By Emilia Hurst
Jim and Jane Jeffries are local playwrights that have done some really fascinating work on unique subjects. Their play Ninth Train is about the Kindertransport, an often forgotten historical aspect of the holocaust, and their play Locked In is about a girl with Locked in syndrome, in which she is unable to move at all but can still see and hear everything around her. They've also written comedies such as Desperate Housewives of Shakespeare, in which one of the wives from Shakespeare’s plays murders the famous bard, though the question remains: which one? I recently got the chance to ask them a few questions and learn more about their work and why they love it!
What do you find really interesting and enjoyable about playwriting as opposed to writing novels or poetry?
Jane & Jim Jeffries: While you do have live reading for poetry and novels, most of the time you do not get to see the reaction of your readers. In drama, you see if the play works or not. This can be really good or really bad. For our first comedy plays at the Wisconsin Renaissance Faire, we’ve had whole audiences get up and leave. Let me tell you, playing in front of empty stands really motivates you to improve your play.
Emilia Hurst: How did you first get into theater?
Jane & Jim Jeffries: For Jim, he was allowed into his high school concert choir only because they needed him to write scripts for their dinner theater. When it came to the actual singing, his choir director requested that he sing, “really, really softly.” For Jane, she was blackmailed by her husband when an actress dropped out of a sketch that they were doing the next day.
What advice do you have for those that aspire to write plays or other scripted literature?
Jane & Jim Jeffries: Make peace with the fact that you are going to write garbage. 50% of what we write never makes it on stage, and of that 50%, 30% more is changed after we see the audience’s reaction. Writing garbage is not your enemy – the blank page is. A friend of Jim’s once asked him how his playwriting was going. Jim said that he had writer’s block. The friend said, “Huh. My dad’s a truck driver. And you know, he never once had truck-driving block.” Writing is work just like cleaning a toilet or measuring twice before sawing a board.
Can you explain the process of playwriting?
Jane Jeffries: We are a little different because we write as a couple. We usually have two plays going. We each write about five pages on separate plays, switch plays, then revise what the other has written and then advance it five more pages. It involves a lot of trust and sometimes some pretty tense conversations. You’ve got to be willing to “kill your darlings” if they are not working in that particular script. Jim, in particular, has had some particularly hilarious dialogue cut just because it did not advance the plot. Or develop the characters. Or make sense.
Do you have any current projects or upcoming showings?
Jane Jeffries: We are doing a show on March 8, 9, 10 at the Hollywood Stage at 7:00 pm. It’s called Arrivals and Departures . It includes 12 shorts scenes telling the stories of different travelers whose journeys intersect at the terminal. Performances are March 8 – 10 at 7:00 p.m. on the Hollywood Stage at Valleybrook. Proceeds will be split between Fierce Freedom and Valleybrook (to help on stage renovations). Cost is by donation. (Suggested donation is $10, but pay what you can.)
Be sure to check out some of Jane and Jeffries awesome plays some time soon! If you’d like more information or would like to purchase any of their plays you can check out their website here.