Interview between Jenna May Hobbs and Laura Thomas for CTP
Re: Production by Jenna May Hobbs
Camden Fringe Etcetera Theatre, Camden, 9th to 13th August 2017
Directed by Suzanna Ward
Produced by White Slate Theatre
This is the story of a perfect millennial couple, stumbling into early middle age, and their first crisis. He has always wanted to be a father, she has always wanted to be a scientist, and is working in the field of artificial insemination, on the verge of a break-through that will help thousands of would be mums. Irresistible urge meets immoveable object.
I caught the show in Birmingham a few weeks ago and found it fascinating, well executed and entertaining. This is the second piece by writer Jenna May Hobbs that I have seen, following on from ‘Captured’ last year, which I also rated highly.
I was delighted when Hobbs, agreed to answer some questions for CPT, in advance of the London run at the Camden Fringe from 9th to 13th August.
Firstly I asked her how she got into writing and who inspired her.
“I have to say F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald because it was their story that inspired me to write my first play (‘Your Fragrant Phantom’). I also fell in love with Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ when I read it at about 16, and it was from then that I harboured a desire to write for theatre.”
What’s your process? How do you germinate ideas?
“I know other writers feel like their brains are always buzzing with different plots but that rarely happens for me so I spend a lot of my time waiting for the muse to strike! Once I get an idea I begin the process of quite intense research, for example with Re: Production I studied genetics and the science and history behind IVF until I felt I would not feel out of my depth talking to a real scientist.
That sounds like a lot of work.
“So much of that research never made it into the show, but it was important for me to understand it all to write an authentic piece. Creating authentic characters is something I work on from the beginning. I spend a lot of time with them in my own head thinking through how they would react to certain situations, what their relationships with other people would be like, how they might write a letter or even eat a Mars bar!
At what point do you show your work to others, do you revise using a workshop process?
“I like to work with actors from the earliest possible point. I give them scenarios or obstacles to work past and then furiously make notes while they improvise. Hardly any of this makes it into the final piece but it allows me to get to know them fully and forms the backbone from which I write.”
I very much enjoyed your show ‘Captured’ last year. The two works of yours I have seen have a strong female character being thrown a curve ball. Is this a theme?
“Women’s stories fascinate me. Zelda Fitzgerald, the protagonist in my first play, doesn’t necessarily get thrown a curveball but…her whole life was a curveball of her own making. Both Sophie from Captured and Karen from Re: Production definitely face huge curveballs and how different people deal with a crisis is one of the things I find most fascinating to watch and study. All three plays do also have equally interesting male roles and perspectives and I really love to write about the dynamics of human relationships.”
You write of contemporary, realistic characters that feel authentic, do you get tempted to go slipstream or absurdist or write with more abstract characters?
“Not yet! I wouldn’t write it off as an option for the future; but for now, what I find interesting to write about, and see explored on stage, is the everyday challenges I observe people struggling with, that I don’t always think are being openly discussed. In Captured that was identity and image, and in Re: Production it’s legacy and expectations. I’ve been really delighted to hear all the post show chats and debates over Tom and Karen’s predicament regarding parenthood and to hear people saying it had raised important questions for them that they hadn’t previously considered.”
If you could pass one law, what would it be.
“Can I say the banning of urinals? I just think they are so disgusting. But seriously, fairer welfare laws. The way the current government treats the poor is criminal.”
Glass half full or half empty?
“Well that depends if the glass is holding wine or not!”
Hobbs and her partner in crime, director Suzanna Ward, are in the vanguard of a new generation of post-austerity theatre makers, compelled to create and with an interesting new voice. The show has a short run in London and is well worth your consideration,