SALT LAKE CITY — Julie Jensen is an award winning playwright. Her work has been produced in New York, London Hamburg, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The world premier of her newest play Christmas with Misfits opens at Plan-B Theatre Company on December 11.
How would you describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
JENSEN: My plays are different, one from another. I try to make them that way. I don’t want to be pegged or pigeon-holed. Usually there is some humor. (In this one, more rather than less.) I try to write about important things, things that matter or should matter to all of us. I often write about issues that anger me. And I like writing about things that haven’t already been written about.
Why did you become a writer, and what drew you to the theatre?
JENSEN: I was always going to be a writer, or so I thought. As a kid I would listen to people talk and imagine getting it down just the way it sounded. I would do that when I grew up, I thought. And by damn, I did.
As for the theatre, I was always interested in it, since forever. The play that converted me, however, was Our Town, which I saw as a kid. I loved the idea that the story was told without a set and that the Stage Manager talked directly to us. How amazing! That play set me on a life-long quest to discover what else the theatre could do.
Tell me about CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS?
JENSEN: It’s a collection of four short plays about people who don’t fit the “Christmas mold.” That mold was designed by Walt Disney and Coca Cola, meaning that Christmas is really intended for children with bright eyes and parents with a lot of money. I’ve never fit, so I am a misfit, too
What was the inspiration for CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS?
JENSEN: The inspiration for Christmas with Misfits was a friend of mine, a fellow writer, who told me she was writing a play about Christmas. She asked me to write it with her. I said, “Oh great! I really hate Christmas.” As it turned out, she didn’t really hate it, and I did. So I wrote my version, and she’s writing hers. I always think it’s important to write something you have strong feelings about. Hate is a good one, though there are others, like love, politics, and hypocrisy, for example.
How did the format come about? Did you always plan on four short plays?
JENSEN: I just wrote some short plays on this subject. I didn’t know how many there would be. In fact, there are a few other plays that did not make it into this collection. After I had written a few, I thought maybe I could include one play about every age group. So there’s a play about a kid, one about adolescents, one about adults, and one about old people. That seemed to be a neat package. And so I stayed with that.
What kind of audience do you hope will find this play?
JENSEN: The audience for this play is broad and varied. Recent polls reveal that a majority this country would be relieved if Christmas were cancelled altogether. I think we all feel pressured by the holiday. We’re trying to live up to something that’s impossible, and each year we feel obliged to do more than the year before. Indeed, the annual economy of the country balances on whether the American people spend more money this year on Christmas than they did last year. But in a more general way, I think a holiday that is so abused and abusive needs a little help, needs some leavening, and these plays attempt to provide that.
Can you tell me more about what you mean when you say that Christmas is an abused and abusive holiday?
JENSEN: Christmas is an abused holiday. It’s meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it’s an orgy of gluttony and greed. How did we get here from there? Christmas is also an abusive holiday because everyone feels burdened by it. We must buy more and better gifts, serve more expensive food. The season also goes on far too long. There are commercials for certain items that begin in September. Enough already!
What has it been like to work with Plan-B Theatre Company on this production?
JENSEN: This is the second play I’ve done with Plan-B. I like working with them. They’re committed to doing new work by local playwrights and doing it well. Any playwright would be gratified by the chance to work with them, and so am I.
You’ve lived in several different cities, what brought you back to Utah? What is different about the theatre community here?
JENSEN: I returned to Utah because I had gotten a couple of big grants. They were both connected to Salt Lake Acting Company. So I thought I’d come back for a couple of years and then return to LA. But I stayed on because the theatre community here is so dynamic and original. It’s also awfully good. Nowhere else in the country is there such a commitment to doing new plays by local writers. It’s what theatre should do in every city. We’re ahead of the rest of the country. And I love being a part of that movement.
Are you working on anything that Utah Audiences can look forward to in the future?
JENSEN: I’m working on redrafting a play I wrote in the 80s about politics. It’s an allegory. It’s funny. It’s wildly absurd. And I think it’s good. It’s called Blue Money. I’m taking another look at the play because politics has done nothing but get worse and become even more absurd.
Any advice for aspiring playwrights?
JENSEN: Aspiring playwrights should see all the plays they can possibly see, good, bad and indifferent. They should get to know the people doing them, because theatre is a social art form. And they should think about the stage when they write, not a film, not reality. And then they should try to write what hasn’t already been written, what they’d like to see.