The 24th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival officially opens tonight! The featured, Thesis Productions of our Third Year MFA Playwrights debut this weekend in Kantner Hall on the Elizabeth Evans Baker Stage. To celebrate the opening of the featured productions, and leading up to the festival staged readings on the 26th, 27th, and 28th, we will be featuring daily interviews with the current playwrights about their work. We’ve interviewed the 3rd Year MFA Playwrights, Philana, Cristina, and Natasha on their Featured Thesis Productions, and the 2nd Year MFA Playwrights, Inna, Katherine, and Trip about their Staged Readings. Next, we’ll learn more about the three 1st Year MFA Playwrights and their first full-length readings as part of the festival at OU!
First Year MFA Jean Egdorf (pictured below!) was interviewed by Second Year MFA Trip Venturella about her play, How to Bake a Genoise Sponge without Breaking Any Eggs.
Trip Venturella: Your play centers on Melissa, a young woman with a popular online cooking show, who is aided by the figures of Sylvia Plath and Julia Child. If you had two spirits to help you with a cooking show, who would they be and why?
Jean Egdorf: The inspiration to make a Julia Child-esque character is pretty self-indulgent. Who wouldn’t want to have the spirit of Julia Child in the kitchen with them? I’ve spent hours watching her old cooking and baking episodes on PBS. Her energy and passion for cooking is so infectious; it would not only make cooking amazingly fun (more so, I already love being in the kitchen), but I bet the amount I’d learn from her would be tremendous.
The second spirit I’d want in my kitchen is still alive, but I’d choose Alton Brown. I love how he combines science with cooking, it’s so obvious yet so ingenious. I’m personally pretty haphazard in the kitchen when it comes to measurements (science? schmience!), and I bet my recipes would improve if I had someone reminding me why the science really matters. I have a line in my play about the chemical reactions that happen during baking, and if Alton Brown were there, he could actually explain them. I think in both these answers my secret desire is to be around people I’d learn a lot from.
Trip: I love that you’re working with Sylvia and Julia, by the way. What was the inspiration for using those figures in particular?
Jean: In our first semester, we had an assignment in a class from MFA Alum and School of Theatre Superstar Merri Biechler to come up with three seemingly disparate ideas that could come together for a project. I really wanted to write a play about baking, and I had always wanted to write a play somehow involving Sylvia Plath, so wondered: how would those two ideas come together? How do they connect? And then I remembered that Sylvie Plath committed suicide by gas poisoning after sealing off her kitchen and sticking her head in an open oven (sorry, morbid, I know). But suddenly how she was connected to a story about baking became clear… because I wasn’t going to just write a story about baking, but baking connected to dealing with mental illness. If Sylvia represented the side of the play dealing with mental illness, then Julia Child popped up as the clear choice to represent baking.
Trip: While often quite funny, your play deals with heavy topics: mental illness, depression, suicide. What do you hope audiences will learn about these topics once they’ve walked away from your play?
Jean: I think that mental illness, like many other conditions, is a part of the person living with it; how each individual lives with and manages that illness is a subjective process. Therapy and medication are important tools in that process, so I hope I don’t undermine their role in effective treatment, but I think that both as approaches raise interesting questions about what mental illness looks like for every individual and what “getting better” may mean for someone seeking to manage their symptoms. For Melissa, her mental illness is a part of her; in trying to override or remove that part of her life, what might she have to sacrifice instead? While I want to engage the audience with mental illness and how society as a whole tends to view it, I don’t know that I’m specifically looking to teach the audience anything concrete beyond being open to see the experience of mental illness as unique as the individual living with it, because this is only one young woman’s journey.
Trip: Melissa, like all of us, contains multitudes. What different creative personalities exist in you? How do you balance them in your own life, and your own writing?
Jean: So you know those right-brain/left-brain personality tests that pop up on social media every few months? My Facebook is a sea of right-brain people. Most of the people I know are in theatre or the arts in some capacity. So, right-brained makes sense, we’re all in the arts. But I’m an outlier. I’m consistently left-brained. My second favorite thing to write after plays is academic, critical essays of literature (citing peer reviewed journals, picking apart single lines of multi-hundred word novels, finding connections between other canonical works and theories, the works). I’m uber-analytical in everything I do, probably to a fault, but I think my penchant for analyzing minute connections is what makes my artistic style my own.
I’m also a stage manager, so of course superhuman detail-focus and organization are part of my success in that career. But even as a stage manager, my love for the work was for my role in the storytelling process. Overseeing the artistic integrity of a production and pulling the puppet strings which execute all the tiny pieces that create a cohesive collaboration is thrilling; I think that the intimate understanding of a play that is required from a stage manager has a lot of overlap with the effective construction of a story by a playwright.
Trip: On that topic, what dialogue are you attempting to have with Plath and Child’s work (poetry, cooking) in your play?
Jean: I cut the specific line (kill your darlings…), but I had Melissa say at some point that poetry is a lot like a recipe, only with images and language instead of ingredients. Melissa’s engagement with baking is very poetic; I think she sees putting a recipe together as artistic a craft as writing poetry, and so her language to describe her recipes reflects that. Both Julia Child and Sylvie Plath were incredibly passionate and committed to their crafts, and I think that’s the spirit I wanted them to bring most to the play.
Trip: For a long time you lived in Creede, Colorado; population 400. How have you adjusted to livin’ the fast life in the big city of Athens, OH?
Jean: I love small towns. I’m not a city girl. I lived in Denver for a decade, and that was too much. My hometown in New Mexico is also smaller than Athens, so the majority of my life has been spent in places where businesses close before midnight, the closest Walmart is 45 minutes to over an hour away, where there’s only one bar, where kids (and dogs…) roam around the streets in general safety without parental supervision, where you can look up in the sky at night and see billions of stars thanks to an utter lack of light pollution. Again I’m in a weird minority: Athens feels big to me. The size to traffic ratio is all off. I’m actually looking forward to the summer when we hit “the off season” with the student body majority gone.
But it is really convenient to be able to buy groceries at off hours of the night and order a pizza at two in the morning.
Also, did you know there’s a lot of oxygen here?! I’ve never in my life lived this close to sea level (prior to this, the lowest elevation I ever lived in was in the Mile High City itself… 5280 represent!). Breathing normally is weird.
Jean Egdorf was born and raised in a small town in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Her plays often feature young women from a small town, and her work is often influenced by the deserts and isolation of the southwest. Jean is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association and has worked for the past decade as a stage manager and dramaturg. Her full-length plays include The Flood and Poetic License Will Be Taken. Her short plays have been produced in Colorado, and her short dramaturgical essays have been published for the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Jean worked six seasons with the Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT) where she co-developed the CRT Company Generated Ten-Minute Play Festival, now entering its fifth year, and currently serves as a member of CRT’s Headwaters New Play Festival reading committee.
How to Bake a Genoise Sponge without Breaking Any Eggs
by Jean Egdorf
1:00 pm, Thursday April 26th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
Hello, bakers! Thank you for joining me for this very special episode of Melissa B’s Genoise. Today we’re making the trickiest cake there is: the genoise sponge. I better be able to perfect this recipe if I’m going to make it studying pastry at Le Cordon Bleu! My mom and my therapist think I’ll crumble under the stress, but I’m sure with help of my friends, Ms. J and Sylvie, neither me or my cake will fall apart.
Tickets for the Stage Readings are FREE and open to the public.