardly believe it. I can still hardly believe it.

You write for TV as well. Why did you choose to be a writer? and what advice can you give to others wanting to write for the stage or screen?

Both mediums allow me to do different things, and explore different writing challenges. The financial freedom provided by working in television, though, does let me exercise less restraint in my stage work -- I feel more and more that when I write plays, I'm writing them specifically as live experiences, and try to take full advantage of the weirdness and wonder of that.

My advice is the same advice I give to all aspiring writers and young theater professionals -- be a good person, and a good community member. Go see shows and meet people and support their work and understand it's all connected. Nobody will let you be talented in a vacuum.

How do you achieve a work / life balance?

Ask me again in a few years. :)

Who do you find inspirational?

My fellow members of The Kilroys, currently. The incredible Chicago theater community.

What’s next?

I've actually been contracting with Telltale Games on a story-based game in the Minecraft universe since February. It's a really similar skillset to television writing, as all their games are episodic, plus it's finally allowed me to cross over into game-writing, something I've wanted to do for years now. Before that, I was working on two world premiere plays in Chicago - 'Look, we are breathing' at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, and 'We're Going To Be Fine' with DePaul University School of Theater. This summer, I'll be developing plays with Cape Cod Theatre Project and at Williamstown Theatre Festival, so it's a bit busy for the next few months!

(c) Wendy Thomson - Female Arts / Laura Jacqmin 2015

The world premiere of 'A Third' by award-winning Chicago playwright Laura Jacqmin runs at the Finborough Theatre for twelve performances, on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees, from Sunday, 28 June 2015.

Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Box Office 0844 847 1652 Book online at www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk
Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 28, 29, 30 June, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 July 2015
Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Tuesday matinees at 2.00pm. Monday matinee on 20 July at 2.00pm.
Tickets £18, £16 concessions.

http://www.laurajacqmin.com/
@laurajacqmin
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk
http://thekilroys.org/

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