We had the good fortune of connecting with Jenny Stafford and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jenny, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
I think one thing that “outsiders” are probably not aware of about creating new work for theatre is how long it takes! They say the average development timeline for a new musical–from the time you first get the idea to the time it is actually staged in a full, major production–is about seven years. While some shows can take less time (I believe Hamilton took six years), many can take even more time than that. By the time you see a major musical onstage, it has been through many, many drafts, and often a rigorous development process that includes table readings, staged readings, workshops, and developmental productions. That’s why when people say to me, “Oh my gosh, you should write a musical about x,” I have to think to myself, “Do I want to devote the next seven to ten years of my life to this?” On the other hand, though, I love people who write for the theatre for that very reason–they are a group of incredibly passionate and dedicated people who care deeply about what they are creating.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have been working as a theatre writer for the last fifteen years, and have been fortunate to have my work produced on Broadway, regionally, and internationally. Much of my background is in writing book and lyrics for musical theatre. However, in the last few years I’ve branched out into playwriting, and also into writing essays–through those I’ve found new ways to tell stories and communicate the ideas that are important to me. I find that the bulk of my work focuses on three areas: 1) women’s stories/issues, 2) history (often as it pertains to women), and 3) underrepresented populations. Almost everything I’ve written falls into one of these categories, and the further I develop as an artist, the more I find an overlap of all three in my work. I am interested in telling stories that are funny, until they aren’t. I’m interested in telling stories that make you look at the person next to you in a different, more compassionate light. I am particularly interested in stories of empathy. I think that empathy is the greatest thing that theatre offers.
I think one of the biggest challenges of being an artist in any capacity is that it isn’t a straight career trajectory. People ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?,” and while I certainly have dreams and ambitions and goals, much of it is out of my control. I have been at my lowest point, thinking my career had ground to a halt, and then gotten a phone call that had me working on a Broadway show the next day. I’ve had a show running on Broadway while getting multiple rejection emails a day from other theatres for my work. The thing I’ve been trying to learn is to not tie my identity and my happiness, to my success as an artist–which is certainly much easier said than done! But at the end of the day, all I can control is myself, and the work. Do I show up to my laptop every day? Do I send my work out into the world? Am I keeping my ears and my heart open for the next story? Am I helping and supporting other artists? Those are the things I can control–those are the barometers of success.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m going to pretend that this is in a post-pandemic world! I’d probably put together a pretty artsy trip which would absolutely include catching shows at the DCPA, Curious Theatre, and Buntport. Personally, I could spend all day on Tennyson Street, eating at the Cozy Cottage, reading and sipping coffee at the BookBar, and visiting the Denver Cat Company–I adopted my cat from there! I’d probably also include a trip up to Mount Falcon Park for the gorgeous views, and an Avalanche game (but mostly to see my boyfriend, Mark, playing the organ)! Go Avs!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d definitely love to send a shoutout to the theatres in Colorado that are dedicated to developing new work, and I’m especially grateful for the ones who have supported my writing. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with a few companies in particular that have helped develop my work as a playwright. The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company has had me as part of their writer’s group for the last few years, and developed several of my shows. Athena Project is focused on female identifying artists, and I’ve worked with them as a playwright, as well as teaching playwriting/developing curriculum for their playwriting summer camps for girls. Flying Solo Presents! is an incredible production company that has produced shows of mine for the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as an upcoming show this year at the Denver Fringe. And finally, And Toto Too is another group that’s dedicated to female identifying playwrights, and I’ve been fortunate to be part of their Play Crawl a few times (don’t miss it next time it happens!), and have a play reading with them. These organizations are incredible, and have been so meaningful to me in my work!