Geva’s halls are buzzing with activity as we prepare to begin public performances of Other Than Honorable tomorrow evening!
The play, written by Jamie Pachino and directed by Kimberly Senior, tells the empowering story of a female military lawyer fighting for justice. Our playwright, Jamie, is equally inspiring in her success in multiple performing arts disciplines; her compelling treatment of bold, intelligent, and morally complex subject matter; and her advocacy for creating more strong female characters in theatre and in Hollywood. And, some of our long-time Geva subscribers might remember her previous world premiere here from 2006, Splitting Infinity, which went on to garner national acclaim and several awards, including the Francesca Primus Prize from the American Theatre Critics Association.
I had the opportunity to interview Jamie in anticipation of her world premiere opening this week:
RA: Do you think your experience writing for TV and film has affected the way you approach writing plays?
JP: Absolutely. I’ve been very fortunate to be on both character driven and “procedural” (case of the week) TV series, as well as writing feature films for both big studios and TV networks you never knew existed. Each experience has taught me more about how stories can be structured, how to continue to hone my own voice and craft (even within shows that were created by someone else), and develop characters in short and longhand. TV has such a strict rulebook (you have to sell something every 8-10 minutes…) so you’re forced to find the essence of things in a narrower space, which is a great skill set to have. It’s also deepened my love for playwrighting– allowing me to return to the beauty of the stage’s language, its theatricality– and its looser rulebook. I’m thankful I don’t have to choose between mediums, because they truly feed each other.
RA: Other Than Honorable is your second world premiere at Geva; we had the privilege of producing your play Splitting Infinity in 2006. What kinds of factors do you consider when a theatre offers to produce your work?
JP: I have to laugh a little bit first, as getting an offer for a first production is the unicorn all playwrights are chasing, so first we are very grateful when one shows up. Then, if it shows up from a theatre like Geva, we’re dancing up and down. For me, Geva is very special because of its continued commitment to new work– the energy and resources they put behind it– as well as their record of not just developing new work, but putting their money where their mouth is and showcasing it on their stages. They’ve also cultivated such an intelligent audience that welcomes new work, any playwright would be in very good hands. I’m thrilled to have my second premiere here.
RA: Both Splitting Infinity and Other Than Honorable focus on highly technical and/or specialized subjects: the former on astrophysics and Judaism, the later on legal, medical, and military matters. Clearly, you’ve done your homework in order to authentically portray experts in all of these topics in your plays…Can you talk about your research process when you’re writing a new play? And what kinds of sources did you specifically consult for Other Than Honorable?
JP: You’ve obviously found me out: I like to write about things I start out not knowing anything about. The truth is I love stepping into new worlds and learning about the people who populate them. After that, I get curious and dogged, and dive deep into the research. The first round tends to be about opening myself up to the world– for Other Than Honorable, it was the military and the particular issue of military sexual assault. I read and watched whatever I could get my hands on to build my understanding. Then, since a good play is about the people, I reached out to multiple soldiers (some of whom had been through this trauma), and several military attorneys to have them walk me through what happens in these cases. Geva also brought in a counselor who works with survivors of these assaults and PTSD to round out our education.
RA: Both plays are also centered around highly intelligent—and complicated—female characters. Would you say that’s a priority of yours, to put more strong female characters into the canon? Or do the stories that compel you happen to be driven by women?
JP: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. It is a priority of mine to create full throated female characters who come with flaws and ambitions and dreams and challenges the same way male characters have been able to do since the beginning of plays. Moreover, I love creating chewy parts for actresses. It’s not only my goal to do this in the theatre, but on every film or TV piece I work on. I push for more three dimensional female characters on everything I work on, and I’m that writer in the room always asking “hey can the cab driver/ pharmacist/judge/assassin be a woman? More often than not the answer is, “oh… huh… sure.” Sometimes you just have to ask the question to change the thinking. So yes. YES.
RA: We anticipate that there will be a lot of military vets and their families coming to see the play, in addition to our general audiences. What do you hope audiences will take away from Other Than Honorable?
JP: First, I would thank them for their service, and for coming to see the play. I don’t take their patronage lightly. In addition, it’s always my goal to be as authentic as possible, so I hope they come away with a sense that the issue has been portrayed fairly, while acknowledging there is still much work to be done. With every play I write, I hope the audience is entertained and/or moved, and hope that the work sparks a conversation on the drive home from the theatre.