“What strikes me is how our culture has evolved such that if we’re not being witnessed we feel like we don’t exist. The desire for fame is really just the desire to be witnessed to such a degree that you feel like you HAVE to exist.”
What price fame? With her debut novel, We Play Ourselves (Random House), writer and playwright Jen Silverman tells a comedic tale of theater life gone wrong, internet humiliation, a teenage feminist fight club, queer absurdist puppetry, the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, and a lot more. We get into the roots of her novel, what writing for theater and TV/film taught her and what she had to unlearn for this book, how she balanced her love for absurdism with narrative realism, and how to figure out which stories belong in which medium. We talk about the difference between “theater” and “Broadway” and how the pandemic has wiped out the communal experience of theater (for now), how the economics of theater can perpetuate a lack of diversity and how it feels to be “the woman” playwright in a season, how she learned to navigate the heightened unreality of LA, the difference in searching for The Path and finding A Path, why the hunger for being seen can warp pretty much all human activities, why she draws sad pandas, and more! Give it a listen! And go read We Play Ourselves!
“I’m really interested in art forms that reflect us back to ourselves in unexpected ways.”
“In theater what I’m doing revolves around the question, ‘What is the invitation that I’m extending to my audience?’ How am I inviting them into this space, this live gathering that can only happen in a theater? A novel is not theater, and it felt like a couple lifetimes of me asking, ‘What is a novel?'”
“Absurdist theater is a very specific tool for thinking about power dynamics, about politics, about human relations inside communities.”
“Since the pandemic, the more plays I’ve read on the page the more I found myself able to engage with the art form as a form that I love, as opposed to the absence of theater in my life.”
“Each play is a new interrogation. In my process, form and content and the way they talk to each other is very important, so each play by necessity takes on a different form than the last play or the next play.”
About our Guest
Jen Silverman is a New York–based writer and playwright. She is the author of the story collection The Island Dwellers, which was longlisted for a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction. Her plays have been produced across the United States and internationally, and she also writes for television and film. She is a two-time MacDowell Colony fellow, a member of New Dramatists, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Fellowship, the Yale Drama Series Award, and a Playwrights of New York Fellowship. Her new novel is We Play Ourselves.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Jen by Zackary Canepari.