Playwright Jennifer A. Kokai on creating ZOMBIE THOUGHTS

Jennifer A. Kokai has previously written “Bird Brains” for Plan-B’s portion of ROSE EXPOSED: FLIGHT and the monologues “Mitch” and “Janine” for (IN)DIVISIBLE. Jenny is an Associate Professor at Weber State University, where she teaches playwriting. When I was asked to write a play for Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour, I immediately turned to the closest elementary expert: my (now) eleven-year-old son.  But Oliver is not a typical elementary-aged kid. He has the verbal comprehension skills of someone in college. As the child of a theatre professor, he has seen Stoppard’s ARCADIA and Ibsen’s HEDDA GABBLER. He’s a sophisticated yet generous audience member. But when we’ve seen plays aimed at folks his age, he is often troubled by simplistic storylines and banal morals. Kids, he tells me, deal with real problems and these plays rarely offer an opportunity to think through a difficult situation or learn how to function better in real life.   Oliver also has learning and emotional disabilities that have challenged me as a parent: there is nothing more heartbreaking than not being able to give your child what he needs. In kindergarten, Oliver exasperated his teachers with incessant questions, impulse control issues, difficulty relating to other children, and disinterest in assigned work and procedures. We changed schools for first grade, but things got worse. The more his teacher criticized him, the more anxious he became about messing up, and the more he messed up. We changed schools for second and third grade: the pattern continued. Oliver began to talk about harming himself and wanting to die. So, outside of work and school, we hid in the house...

11-year-old playwright Oliver Kokai-Means on creating ZOMBIE THOUGHTS

Oliver Kokai-Means makes his professional playwriting debut with ZOMBIE THOUGHTS, Plan-B’s sixth annual Free Elementary School Tour. As an actor he most recently appeared in FUN HOME at Salt Lake Acting Company. My name is Oliver. I am a kid who likes soccer, who likes sports, and who likes and is really good at reading, and video games, and is not what some people would say normal is. Because I have anxiety. My anxiety has caused problems for me because I don’t like being with people I don’t know, so first days are extra hard for me. It has also caused me problems with teachers who don’t understand, and with making friends. Our play ZOMBIE THOUGHTS is about a pig named Pig and a nine-year-old kid named Sam who has anxiety [I was nine when we started writing the play]. They are in a video game and they go on an adventure with different levels and try to beat them, but they have a hard time and they fail most of the time. They try and work on it and then they finally beat a level and then they have to fight The Machine. They technically beat The Machine but it doesn’t go away because you can’t beat anxiety. The audience gets to make a lot of choices in the play, like they’re the ones playing the video game. I identify with Sam. One of the things that happens in anxiety is you get scared of all this stuff, and some of the stuff that you’re scared of doesn’t even exist. Zombie Thoughts are where you do something but...

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