Meet The Playwrights: Jack T. Calk ’19
BY Paola Alexandra Soto, May 16, 2019
Big St. Germain by Jack T. Calk ’19 and directed by Lillian Meredith is the final play to be presented as part of the New Plays Festival 2019 featuring seven new plays by the graduating MFA playwriting class.
Big St. Germain is about a brother and a sister in their mid-to-late-twenties struggling to reconcile their love for one another with their fundamentally irreconcilable definitions of family. It features an overabundance of sugary cereal, a bird that might be a sign, and a running gag involving a novelty singing fish.
Big St. Germain has three performances scheduled May 16 at 8 pm, May 17 at 2:30 pm, and the final on May 18 at 7:30 pm. All performances will take place at Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center. For more information and to make reservations click here.
How did you get the idea for this play?
I have three younger sisters, the youngest of whom was born ten years after me. So when I left my hometown at eighteen, she was eight, and the others were ten and fourteen. I've missed a lot. Since they're totally different people and I'm a totally different person. It's weird and it sucks to think that you missed the development of this person you love in a way you don't love anyone else. So I started writing this play about a brother and a sister who lived very different adolescences struggling to find even ground.
How did you become a playwright? What was your first play about?
My very first play was when I was ten—it was a play about a ten-year-old author who got sent to the future. I got chicken pox while I was writing it. I still have the floppy disk it's on, but I'm afraid to look.
What is your process for starting a new play?
When starting a new play, I like to do writing exercises in two arenas: interrogating space and exploring character. So Big St. Germain began its life as two separate plays; fifteen pages about two couples holding an intervention in a cabin on the titular lake, and fifteen pages about a young father who's upset with his sister for ghosting him during his divorce. I took the ideas I was excited by and started this play.
How has the playwriting program prepared for you for the creation of this piece?
I think the greatest gift the playwriting program could give me was a space to rewrite. In our studies with Lynn Nottage and David Henry Hwang especially, a special emphasis is put on rewriting. Young writers often hear the phrase "writing is rewriting", but the Columbia program actually affords its students many opportunities to present full-length works-in-progress to classmates and faculty, and to then synthesize their feedback and return with a stronger draft of the piece. As a fairly aggressive rewriter, this has allowed me the space to enrich my work before it is publicly presented and helped me solidify healthy writing practices for my career after.
How is the collaboration process with your director and team? What have you learned from working with a full creative team?
I could not be more thrilled by my collaborative relationship with my director, Lillian Meredith. Observing her careful, detail-oriented direction, especially in her work with actors, has enabled me to identify the strong and weak points in my own work, an experience that has been incredibly educational and informative. Our overwhelmingly talented creative team has been a joy as well—the chance to learn how to work with other young artists from related disciplines has been a vital and exciting part of my education at Columbia.
Who are some playwrights you admire and why?
Straight off the bat, I don't think anyone is doing work with such a uniquely rich emotional landscape in the way Tarell Alvin McCraney is. He is my favorite working playwright. Mostly, I'm drawn to playwrights with an empathetic eye for character and a powerful command of dialogue. Playwrights like Annie Baker, Jez Butterworth, Dominique Morisseau, Halley Feiffer, Samuel D. Hunter. A couple of less-established writers I'm really excited by are Abby Rosebrock (Blue Ridge, Dido of Idaho) and Miranda Rose Hall (Plot Points in Our Sexual Development). I think I learn the most from Anton Chekhov. Every time I go back, I learn three new things about the craft of playwriting.
Has your work as a voice-over artist ever inspired or influenced your work as a playwright?
I'm a very dialogue-forward writer, which is to say dialogue comes easiest to me. Working as a voice-over artist (and a writer for fiction podcasts) has sort of subconsciously biased me to very verbal action in my plays. My first impulse, when I'm writing a new play, is to have someone say something to someone else, rather than necessarily do something to them. It's kind of a double-edged sword—it works in some instances, and in others, I really have to fight the impulse.
Now that your time in grad school is coming to an end what are you most looking forward to?