OOB Final 30 Countdown – Jennifer Barclay

For day two of our Final 30 countdown we’re going to introduce Jennifer Barclay!

Jennifer Barclay is a Chicago-bred actor-turned playwright, recently relocated to the DC area. Her plays been produced and developed by Steppenwolf, La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe, RedCat, The Kennedy Center, Center Stage, The International Theatre of Vienna, The Edinburgh Fringe, and others. Awards include: Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award, Kennedy Center National Science Playwriting Award, Pinter Review Gold Medal, CAPAA grant, Princess Grace finalist, O’Neill Conference finalist, Heideman Award finalist. Fellowships: Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat in Scotland, MacDowell Colony 2016. Residencies: 2009-10 Shank Playwright in Residence at South Coast Rep, 2015-16 Playwrights Collective at Center Stage. Education: Northwestern University (BS) and UC San Diego (MFA with Naomi Iizuka). Jennifer is an Affiliated Artist with the National New Play Network, and an Assistant Professor of Playwriting and Performance at the University of Maryland.

Also, she recently won the Smith Prize for Political Theatre from the National New Play Network, wherein Barclay has been commissioned to write her developing play Ripe Frenzy.

1. When did you start writing plays? If you had a moment where you realized you wanted to write, what was it?

I was an actor first, working professionally for over a decade, and it was acting that brought me to playwriting. During my senior year at Northwestern, I took a solo show writing class with Mary Zimmerman, so that I could create a post-graduation employment acting vehicle for myself. I wrote about the trail-blazing and potty-mouthed athlete, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and switched rapidly between seven characters with no costume or light changes. Mary encouraged me to keep working on Clearing Hedges past graduation. The more rewriting and workshopping of the play I did, the more I began to learn about the craft of playwriting. And the more I began to figure out how I could apply my actor’s skills of impulse, analysis, research and character-building to the page, the more I fell in love with it. Then, while backpacking solo across Europe I became obsessed with Berlin, stayed longer than expected, got an idea for a play about a Stasi officer seeking redemption, heard about a deadline for a contest, and started writing my first ensemble play, The Human Capacity. My theatre community in Chicago was above-and-beyond supportive as I transitioned from acting to playwriting; five different companies workshopped that play over a couple years, the same actors returned for each reading and workshop, and the same core two-dozen of my colleagues came to every reading, encouraging me and giving me no-holds-barred constructive criticism. I stuck with playwriting because I realized this was my way to do something about the dearth of rangy, unexpected female roles available—and that remains one of my key missions as a playwright.

2. How did you come to write your OOB play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? How has it developed?

Tight Curls Today started with an image I saw in a play (a play I didn’t much care for). The image was three women sitting next to each other, under these bizarre hair dryer hoods that look simultaneously like they’re from the Stone Ages and from the Jetsons. I spent the rest of the play dreaming up the characters and story that would become Tight Curls Today. Several years ago, Collaboraction Theatre Co in Chicago produced the play in their wild, groundbreaking Sketchbook Festival, and paired me up with this kick-ass director named Logan Vaughn. Logan brought to the production her own layered history visiting the salon for weekly appointments, and, along with our fearsome cast, she created something greater than what I had imagined—an example of what a true, inspiring collaborator can do. Logan and I continue to collaborate regularly, and are now developing a new play, Danny, which is about Cabrini-Green in Chicago, but actually sprang from the seed character and structural idea of Tight Curls Today.

3. What are 5 words that describe who you are as a playwright?

Well, what I hope, what I strive for, is: fierce, visceral, layered, empathetic, unexpected.

4. What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?

Naomi Iizuka, David Downs, Allan Havis, Kim Rubinstein, Sheila Callaghan, Tracy Letts, Madeleine George, Suzan-Lori Parks, Shepard, Churchill, Pinter, Chekhov, Lynn Nottage, Jennifer Egan, Naomi Wallace, Hemingway, Martin McDonagh, Tarell Alvin MacCraney, Quiara Allegria Hudes, Taylor Mac, Steppenwolf, The Donmar Warehouse, Woolly Mammoth, all my professors and colleagues at Northwestern and UC San Diego, and all my students and colleagues at the University of Maryland.

5. What’s one fact someone would never guess about you?

I met my husband in a castle in Scotland. We both won fellowships to spend a month writing at the Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, on the North River Esk, just outside of Edinburgh. Andy is a fiction writer, and lived in England at the time. We immediately fell into a Beatrice-and-Benedick kind of love banter, he wooed me with love poems, lured me down into the dungeon, and got us locked out of the castle after hours. After we left our residency, we chased each other all over Europe, from Edinburgh to London to Berlin, then I lured him to Chicago where we married just eight months after meeting. We’ve been married for 10 years now, we have two wonderfully rambunctious little kids, and he still has the cutest English accent I’ve ever heard.

6. What are some of your favorite plays?

Hir, Ruined, One Flea Spare, The Nether, The Cherry OrchardArcadia, Buried Child, Old Times, The Brothers Size, The Pillowman.

7. Any new projects you’re working on or shameless plugs?

This summer, along with projections designer Jared Mezzocchi and director Margot Bordelon, I’m developing a brand new play, Ripe Frenzy, which will incorporate design as an essential part of the text. I’m also writing a brand new play about a gang of female rock climbers in the back-country wilderness of Yosemite National Park. And director Logan Vaughn and I are gearing up for a final workshop of my newest play, Danny, which is set in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green with a cast of three women playing six roles and spanning three decades of the demolition and transformation of the world’s most notorious public housing development. It’s a play about motherhood, reinvention and the place we call home.


Her play,  Tight Curls Today, will be performed on August 11th at 6:30pm. It features three female friends who meet up for their regular salon appointments, but time is hurtling at a disturbing pace. A story about friendship, motherhood and mortality.