1.) How did you respond to the criteria of the ‘women are funny’ competition? Did you have a play already written that fit the bill, or did you write something new?
We were excited by the idea of collaborating on Enter Bogart, which was specifically written for the Playscripts/ICWP "Women Are Funny" competition call. Jackie thought of the story a while ago but never had the time to write it and so she asked Jenn to co-write the script with her for the competition. We were jazzed by the mandate to write comedy for as many young people, especially young women, as possible. Often, funny young women are relegated to either dumb blonde or uptight smarty pants roles. We liked focusing on a script that gave a diverse array of students the opportunity to be "the funny one" in a lot of different ways.
2.) What sorts of things did you keep in mind when writing a play for high school students?
In addition to keeping in mind certain technical and logistical requirements (minimal set and flexible costume needs for schools with smaller budgets, female heavy casting opportunities since many school drama programs have more females than males, and PG-13 material) we really focused on writing unique characters that young actors would be excited to play.
The characters in Enter Bogart... all have a lot of heart, they're very dimensional, and they're flawed but lovable. No one is perfect and none of them "fit in" yet everyone is exuberantly marching to the beat of their own drum. So much of Enter Bogart is about embracing who you are, even if you love science, or old pop culture references, or wear headgear, or like to sing everything you say instead of speaking- its all good if its who you are and you're not hurting anyone else.
We also wanted to create a world that could be tailored to include details that make the story feel specific and authentic to each school and each student's experience at that school, so there are a lot of places in the script where you can write in the name of your town, your school's mascot or quirky after school club etc. There is also the option of casting teachers or your schools janitor in cameo roles so its fun for the whole community.
And we agreed that we wanted to create something that would be just as funny and entertaining for the parents and teachers as it would be for the students. We hope that references to Bogart, and Rocky and Barbara Streisand become talking points for parents and students and also serve as way to introduce a whole generation of young theater makers to cultural icons of the past.
3.) It’s tricky writing comedy – how do you approach writing about physicality, set, props, ‘busyness’, in your playscripts?
Jenn: I like to think about what I, as a professional actress, would do in a given moment that would be funny, and I'm always looking around me to see what's funny, and examining why I think something is funny. I like to make lists of things that I think are inherently funny like rubber chickens (classic), magic 8 balls (so fun and so ridiculous!), coconut bras (Monty Python anyone?), to name a few, and then work those props in. I'm also a "go big or go home" kind of gal when it comes to comedy, which is why the whole conjoined twins bit tickles me.
When I was writing Mindy and Lindy Cameron I was thinking, "Oh man, Jackie is going to kill me. This is ridiculous!" (She didn't, thankfully, because she's as big a weirdo as I am). Setting an expectation and then breaking it is always funny too, which is why the Janitor bit always has me in stitches. We did a reading of Enter Bogart... with some great professional actors.
The actor playing the Janitor in our reading was this insanely talented pro with tons of classical training and he just knocked the Hamlet soliloquy out of the park. It took my breath away it was so good, and then that, of course, was hysterically funny. A lot of the "busyness" is rooted in classic comedy routines- such as getting stuck to someone else because your hair gets caught in their headgear (what? that hasn't happened to you?) or fainting in exhausted passion and relief. And of course really high stakes and the deadly seriousness of it all is what seals the deal.
Jackie: I think the biggest challenge in writing any kind of theater is that it's not meant to be read, it's meant to be seen. So the physicalness of the world - both in movement and in literal objects - are crucial to the storytelling. As a writer, I try conjure an image in my mind of what the setting/actors look like/are doing at each moment. That way, I can more effectively use what will actual be onstage when the show is produced. A play is only play when it's onstage. Otherwise, it's a blueprint for a transformative experience.
4.) What do you like most about your play ‘Enter Bogart’?
Jackie: It makes us laugh and feel joyous.
Jenn: And there are so many parts in it that I would have been very excited to play as a young actress. So much of my high school acting experience involved playing men and old ladies. Enter Bogart has real, age appropriate, three-dimensional, funny parts for young actresses to sink their teeth into. And at the risk of sounding rather sentimental I'll say that Enter Bogart renews my faith in the power and meaning of friendship.It makes me feel like we all have a place in this big bad world and that even, and especially, perhaps, the smallest among us can contribute in big and meaningful ways.
5.) What makes you laugh?
Jenn: I like smart, character-driven comedy. I grew up watching a lot of I Love Lucy and the Carol Burnett Show which I think you can see in my writing style. I also think earnestness is refreshingly funny, (too many people are too jaded these days!), and larger than life characters that are still grounded in something identifiable get me laughing every time. My wobbly special needs cat makes me laugh. People that don't take themselves too seriously make me laugh. Underdogs of all kinds have huge comedic potential (hint: we're all underdogs!). Comedy is the stuff of life, and its all around, so I'm always laughing.
Jackie: I second Jenn's great answer.
ICWP Member Shirley King's Script "ELLA'S ENCHANTED GARDEN" was a runner up in the contest.
Here she answers the same questions..
I've written several comedies for high school students. Ella's Enchanted Garden, a Cinderella twist, includes a 21st Century teen rapper named Buddy, sent back in time to Fairy Tale Land for misbehaving.Before returning to his home in Chicago Buddy needs to perform a good deed. This means helping Ella recover the stolen glass slipper so the prince can find his bride. I liked Buddy and had fun helping him rap and rhyme.
I never write down to students. As a Child Welfare Worker I spent 27 years working with troubled teens. They needed someone who respected their feelings and related to them on their level. Over time I learned to understand teen speak.
About physicality, sets, props and stage business, I usually just turn my characters loose. I don't use props or stage directions unless necessary and also don't do much set description. I see myself as the writer, not the set designer or director.
While thinking about your questions I realized how often I use "the ticking clock" for urgency and momentum. Something must happen or someone must reach an important goal by a certain time or suffer the consequences.
For me, comedy isn't tricky. I never plan ahead. Usually I have a "what if?" idea. For example, "Cassidy’s scheme to thwart the evil Frost Gang hits a snag until she suddenly gets a brainstorm. What if she just adds cats?" Then I take it from there, letting my characters tell me where they want to go. This may sound disingenuous but it's really what I do. In one of my plays a character says, "My process? There is no process. I simply enter the worlds of my characters and accompany them on their journeys." This works for me.
I'm a pushover when it comes to what makes me laugh. In another teen play of mine Prince Laffsalot says "I have tried so hard to be cheery. I wonder, is laughing the day away a mistake when celebration is not called for?" Like Laffsalot, I find humor in the mundane as well as the ridiculous.
In my eightieth year I love writing plays and feel grateful to have the opportunity. I also cherish the friendship, support and company of playwrights on various listserves and organizations, including ICWP.
I've been a proud member of ICWP since 1998.