Playwright’s Corner: Jennifer Hoppe-House
If you attended our new play reading festival (PlayFest) in 2013, you might remember a little play called Bad Dog. A big box of family drama tied up with a comedic ribbon, Jennifer Hoppe-House’s play reading sparked conversation from both audiences and actors alike. Orlando Shakes decided to continue the dialogue by including this World Premiere dramedy in its 26th Season. Before you see Bad Dog (playing April 8 – May 3, 2015) in our Goldman Theater, get to know the playwright behind this biting new play.
About the Playwright
Jennifer Hoppe-House is a film and television writer (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, DirecTV’s Damages, and Netflix’s upcoming Grace and Frankie featuring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin). She began as a playwright in Texas and has written smaller pieces for productions in New York and Austin, one of which was a finalist in the Actors Theatre of Louisville 10-Minute Play Competition. Jennifer is a member of The Writers Guild West and the Dramatists Guild of America.
OST: You’ve mentioned before that Bad Dog is your first full-length play. How has the process of writing and workshopping this piece both challenged and helped you as a playwright?
JHH: I’ve workshopped it three times, which amazes me. I’ve had so many opportunities to hear the play and hone it. And hearing a play, especially in front of an audience, gives you a sense of rhythm and pacing that you can’t get simply by reading over the pages, mumbling the parts yourself, which we all do, I think. Thank God for actors – I would tank my own play if I had to perform any of these roles. And there are moments here and there that I wrote as drama that played as comedy; moments when comedy played as drama, which surprised me. So, that’s a delight. The challenge came in with a few scenes that had to be edited or jettisoned altogether, and especially the character Abby, whose attitude about Molly had to be recalibrated. I had to find what was truthful, not just what existed to move the plot.
OST: What inspired you to write Bad Dog?
JHH: First, I wanted to explore family violence and addiction, which tend to be standard fare on the American menu, but not in a way that outwardly plumbed the pathos. I just wanted to observe their effect. I also wanted to look at collective memory. What is truth and what is perspective? And can facts be distorted by the way we treat them? The Drexler family – the family in this play – is funny. Humor is their defense against a painful past. Does wit cushion our recollections or warp them?
And within this same conversation, I was interested in a cultural shift where parenting is concerned. Because there were some pretty prevalent parenting styles in the 50s, 60s, and 70s – where parents freely hit their kids, they smacked them and whipped them and hit them – and it was passed down and shrugged off as if it had no effect. I saw a MAD MEN episode in which Don Draper was at a block party and a neighbor hit one of his kids, or maybe he hit a neighbor’s kid, I don’t remember, but I do remember that when I was growing up, you could hit other people’s kids without repercussions. That was acceptable in some quarters. And I thought, “Yes! Exactly!” And addiction is another theme that affects so many families – often addiction and violence are the double feature playing inside families.
OST: Describe this play in 3 words.
JHH: Comedy as drama.
OST: Describe yourself in 3 words.
JHH: Drama as comedy.
OST: How is playwriting different from writing for film and tv? Which format do you prefer?
JHH: I heard an axiom once, and to some extent I think it’s true, that film is about plot, TV is about character, and plays are about ideas. It’s a simplification, but film is a visual medium, and as a screenwriter, you try to come into scenes late and leave early. It’s about pacing. TV is often about what these characters get themselves into, and plays are much more about themes and language. They can be done stylistically, they can be mannered, they can be odd genres like magical realism, they can be musicals, they can be experimental, they can explore and unfold slowly. I love it. I much prefer writing plays. And I don’t get studio or network notes.
OST: What was the first thing you ever wrote that made you proud?
JHH: In high school I wrote a couple of pieces for the annual literary magazine. One of them won for best essay or something. I think it was about a homeless guy in Dallas. I’m sure it was overwrought, but I won twenty bucks.
OST: Given the title of your play: Cat or dog person?
JHH: Dog, dog, dog. You know where you stand with dogs. Cats are mercurial and occasionally violent. They scare me.
OST: Fill in the blank: “If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a _______________.”
OST: If you were trapped on a desert island and could have 3 books what would they be?
JHH: Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger, A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and Sula by Toni Morrison.
OST: In Bad Dog, Molly and her family are dealing with a lot of serious addictions and issues. What do you hope audiences take away from seeing this production?
JHH: I hope they know that nothing they have done or can do gets anyone sober. Only people who want sobriety, get it.
Tickets to Bad Dog are available now by calling (407) 447-1700 ext. 1 or visiting us online.
Parental Guidelines: Bad Dog is an adult story of family dysfunction that contains strong language, same sex relationships, alcohol abuse, and substance abuse. The play is for adult audiences only. Click here for more specific parental guidelines.