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INTERVIEW: A Wink from PWC’s Jen Silverman

From December 5-6, the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis will present Jen Silverman’s play Wink as part of its Ruth Easton New Play Series. Silverman, a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center, spoke with the TCAR‘s Hanne Appelbaum and Basil Considine about her writing and the upcoming play.

HA: I’ve found playwrights to have very diverse working styles and habits. When and where do you do your writing, and why?

Over the years I’ve learned to be low-maintenance – I’ll write in an airport, on a bus, whenever I have a window of time. But ideally I’d have a concentrated set of days, and just write through them. It feels best when I can focus in a steady, ongoing way, instead of in small bursts. Writers’ residencies have always been wonderful, for this reason.

HA: I understand that you’re currently doing a residency at the Lark in NYC. How does being in NYC affect/inform your playwriting? This particular residency?

I’m currently the recipient of the PoNY (Playwrights of New York) fellowship, thanks to Sandi Goff Farkas and The Lark. What this means is that I can live in New York for a year without working other jobs or teaching (as I had been doing) – since the PoNY gives you an apartment, a stipend, and health insurance for a year. It’s really an incredible gift of time and resources, and that’s affected my playwriting tremendously.

As for the years in NYC outside of the PoNY – I love the scrappiness and speed of this city, how you have to be fast on your feet. I’m sure that filters into the writing in its own way.

BC: Has the stability of the fellowship changed when you write? Is there such thing as a typical writing day in your schedule? 

I don’t have that many typical days in general, since there’s always a shifting sequence of rehearsals, auditions, workshops. Every week has a different rhythm. But the PoNY fellowship let me quit teaching (at least for the year), so it’s easier than it used to be, to cordon off a couple of days every week and do nothing but write. It’s never the same two days a week, but I try to make them back-to-back when I can, so a thought can extend over a 48-hour period.

BC: Except for That Poor Girl and How He Killed Her, your plays tend to have lopsided gender ratios. Is that coincidental or deliberate (and if the latter, why)?

I’m not sure how to answer this one. I tend to have plays with many female characters – The Roommate and Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Boops are all-female casts.

Much of the work I make is populated by strong-willed, bold, and reckless women. But when I sit down to write a story, I just think about which bodies need to be there to tell that specific story, and I work from there. So the ratios are what they are based on what the story is, and who needs to be there to question, provoke, transform our understanding of how the story works.

HA: How often are you seeing theatre while in NYC? What have you seen lately that you’ve enjoyed and why?

I try to see as much as I can. Living in NYC means you always feel like you’re missing somebody’s play… and, in fact, you are. I recently saw Adam Bock’s play A Life at Playwrights Horizons. I love it when a play constantly surprises me – every time I thought I was getting my feet planted in what it was, it changed.

HA: When and how did you first get the idea to write Wink?

I wrote the first draft about four years ago, and of that first draft, maybe fifteen pages remain. I was reading Brecht at the time, and re-reading Buchner’s Woyzeck, and was really captivated by the aggressive economy of German non-naturalism.

At the time, I kept noticing the long-game ramp-up in American plays, where it takes us two acts to get to the part where everything changes in Act 3. By contrast, the German plays were just unapologetically declarative: “This is the world, and now it changes, and now we move on!” I was drawn to bringing that aesthetic into what felt to me like an inherently American play about personal transformation and individual happiness.

Wink plays from Dec. 5-6 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. Free admission.

Twin Cities Arts Reader