Call and Response: Young Jean Lee

by Eliza Bent


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“If you’re studying Shakespeare and you say you want to be a playwright and you have no experience playwriting it’s basically like, you know, being a veterinarian and saying you want to be a dog.”

Young Jean Lee, I AM THEATRE   

I never wanted to be a dog. And I certainly never wanted to be a playwright. I studied philosophy in college. Serious stuff. Upon graduating I enjoyed tooting about on stage as a performer in scrappy productions while also working at American Theatre magazine.

But one summer I read a short story in the New Yorker that was so fun and juicy and full of stage-potential that I decided to adapt it—just as an exercise. It sat untouched on my computer for many months. And it became increasingly clear that no one would ever produce it except me. About a year went by. Then a friend told me she’d gotten a slot in a summer festival. I was so jealous. I thought, “I need a slot too.” (Jealousy compels a fair amount of my decision making.)

So I talked to the curator of the festival and weaseled my way in. After that show, She of the Voice, people said, “So you’re a playwright now!” I didn’t believe them. It had just been an adaptation after all. And probably they were just being nice. But I had a nagging feeling I could never go back to just stage tooting. My friends that had gone through Brooklyn College—and lived to tell tales of what it was like studying with Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney—encouraged me to apply. “Ok, I’ll apply,” I thought. “Just as an exercise.” After all, the playwrights whose work I was most interested in, like Young Jean Lee, Thomas Bradshaw, Annie Baker, Kristina Satter, Sibyl Kempson and Jess Barbagallo had all passed through the ranks of Brooklyn College. Why not give it a shot?

I’m now a second year MFA student at Brooklyn College and grateful to be on this new artistic trajectory.

Who or what has inspired you to take an artistic leap?

What surprises have happened along your artistic path?

Let us know, or better yet, don’t just tell, show.

Call and Response extends the conversation surrounding the I AM THEATREvideos (and hopefully inspires you to make your own video). You can watch Young Jean’s video and catch up on I AM THEATRE here.

Eliza Bent is associate editor for American Theatre magazine. She is also a playwright/performer currently pursuing an MFA in playwriting at Brooklyn College under Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney. Bent’s plays include She of the Voice, Blue Dress Reduction, (both undergroundzero festival at PS 122), Pen Pals Meet (the Brick’s Iranian Theatre Festival), Public Proposals, or smile crying (Independent Actors Theatre, Columbia, Missouri), and Trumped (Solo Nova, PS 122). Upcoming: The Hotel Colors (Bushwick Starr, Nov. 7), and Toilet Time with Eliza Bent (Dixon Place’s Little Theatre, Dec. 12).  Bent is also a regular performer and company member of Half Straddle.