Branden Jacobs-Jenkins on Caryl Churchill’s Far Away

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (winner of a 2016 Windham-Campbell Prize for Drama) chats with Prize Director Michael Kelleher about British theater legend Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, the power of language on the page and stage, and the point of having a playwright at all.

For a full episode transcript, click here.

Reading list: 

Far Away by Caryl Churchill • Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill • Top Girls by Caryl Churchill • Prince • Jasmine Lee Jones on Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the SunCristina and Her Double: Essays by Herta Müller

From the episode:

Michael Kelleher: That idea of like the collective construction of meaning in, especially, you know, I think is especially significant in theater but it does kind of, you know, it does bring up that question, uh, that maybe I’ll just pose to you. why have a playwright at all?

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: How dare you, Mike? Well, someone has to generate the impulse. You know, someone has to, has to design the game. Someone has to be in charge of like, Here’s the proposition. Here’s the provocation.

You know, and that’s, that is the playwright’s job. Everyone else who comes after is hired to react to something that hopefully already exists. And usually it’s the script, but sometimes it might just be someone’s idea of something, and that person is authorial. That’s what the author is you know.

MK: I mean, I think I asked the question just because the term that everybody loves to use these days is I’m a theater maker.

BJJ: I mean, this can go a thousand directions. I will say that, like, all drama is theater, but not all theater is drama, right? And I think that there’s a lot of importance behind this idea of the dramatists. Like, you know, a playwright is a dramatist, a libretto is a dramatist, someone who makes musicals is a dramatist.

Because we are in the work of drama, which is about story, it’s about character, it’s about sort of a sense of, literary unfolding and even Carole Churchill, in her weirdest work, is still interested in the management of language. She’s still interested in an event expressed over time that involved human bodies embodying those things.

And I think she does ultimately care about story in a quiet way. Even in her weirdest plays, you can still sort of recount, even though it’s insane, there’s a story here. I’d say too that, you know, playwright, it’s W R I G H T, not W R I T E, so, yeah, you’re a playmaker like a shipwright makes ships. You know, that was always kind of what, at least when I was coming up, that was what was baked into you in your education, was that, like, you’re actually building a blueprint for a larger event, you know, and one of the interesting wrinkles in playwriting, but also maybe a gift of it is that it has life as both a literary object and as a something expressed in space and time. And if you’re lucky, people care about what you do in both, those realms, you know. I think theater makers feel like they’re saying that they’re some kind of new form of the same old thing, which is like a person who just wants to make plays, or make events for audiences who sit there and pay usually to watch them, you know.

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