This September kicks off the new theatre season and an early highlight of this season is the World Premiere of the play Jasper, written by Grant MacDermott and directed by Katie McHugh.
In addition to the interesting subject matter of Jasper, it features a fantastic cast that includes Dominic Fumusa (Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie”), Abigail Hawk (CBS’ “Blue Bloods”), and Jessica Pimentel (Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”).
We are excited to check this show out when it begins performances in Times Square on September 8, but in the meantime, we had an opportunity to chat with playwright Grant MacDermott about his play.
GSJ: How would you describe Jasper?
GRANT MacDERMOTT: Jasper is a family drama that aims to highlight the importance of forgiveness in forging relationships and understanding others. And to explore and reveal some of the hard truths about being a parent. Especially that of a disabled or chronically ill child.
GSJ: What inspired you to write this play?
GRANT MacDERMOTT: I have disabled/differently abled people in my family; and families with disabled children in my general orbit that have always inspired me. I was always taken by their stories, the day-to-day challenges that they encounter. So, I started with that. Inspired mainly by one specific family I know. But as I went further into the world of the play, I drew further inspiration from this idea of forgiveness. And the idea of seeking wholeness. We are so complex, and all have so many needs, it is impossible for any one person, or even a few people, to fulfill them all. We seem to understand this about ourselves intrinsically, but when we see others exploring what they think they need it often doesn’t make sense to us. So, I wanted to explore that dichotomy, put it on stage, and in a sense, confront people with that very real tension of what it is to be a person trying to get what you need in order to feel whole. And then what happens when that directly clashes with someone else trying to do the exact same thing?
GSJ: What can an audience expect when they come to see Jasper?
GRANT MacDERMOTT: You will oddly be laughing a great deal. A drama about illness and marriage is funny? Yes, yes, it is. I also think you can expect to feel warmed by the humanity being displayed onstage, the compassion. And there are a few very big twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat too. There is something for everyone.
GSJ: What led you to become a playwright?
GRANT MacDERMOTT: I started my career as an actor. And when I was even younger, I was always doing impersonations, making funny faces, accents, you name it. Jim Carrey was my idol. I was drawn to improv, which is, writing as you act – when you think about it. I took classes at John Harms (which is now Bergen PAC). Then around age 13, I started acting professionally. And all throughout high school my love for theater, both musicals, and plays (but especially plays) really took root and intensified. I was in love with everything I came in contact with. I then went to college for performance. It was there I began being assigned plays, told to study plays, that, for the first time, I thought just weren’t very good. I know how that reads, but it is true. I encountered theater I didn’t just like, but theater I thought was constructed poorly. And rather than chalk it up to a matter of taste, a little voice started to bubble up in me, “I think I could fix this play.” But I ignored it because I knew that couldn’t be true. Who was I to think I had solutions or ideas about something as holy as text? But I took my first playwrighting class. Then later, professionally after I graduated, I found myself being asked to audition for plays that I, again, thought weren’t great. Not bad, (there is no such thing as a “bad” play) but not exciting. Not visceral. Not something exciting to act. Not something that pushed any kind of boundary. I was, and I hope I still am, fairly self-aware so I chalked it up to just being young and egotistical. But it kept persisting. Again, that small voice that I had inside me saying “I think I can maybe do this,” was getting louder and louder. After college, I was an actor for an MFA playwrighting class (taught by Melinda Lopez who unbeknownst to her is one of the top two people that made me a writer) and a playwrighting group. Being in those classes, talking about structure, character, and conflict, was like finding a language I never knew I understood. It made the now not-so-little voice almost deafening. It wasn’t saying anymore “I think you can do this,” it was now “you must do this.”
Additionally, all my life I have been drawn to the written word. Ever since I was young, I read a lot (still do); I did creative writing; I thought I was a poet. But as my acting interests intensified, my interest in being a poet started to wane. But my pension for using words did not. And it was only in college that I realized that a passion for writing that wasn’t literary or poetic, and my love for acting and the stage, came to a logical conclusion, a perfect synthesis: I was a playwright. It is the perfect intersection of language, mimicry, improvisation, drama, and performance.
GSJ: You are the playwright in residence at Yonder Window Theatre Company – what does that mean and how did that happen?
GRANT MacDERMOTT: My residency consists of three parts. First, I have to write. I write two plays a year. I was in residency last year and completed two plays, and so far, this year I have completed another play. The second of this year is somewhere in the back of my brain, slowly coalescing into something. And it’s a comedy, which for me, is rare. My second part is acting as the co-director of the New Works Collective. It is a group of 5 playwrights, including myself, and we share work on a bi-weekly basis. It is a writers’ workshop. Sometimes people bring in the same piece over and over, other times it is all new work, and sometimes we have prompts or masterclasses. The whole thing is to help playwrights generate new work and improve their skills in both writings, and in giving and receiving feedback. Which is a skill in and unto itself. The third part is our Ascending Playwright’s program. We take submissions from young, early career playwrights (between 15 and 25 who have never had a production of any kind) and read their scripts aloud with professional actors. Then they get a private feedback session with me and the Artistic Director, Katie McHugh, where we do a deep dive into their scripts; ask them questions, answer questions they may have, etc. It is a wonderful, hands-on, very focused experience where the attention is all on the playwright, their play, and doing anything we can to help their artistic vision. It is hands down one of my favorite things to do.
GSJ: What is up next for you?
GRANT MacDERMOTT: After Jasper? Who knows? I have many other plays ready to go. TV pilots and movie scripts are in various stages of development. It is an exciting time with lots of potential avenues. Yonder Window and I are talking about taking a play of mine from last year to a festival. I also have a play entitled Everyday Monsters I am very excited about. A few theaters are reading it now, so who knows? But it is thrilling just to be in the mix.
GSJ: As a native New Jersian – what do you like best about the Garden State?
I loved growing up in New Jersey. It was the best of both worlds. So close to the city (New York), but still a suburban life with space and malls (the malls!). I still love that about it. I also love how diverse the state is. There is a little bit of everyone there. Growing up around that was so important to me. Not just people who look different but think differently too. I loved that. I also just think it’s beautiful. I still like going home to visit my mother and walking around my hometown of Teaneck. I also like that Jersey is the butt of a lot of jokes. I think it makes us strong. I find most people from Jersey have a good sense of humor, and that bonds us all. You meet a fellow New Jerseyan; you have a common bond immediately. For me, it’s usually talking about what mall you spent the most time at (Garden State Plaza for me!) If it weren’t for New Jersey, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And time will tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I hope, like a true New Jerseyan, it’s a little bit of both.
Jasper begins performances on September 8 and will run through October 6 at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center is located at 480 W 42nd Street.
Jasper is being presented by Yonder Window Theatre Company & Grace Street Creative Group with Executive Producer Lisa Dozier.
Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 8 PM
Matinees: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 PM
Tickets can be purchased by visiting YonderWindow.co.