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Staying at home does little to dampen playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger’s curiosity. A recent day included virtual viewings of a Berliner Ensemble play—as well as a how-to video on fixing an air conditioner. That’s in addition to parenting her seven-year-old twins and carving out time for writing.
Goldfinger does not allow life in the age of the coronavirus pandemic to limit her worldview to her Washington Square West neighborhood. Yet it is shaping her work and its delivery. Her Babel premiered at Theatre Exile in February and finished its run shortly before stay-at-home orders took effect. But due to COVID-19, subsequent productions were postponed. Within two days, she estimated, she lost $10,000 in royalties.
A sense of relief
Helping her rebuild and focus on the future is assistance received through a coalition of national arts grantmakers who are distributing Artist Relief grants. She’s also finding inspiration in technology, already a theme in her writing. With arts organizations reimagining their work and relationships, both due to the pandemic and conversations coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is an opportunity to push for long-needed change, Goldfinger said.
“This is a very unique moment in American theater where people are learning to be okay with what is uncomfortable. People are learning to be okay with trying new things, whether it's an online experience or a live experience,” Goldfinger said. “People—especially, frankly, white people, who in the past might have been turned off by a play that makes them uncomfortable—I hope that this is teaching them that they should lean forward into that discomfort and learn from it. The discomfort is not bad. Discomfort just means growth.”
Growth is uncomfortable
Her recent projects include writing for the 24 Hour Plays, attending the Liveness Lab at the Orchard Project, hosting “pay-what-you-can” playwright development, and workshopping an adaptation of A Wind in the Door.
“One of the benefits that theater people have in this time is that we're used to thinking about words and bodies and space,” Goldfinger said. “While I miss the liveness of live theater, at least we're more used to thinking about, 'okay, this is the space I have. This is how the bodies are going to work in it. This is how the language is going to work in it. How do I write to best suit this form?'”
Goldfinger, who grew up in the rural South and writes in the Southern Gothic genre, was also one of 22 Southern playwrights recently commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to create around the theme of “home.” Audiences anywhere can view her contribution, Home(Coming) on YouTube, a seven-minute monologue involving a funeral, Florida heat, and a precocious grandchild. (Her vision for her own post-COVID-19 homecoming involves Philadelphians coming together for hugs on Broad Street.)
“I've always understood home means the people that you love and not the building,” Goldfinger said. “I've understood that intellectually. I now understand it much more deeply emotionally.”
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