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Tow Foundation Playwright-in-residence: Jaclyn Backhaus


Originally published on HowlRound Blog

The Tow Foundation’s Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb, Jaclyn Backhaus, discusses her residency and upcoming play, Men on Boats:

Talk a little about what being in a residency means to you as an artist and how the notion of residency influences your artistic practice.
A residency means to me that there is a backbone present in my professional life, which normally feels very flighty and reckless and freewheeling. It means I can sit down at my desk and stress less about what side jobs I am going to apply to and spend my writing time working on my writing. It means I can justify having a desk!

It also means that I am a human extension of the institution supporting me, and I feel like a part of its life-force and its reach and its mission. And I feel proud to support the mission and reach and artistry of Clubbed Thumb!

What are you working on during your residency?
My Tow residency with Clubbed Thumb supported me initially through the rehearsal and production of Men On Boats, which was presented this summer in conjunction with Playwrights Horizons after premiering last summer as part of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks Festival. We started the year with a workshop so I could do some revising, and so Will Davis, the director, could restructure some of the movement of the play. Then we got into the theatre and onto the stage and onto the set and we had two weeks of rehearsal and tech. It was a whirlwind and it was great.

Now that Men On Boats is over (in New York, anyway…Chicago, get ready for the premiere at ATC in January!) I am working on a brand new play called Every Night They Go Someplace, which is based on a Grimm Brothers fairy tale called “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Lee Sunday Evans is directing a workshop production of that play at Playwrights Theater School, with a bunch of students playing princess rebels. Clubbed Thumb spurred me to start writing it when I applied with the idea to their Biennial Commission, and now they are co-producing this production, too.

And lastly, I gave birth to my son Ernie in March, and one of the most life-changing components of this residency for me was the capacity to enter the world of motherhood completely supported. A true paid maternity leave, childcare support, not to mention emotional encouragement as I re-entered the workforce in July. I am astounded and grateful to have had this kind of full support and it saddens me that I am an outlier. I want that experience for every writer aiming for family, every woman who feels like she has to make a choice between a beloved career and giving birth and raising a small human.

How do you define home as a playwright? How important is it to have a place you call your ‘artistic home?’
For me as a playwright, when I think of the idea of home, I think of my collaborators. Theatre is such a transient art form, its live-ness and its existence in only one room, and so it is the people within the place that make it special. I’ve been very fortunate to find my home in playwriting by writing expressly for peers and friends, and now I find joy in making space for the directors and cast members and designers to really be able to ask big questions, and to create things that delight them as we build answers together. And to have that circle of collaborators expand outward to include Maria and Michael at Clubbed Thumb this year is amazing, because their insights provide balance and structure and a layer of trust to these temporary homes we are all constructing.

What are your aspirations as a playwright? When you imagine yourself ten years from now, where are you and what are you doing?

-to be writing
-to surprise myself with my plays
-to tap into my biracial cultural history and unearth the duality and put it onstage
-to engage in total artistry: to engage different crafts alongside my writing. Like gardening, or astronomy, or biology, or building a shelf, or sound design.
-to advocate for new voices, lesser heard voices, unheard voices
-to always laugh while I’m writing
-to invest heavily in research; to always learn new things


In ten years I will be the mother of a fifth grader. Hopefully my husband and I will also own a dog and maybe grow a garden with vegetables you can pick. I will be writing and teaching and wearing sensible shoes. Once a year, though, we will always pick up and adventure ourselves to someplace we have never been. I hope Ernie hangs around my rehearsals so much that theatre is totally normal and maybe even boring to him. But it will never be too boring, because the people are too good.”