Interview with AJ Ware from Chicago’s Jackalope Theatre Co.
Culturebot contributor Calamity West sat down with Jackalope Theatre Company’s associate artistic director AJ Ware to talk about memory and her co-adaptation (with Melanie Berner and Andrew Swanson) of Charles Mee’s “Under Construction” coming to Chicago audiences November 27th at The Artistic Home.
What can you tell us about Jackalope Theatre Company?
We got started almost three years ago me, Gus Menary and Keiser Ahmed took this class in theatre management and the final project was to create a theatre company with a three year plan – and while we were doing it, we realized at the end that we really loved this idea that we had come up with and wanted to give it a shot. So we hooked up with our friend Andrew Swanson and produced one of his plays entitled, “The Last Exodus of American Men” (and that one was only okay). And second of his that we did was called “Moonshiner” and it was something we were really proud of. So the creation of Jackalope was kind of accidental. I don’t think that any of us ever thought that we were going to start a theatre company based on the American mythos, but now that we have…it feels really great and it’s given all of us something to explore that we didn’t even know we were interested in as much as we are.
Have you ever written or adapted a script before?
Nope. So here’s hoping it doesn’t suck.
Why did you choose to adapt Charles Mee?
I don’t know, I’ve always loved Charles Mee. But why do you love Charles Mee? Because he’s magical! And somehow, even though he doesn’t “write” anything, his voice is so strong and speaks to a lot of 20something artists. I did a play of his in Houston called “Full Circle” and that’s what really sparked my interest in him. And I love the idea that you can do whatever you want with his work.
Define “do whatever you want”.
I’ll try…but in a round about way. When I was younger, I loved “alternative” playwrights and theatre, like Brecht and Beckett, but I could never verbalize why. So when I moved to Chicago four years ago and started to find my own voice as an artist, I started to discover why I wanted to do theatre and why it’s important for me to story-tell in this way. This kind of experience is exactly what attracted me to Charles Mee. He gives me a jumping off point while allowing me my own voice.
What did this particular script have that other’s didn’t?
“Under Construction” started because I loved the visual concept and had been stewing with the idea of “ideal” childhoods for a long time. Having reached an age where all of a sudden I came to relate to my family and to my parents in this way that explains a lot of who I am and where I come from. Having this realization that I’m not an angsty teenager anymore and care very deeply about these people I am related to by blood but maybe have nothing else in common with – which was something that was once a problem but is very special now. And for me, this play became about that.
What drew you to create an adaptation?
It started all thematic. The play deals with a found object art work (Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Dinner) and the text is found text, at least 85% of it. We’ve kept two scenes from the original Mee script but found the majority of the script (in our adaptation) on the internet or books or movies. And then, we started thinking about the brain and memory and how our memories work, in that we don’t remember an event as it happened. We remember the last time we remembered it and contextualize it with who we are now. So, truly, we can’t remember who we really are. We’re pieces. We’re fragments. And like this, our adaptation is created as such. Tiny things becoming big things.
What was the most challenging part of the co-adaptation process (emphasis on the “co”)?
Learning to not treat things as precious.
What do you hope to accomplish in the final product?
I want people to feel good. I want them to leave the theatre and feel good about themselves. I hope that it strikes a chord. I hope that they can relate.
*adaptation by AJ Ware,
For more information on Jackalope Theatre Company go to: http://www.jackalopetheatre.org/