UT’s Jennifer Rockwood prepares new playWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve never met a mermaid in a Tennessee diner, you haven’t spent time around playwright Jennifer Rockwood’s imagination.
Rockwood, director of the University of Toledo’s first year experience program, will expose that imagination Dec. 10. Actors will read her latest three-act play, “Watershed,” at 7:30 p.m. in the Center Theatre.
“Stage reading is the first time that the playwright gets to get the play out of their head,” said Rockwood, who has worked in UT theater for more than 23 years. “It’s kind of like standing up naked in front of everybody. The actors are helping me bring the birthing of my play.”
Rockwood has directed 80 plays and has been involved with more than 100 productions, she said. Writing has been a recent endeavor, as she just picked up the pen for the first time this summer since graduate school.
She wrote one-acts about psychiatrist-patient interactions and the meaning of life through frazzled mothers’ eyes this summer.
By August, she found herself waking up at odd times in the middle of the night to scribble ideas for what soon became “Watershed,” a semi-violent comedy packed with metaphors and “verbal fireworks.”
“It’s a lot of stuff in a pot,” Rockwood said. “Take a mermaid and have her sort of wash up in a diner in Tennessee with two twin brothers and see where that goes.”
The play involves sibling rivalry and secrets, water pollution and the role that water plays in our lives. Rockwood said she uses water as a metaphor for the elements that sustain us. The mermaid in the diner will represent a magical figure with the ability to bring characters up or take them down, she said.
Although she described her play as a comedy, the label is not so simple.
“I like plays where you laugh at a lot of things,” she said. “And then you think about it and realize it’s not really that funny.”
Rockwood, whose favorite Shakespeare play is the family politics-driven “King Lear,” draws much of her inspiration from her own family. She has two sons in their 20s who she said swap various roles of good boy, bad boy at different times. All siblings are inherent rivals, she added. Eavesdropping proves a fruitful idea-gatherer.
“Sometimes you’re in a restaurant and you hear a married couple talking and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the opening line of a play,’” she said.
Presenting “Watershed” as a reading will help Rockwood decide what she needs to alter and what she needs to keep the same. Depending upon how her reading is received, she plans to eventually release it as a fully produced play.
Writing a play has given Rockwood an exciting new role in the hierarchy of theater, she said.
“I don’t like to take direction, I give it,” she said. “I’m a bossy person. I have a vision and I want it my way. Writing the play is one step higher than being a director.”
But for Rockwood, theater means much more than taking charge.
“Theater creates this moment in time that is living and breathing and full of all of these different components,” she said. “And everything can go wrong at the same time.”