Q&A: James Still, IRT Playwright-in-Residence


Indiana Repertory Theatre playwright-in-residence James Still talked to IM moments before the recent world premiere of his newest play, The House That Jack Built. Here, Still divulges his inspiration for the play and how it became the platform to tell a story he couldn’t find the words to say himself.

Shana Ngo: What made you write a play about a rather emotional Thanksgiving?

James Still: I think for me, a play like this happens because there’s no other way to talk about the stuff that’s in it unless I write a play about it. It’s about the stuff that’s important to me. It’s about the deepest, or the most precious things, and as a play writer, of course I turn to plays to express that. It’s a curious thing, because the reason I wrote the play is that I can’t really talk about this stuff.

SN: Why couldn’t you talk about it?

JS: I think it’s just because life is mysterious. It’s about time and people who come and go in our lives, and how we meet up at different times and are different people. So, those are hard things to just go down a list and talk about. And that’s what art is, right? It gives some kind of meaning to something that all of us have feelings about but don’t necessarily know how to say.

SN: How much of this play is about your own life?

JS: Well, none of it, and all of it. None of it in that it’s not my family. I have spent a lot of time in Vermont. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, which is when the play is set. But it wasn’t an event in my own life that was the reason I wrote this play. It’s a combination of so many different things that make up a play like this.

SN: What influenced you?

JS: I think it is partly that, as I’ve aged, it’s about having friends for years and years, and some of them I never see. And there’s a piece of that in the play, as well.

SN: Are they here tonight?

JS: No, they’re all over the world. They really are. They’re scattered all over the place.

SN: There’s been so much buzz about the play. How are you feeling about it?

JS: Oh it’s great. I mean, that’s what you hope will happen. And you want that kind of attention for something that you care about, and you hope that other people are going to care about it and have a great time. So, we’ll see.

The House That Jack Built runs through Nov. 25. Show times vary. $20 to $55. Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., 635-5252, irtlive.com.

Read IM’s review of The House That Jack Built.

Photos by Zach Rosing, courtesy IRT