Parent-Centric Comedy, Interview with Playwright Jenny Seidelman

 

Soon we will be publishing a resources page that includes a list of plays that include representation of the mother/parent as a professional and/or working artist. Recently, Chicago’s Gorilla Tango Theatre commissioned a piece by playwright and mom Jenny Seidelman.

The Audition Notice for this piece encourages parents and diverse performers to audition. Auditions were held on January 8, 2017 from 6-10PM.

Read below for our interview with the playwright and how she received the opportunity to write a comedy on parenting. This opportunity is especially useful because better representation for parents in the narratives onstage increases the relevance of parents in the work for and behind the scenes in our theaters. Representation for parents on stage is part of the healthy practices we like to encourage, and clearly Jenny’s collaboration with Gorilla Tango Theatre puts that into action. Check out the fun work Jenny has brewing.


How did the opportunity to write this commissioned work for Gorilla Tango Theatre come about?

Ellen White, Executive Producer at Gorilla Tango, posted the opportunity in the Chicago Theatre Parents Facebook group. I contacted Ellen to express my interest and it turned out that she was already familiar with my work. We had an interview where I pitched my concept and shortly after I was hired for the commission.

 What excited you about the opportunity when it was presented?

In the short time that I’ve been a parent (2 years) I had yet to write about parenting specifically. I thought it would be an interesting idea to explore. I was also excited to be a part of Gorilla Tango’s new initiative to create original scripted work – it’s always thrilling to be involved with projects from the ground up, at companies that are devoted to new plays.

What, if anything, did you feel concerned about in writing this piece and where did you find the confidence to persevere? If nothing concerned you, what did your confidence come from?

Whenever I write a play, I am always concerned about fairly representing experiences that are different than my own. Ultimately I find confidence by doing extensive research, and also in the creative partners with whom I work. Theater is a collaborative art, and I knew that the artists at Gorilla Tango would provide helpful, thoughtful feedback throughout the writing process. All that, and I know audience reaction to my past projects, that I’m funny.

How do you define the term parent-centric comedy?

Parent-centric comedy is by parents, for parents, about parents.

What concepts or moments in parenting inspired you from the beginning?

Something I’ve come to realize is that parenting is such a personal experience, with lots of different ways to do it. There’s no right or wrong way, even if some people will tell you otherwise. Some of the moments that keep me going as a parent are when I share my frustrations or my joys with my husband, or parent-friend, or even a mom or dad in line at the grocery or at my kid’s music class. We’re all in this together, for the greater good of our children.

What satisfies/is satisfying you about the experience of writing a parent-centric comedy?

I love creating a world where people with different parenting styles and family situations are brought together under one cause, and can bond over raising their children.

What surprises/is surprising you about the experience of writing a parent-centric comedy?

It’s surprising how hard it can be to balance comedy with poignancy – parenting is such a huge responsibility and a major part of life, it can’t be taken lightly 100% of the time.

What challenges/is challenging you about the experience of writing a parent-centric comedy?

The biggest challenge for me was ensuring that as many parenting philosophies and family dynamics as possible were included in the script. There are so many! I ended up focusing mostly on parents of elementary students, so unfortunately parents of teenagers are short-changed. I also wish I could have explored families in more challenging social-economic situations, but that can be a pretty heavy subject and the show is intended to be a comedy.

What can you tell us about your play? 

“…Because I Love You: A Comedy About Parenting” centers on five different families, working to put together their school’s annual spring pageant, raising money via the PTA, and just surviving to live another day. It owes some of its structure to sketch comedy and Second City revues, in that it is filled with non-sequiturs, callbacks, and some edgier humor.

Why do you think this parent-centric piece is important in terms of what we commonly see on stage?

It’s rare to see the experience of parenting on stage in general. There are an endless number of plays about family, but few that address the challenges and joys of having children specifically. You see it much more often on television, in long-form sitcoms or dramas. Theater is a unique art form in that it occurs live in a room full of other people. There is a shared experience that can benefit our discussions on children and parenting, and perhaps provide an opportunity to learn about one another.

How can that improve in terms of theater and parent representation in plays?

As with other groups that are underrepresented on the stage, simply having the story of parents presented is a big win. About 43% of the US households have children 18 and under – that’s a significant portion of the population whose experiences as parents are not being told. 

Do you hope to write more work in this vein/what would you like to create next?

I’d love to incorporate parenting in future work. At the moment, I am working on a loosely-related trilogy of plays about “the things we don’t walk about in polite conversation” – specifically race, politics, and religion. The first, on race, entitled “Outside/Inside”, premiered at Ivy Theatre Company in New York this past fall. All three plays have, or will have characters who are parents, and how they tackle these issues are in some way informed by this role.


Exciting work to follow! Be sure to check out this piece when it goes up starting March 4.

Tickets are on sale NOW at www.gorillatango.com!

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