Atlanta by Pamela Turner
“I’m still so new to playwriting that every piece seems like an unknown adventure.”
After talking to Brooke Jennett one year after she won the 2016 Dramatists Guild Young Playwrights Award and graduated from Transylvania University, I was struck by the kaleidoscope-like way she weaves her life experiences into each step of her artistic life. It started when she had to decide what route to take after working several food service jobs and finding a love of cooking for her family and friends. Setting that up against a stronger passion brewing since childhood, she realized that “I want to write for other people and cook for myself,” and chose a creative writing program over culinary school. Her current project and first novel is about a young woman “faced with a lot of death who finds out she’s a necromancer.” This subject comes from a time when Jennett was caught up with “others going through the process of dealing with death.” Because she didn’t “have the life experience to cope” she sought counseling and also decided to “make death funny” as both a help to others and an acknowledgment that “we’re all going to die so [it’s important] what do we do in the meantime.”
Jennett says that the only consistent thing about her writing is humor. Describing her work [theatrical writing] further she states that “I can’t think of one common theme in any of my plays and I hope I never find one!” She goes on to explain that “I try to avoid absolutes in life—they box you into principles and promises you may not be able to keep.” That leads into Jennett’s interest in writing Young Adult fiction “for people in their 20s” because of the 21st century pressures in the “first quarter of life” that have shifted from the earlier emphasis on having kids to the current preoccupation with successful careers and making money. “Happiness is the hardest thing to attain in your 20s because everything is so fluid,” though “if you are doing something toward fulfilling your passion that is all anyone should ask.” Theatre is a somewhat new passion for Jennett since she didn’t discover playwriting until she was in college and took a class. “I fell in love immediately.” This feeling was strengthened when she performed in a Sheila Callaghan play: “it’s the one that made me want to do theatre…and I thought, ‘Hey, I could do this forever.’” The Callaghan play also whetted her appetite for “fantastical theatre based in reality” and circles back to the choice of featuring a necromancer in her novel: “the idea of how we grieve through a fantastical element.”
Something else that is becoming more important in Jennett’s life and work is the increasingly persistent political climate. After graduation she remained in Lexington, Kentucky and describes it as a “blue city in a red state.” This has been a boon for her personal consciousness-raising as she is finding there that her generation wants to discuss politics in a way that shares perspectives rather than closing ranks. She is also surprised to discover how “aggressive” theatre is at times in “showing what is right…not like propaganda but makes you think.” Her own contributions include the piece she wrote for the Horizon Theatre Young Playwrights Festival. Three Is Company is about racial insecurity in a “blended” family. Her current play project is based on the virulent anti-gay protests by members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. In that piece she “combines a figure in the church with Joan of Arc as the character is manipulated and vilified like Joan.” Jennett is also co-editor of the play anthology Mother#^%#! College Life with Michael Bigelow Dixon.
Jennett ended our interview by indicating that “my friends are the biggest influences in my life” and that “my favorite way to beat writer’s block is peer review.” She says her generation is “grassroots, innovative, and adaptable. We’re going everywhere fast.”