Playwright Jenifer Nii on THE WEIRD PLAY (one of 10 recipients nationwide of the inaugural Writers Alliance Grant from the Dramatists Guild Foundation and her 6th world premiere with Plan-B), premiering March 1-11 in a co-pro with Sackerson. Click here for tickets.
I have no business being in theatre. When I first met Jerry Rapier at Plan-B nearly a decade ago, I had written all of one “play.” I’d seen a handful of shows in my youth (including a particularly alarming Idahoan-interpreted MAN OF LA MANCHA). I’d never read a play just for fun.
But life is a wild ride. Mine had just steamed through most of a music degree at university, then swerved toward journalism after a Schumann etude ate my finger. Then, through some loopty-loops I still can’t really follow, I landed in the back row of a campus production of Marsha Norman’s play GETTING OUT that cracked my heart and I saw, for the first time, how theatre can transport, and open up and shake.
I saw that show every night of its run. The night it closed, I went home and wrote a play.
It was not a good play. But somehow it got passed around and then my phone rang and it was this man Jerry who wanted to talk. Even then, knowing nothing about the way theatre works, I knew something nearly-miraculous was happening.
Jerry was willing to read draft after draft of what was surely amateur, ignorant writing, and then help to identify strengths and shave away the muck. Through The Lab at Plan-B, I have been given me the opportunity to hear and discuss my work with peers and professionals in a safe space – several of my plays have had their first breath of life there. And, Plan-B has set me loose to try new things; I know of no other writer who has been given the opportunity to do a literary adaptation, historical/period pieces, a children’s play, 24-hour page-to-stage events, political monologues and a fully-scored musical.
Plan-B also made me the first Asian American – and among the first of any minority group – to have a world premiere production in Utah. This is a special company, leading from the trenches.
My latest play is of yet another stripe. THE WEIRD PLAY is a highly theatrical contemplation of love and devotion. For me, it is an experiment in the elements of theatre that I felt I had executed incompletely or unsatisfactorily in my past work.
Let me explain.
In mid-2017, I signed off of social media. At first, I felt lost and alone. My phone quieted, and suddenly instead of a frantic, self-image warping, news-bending panic button, it became…a phone (or, probably more often, a text messenger).
Once I got past the shock and mourning (Fare thee well, Face-Twit-Stagram!), something weird happened. I found myself connecting more deeply with the people who stayed in touch. I paid more attention to the faces in front of me. I began looking for ways to live the minutes I’d previously spent scrolling and, if I’m honest, trolling.
I also developed an even more intense appreciation for the theatre. I’ve been privileged to have five plays produced at Plan-B. Playwrights near and far – who are more talented, more aspirational, more prolific – work and work and work for the chance to have their plays considered for production. I know that I am blessed, and I thought I really knew what it was to love the theatre.
I know now that I’m only beginning to understand: it isn’t that we love theatre. We need it. I see now that it’s not a luxury – one option among many – to bring people to together in a shared space, to sit side-by-side with our neighbors while actual humans offer stories that invite, challenge, and illuminate. Theatre is one of the last tethers left.
Theatre is human. It’s about what we experience, presented within arm’s reach by people who are breathing and speaking and living with us. Plan-B goes even further, presenting stories written by, about, and for our community.
THE WEIRD PLAY was born from these revelations. I titled it THE WEIRD PLAY because it scared me to write it, and because I’ve asked everyone in it – from the actors to the creative team to the audience – to go with me to a place and in a way I’ve never done before.
Ultimately, THE WEIRD PLAY is about love and connection. I built it the way I did (which is radically different from anything I’ve tried before) because I think that these are what we’re losing, what we need to hold on to most, and what – in the face of so much divisiveness – remind us that we have a common core.
THE WEIRD PLAY is my love letter to the theatre, and to everyone willing to come together, even for an evening.