Meet The Playwrights: Anna Jastrzembski ’19
BY Paola Alexandra Soto, May 5, 2019
DOG by Anna Jastrzembski ’19 (Playwrighting) and directed by Katherine Wilkinson ’19 (Directing) will be the third play presented as part of the New Plays Festival 2019 featuring seven new plays by the graduating MFA playwriting class.
The play is about three young people stuck in a near-future, vaguely Midwestern setting that's been slowly eroding due to climate change, where the natural world has been ravaged by capitalist industry. On the shores of a toxic river, a girl is torn between two different beasts and a boy develops an uncanny sense of smell. Is he really turning into a dog, or does he just think he is? Each one is trying to escape and transform in different ways — one wishes to be invisible, one wants to become an amateur body-builder, and the other turns into a dog.
DOG has three performances scheduled; the first on May 8 at 2:30 pm, the second on May 10 at 8 pm, and the final on May 11 at 2:30 pm, at the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center. For more information and to make reservations click here.
Jastrzembski spoke to us about her upcoming production.
Who was your mentor for this piece and how has it been to work with her/him?
My mentor was Enda Walsh, an Irish playwright, and I had a truly great experience working with him. He's currently based in London, so I would send him drafts of the script and then our interactions would take place over Skype. He happened to be in New York for a couple of weeks this spring, so we were able to meet up in person and talk about my play, as well as other career-related questions I had. He's extremely generous and enthusiastic, not to mention wildly smart, and we got along really well.
How did you get the idea for this play?
The idea came out of a scene I brought into Charles Mee's class during my second year. It featured the same trio of characters and was inspired by my experience growing up in a small town in North Dakota. Having no money and nowhere to go, I'd be stuck wandering around trying to make magic out of walking a mile to Dairy Queen or throwing rocks in a river. Through writing this scene I began to realize how certain socio-economic and political factors particular to that area shaped my relationship to my body, to sex, and to identity, and how all those things were inextricably bound with shame and uncertainty. I tried to tie everything together and DOG is what emerged.
How did you become a playwright?
I took my first playwriting class in college and really enjoyed it. Around this time I'd wanted to become an actor, but I wasn't very good. I'd always loved writing and eventually, it became clear to me that I could combine that with my interest in theatre. My first play was actually about "writing" and it was probably extremely boring and self-referential.
What is your process for starting a new play?
I really enjoy the research phase of a new play. I'll typically spend months reading about a lot of different subjects I'm interested in writing about in the hopes that they'll vaguely coalesce around a theme. When I began my thesis I had a reading list that included philosophy, feminist theory, poetry, fiction, and other plays. I was also going to a lot of art museums and found certain exhibitions to be really generative. It's easy for me to get stuck in this phase, though, and sometimes it can take a lot of effort to begin any actual writing.
What do you hope the audience gets out of your play?
I hope they leave feeling like they having a better understanding of the anatomy of a deer and that they wanna stop using single-use utensils.
How has the playwriting program prepared for you for the creation of this piece?
The program gave me a lot of space to experiment and figure out who I am as a writer. Lynn Nottage, David Henry Hwang, and Charles Mee are extremely supportive and each one of their courses forced me to better articulate what I'm invested in as an artist.
How is the collaboration process with your director and team? What have you learned?
The collaboration process with my director and creative team has been wonderful. Each one of them is extremely brilliant and unlocked a new element of the play in some way. I feel lucky in that everyone who came on board had a real understanding of the world and what Katherine (the director) and I were envisioning for the piece.
Who are some playwrights that you admire and why?
Caryl Churchill because she's a genius, Sarah Kane (also genius), Tarell Alvin McCraney for his command of language and rhythm and ability to create beautiful theatrical images, Enda Walsh for his willingness to experiment with each new work, and Charles Ludlam for being a master satirist and promoting LGBTQ visibility.
Now that grad school is coming to an end, what are you most looking forward to?
More time to go to the movies alone (my favorite activity).