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Meet Playwright Jesse Saywell

Jesse is the author of The Mall, the next #newworkshop selection in Now & Then's 3rd season. Artistic Director John Perovich had a chance to speak with Jesse about his play and its process. The Mall by Jesse Saywell will be presented to audiences Friday, February 21 at 7:30PM and Saturday, February 22 at 11:00AM.

John Perovich (JP): Jesse! It's great to have you back with us after performing in Hit Music by Guillermo Reyes. We're excited to have your haunting play with us at Now & Then. What inspired you to write The Mall?

Jesse Saywell (JS): I got my undergraduate degree in Washington D.C., and I would occasionally take the metro to White Flint Mall, just outside of the city. It wasn't a regular occurrence, so when I showed up on one occasion for the first time in nine months or so, I was stunned to find the mall almost entirely abandoned. Outside of 2 stores and P.F. Chang's, every other store had been forcibly evicted as they planned to demolish the entire mall for a 25 year condominium development plan. But, at that time, the mall was still open to the public. The escalators and elevators were still running, the lights were on (though some were flickering like a horror movie), the entire place was air conditioned - and yet, no stores and no customers. It was eerie - downright creepy, to be honest. As the store I had come there for was no longer open, I wandered around the abandoned mall for a long time.

Suddenly, I found myself with a strong feeling of melancholy. Growing up in a very rural area, the local mall was the "social hub" for teenagers. To be frank, there simply wasn't much else to do for fun, so the opportunity to hang out with your friends without the presence of your parents was a liberating feeling. Seeing this deserted mall felt, to me, like a part of my adolescence was gone for good. In writing The Mall, the mall itself became a character of sorts - a representation of the death of an era of American consumerism that, ironically, consumed itself. The play then became a commentary on the polarization between rural and urban America, and how refusing to change doesn't stop change from happening.

JP: That's so peculiar...and something that—although not the same—I think we can relate to with some of the malls here in the Phoenix area. The workshop setting is a unique exploration process for theatre artists. What are you hoping to accomplish during the workshop week?

JS: I'm looking forward to developing some of the characters so they are deeper, more clearly-motivated people. The relationships between the characters in the piece need to feel real and truthful for them to resonate and engage with the audience, so I want to ensure that the script is doing everything it can to achieve that.

JP: We are blessed to have a great team on board to help you with that goal of character exploration. The Mall features performances by Emeka Ukaga, Matt Clarke, Cynnita Agent, David Magadan, and Jen Gantwerker -- directed by Now & Then Associate Artistic Director Cody Goulder. What excites you most about the process?

JS: I can't wait to see the play up on its feet. There's nothing quite as magical in a workshop as feeling the energy of a piece for the first time. Beyond that, I'm really looking forward to getting to work with a talented director and cast. I strongly believe that a playwright needs to listen closely to those that produce and perform his or her work. The instincts of actors and directors are sharp and enlightening. Their insight is one of the most valuable aspects of a process like this.

JP: As a writer, I'm always amazed by the discoveries made by actors. You know...I think we all enter a work in a different way—actor, director, designer, and writer. As a writer, there's sometimes this assumption (I think?) that we know everything about our work—but that's not true! Actors ask questions, dig deep, and reveal so much in a play...so much...what's working...and what's completely off base. Final question: Audiences have so many choices when it comes to seeing entertainment. Why should audiences check out The Mall?

JS: The Mall discusses many of the core issues that divide our nation today. I believe it does so in a way that is meant to be conversational, rather than preachy. You'll still have moments of escapism from the insanity of the world around us, but I hope you'll leave the theatre thinking about the roles we can all play in bridging our divides. No matter who you are or where you're from, I hope The Mall touches on issues and feelings that are relevant to you.

The Mall by Jesse Saywell will be presented to audiences this Friday, November 21 at 7:30PM and Saturday, February 22 at 11:00AM. For info and tickets, click here.