Under Her Skin – An Interview with Johnna Adams

by moxielicious

ImageTo say we were curious about Johnna Adams is an understatement. After reading several of her plays, including her new play SKINLESS, we needed to know more about this fascinating playwright whose voice is nothing if not unique.  Learn about one of our favorite new playwrights and get excited to see SKINLESS which is playing Nov 1 – Dec 8, 2013 at MOXIE.

When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?

Adams: For a long time I thought I wanted to be an actor who occasionally wrote plays. I went to DePaul University in Chicago got my BFA in Acting. I also took some playwriting classes and got very excited about writing. I appeared as an actor in my very first produced one act (at STAGEStheatre in Fullerton, CA) and learned I hated acting in my own plays.  Passionately!! Ugh.  And gradually after that, I came to realize I was a playwright that occasionally (rarely now) acted. It happened over time. And I vastly prefer writing now. As an actor you only get to play one role. As a writer you play all the roles.


Adams on stage at Flux Theatre Ensemble in 2010
Photo credit: Isaiah Tanenbaum

What writers are you most inspired by (in and outside the theatre)?

Adams: I am very inspired by the off-off Broadway writers I see and work with here in New York. They are the reason I stick with it. Not names the wider world has heard of because the off-off movement is sort of a world unto itself. Seeing these writers produce their work year after year in a community really inspires me. Gus Schulenberg, Mac Rogers, Crystal Skillman, James Comtois, Callie Kimball, Holly Hepp-Galvan, Chris Weikel, Matt Freeman. Friends and inspirations. Outside of theatre I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. I love genre fiction—I think Skinless is the play of mine that really comes through in. If I couldn’t work in the theatre my next dream job is writing fantasy and science fiction the way Zinnia does.

What inspired you to write SKINLESS?

Adams: I really wanted to write a large cast play for women that captured the spirit of a play like Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia—which was an early inspiration for the script. A play that moved through time and place fluidly and examined and discovered a life. And I was very interested in doing a play about a writer that actually foregrounded the writing in a patient and expansive way. Too often you read or see a script about a famous writer and all you hear about their work is a book title and silly synopsis. I wanted to show someone and their creative world more fully. And for the Emmi and Sylvia portion, I had just gotten out of grad school after getting my MFA in playwriting at Hunter College and the papers I had written on feminism and the arts were still very much on my mind. I learned that I had a lot of unresolved questions about feminist perspectives (the ones Emmi and Sylvia are at battle with in the play). I had a much more uncomfortable relationship to academic feminist theory than I expected to, so the play explores some of those questions.

Your work feels dangerous and raw. How do you want people to feel after they’ve left a performance of a play you’ve written?

Adams: I am really hoping they will be seduced by Zinnia’s language. And that they will feel like they have seen an unusually large portion of her soul by listening to her fictional worlds. The play is a mystery at heart, so they should also feel they have discovered something at the end.

Most people have no idea what the day of a playwright is like. Can you tell us about a day in the life of Johnna Adams?


Promo image for “Gideon’s Knot” at InterAct Theatre Company in 2014.

Adams: Johnna Adams spends most of the day avoiding writing however she can. So on a typical day, I look like a bum. I am not one of those writers that write every day. I tend to get an idea and then write it in a shorter period of time than you would think—about 10-15 pages a sitting. But most of the time, I am waiting for an idea.

Today, I am doing rewrites on Skinless and this interview, working out travel information for the trip I am taking to come out and see Skinless and my play Gidion’s Knot that will be running at Furious Theatre in Los Angeles while Skinless is running at Moxie—which is great because I can see both in one trip! I am sending a bio out to InterAct theatre in and working on dates for talkbacks and community workshops for a production of Gidion’s Knot in Philadelphia I will be part of.

I hope to sit down and work on a ten minute play that is due October 25th for the The Flea theatre in Manhattan. They want me to write about Adam and Eve in the garden. Not the creation part and not the Fall—the portion of the story between the creation and the entrance of the serpent. So, not a lot of conflict. I am trying to figure out what to do with it. I want it to be a light, bucolic inspired by Moliere in rhyming verse and featuring paint-by-numbers costumes on the actors. Not sure why those ideas feel right—but in talking to the producers a few weeks ago, those were the ideas they liked. So far I have a few notes in a notebook and about a page or two handwritten on it. This play feels like it wants to be written by hand in a notebook and then typed into Final Draft, which is the software program I use for my scripts.

I am also answering some emails from people who saw my play Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens, which was produced by Boomerang Theatre off-off here in New York. It just closed on Sunday.. Theatre is so ephemeral. So, emotionally I am dealing with the feeling of having had something great in my life that is now over. And a place to go and see people and work that I don’t have now that I am just back in my apartment avoiding writing. Reeling around in those sorts of emotions is also part of the playwright’s day.

Your play, SKINLESS, straddles two time periods and two very different locations. If your play had to be done using only three props/set pieces, what three items would be most essential?

Adams: Zinnia’s manuscript. The porch. And a third that would be a spoiler.

Many thanks to Ms. Adams for finding a moment in her busy day to send answers to our questions. In order to get a true peek under Adams’ skin, come and see SKINLESS playing Nov 1 – Dec 8, 2013. Buy Tickets Now or call 858-598-7620