PCS Blog

The North Plan: An Interview with Playwright Jason Wells

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 10 January 2012

Playwright Jason Wells is the author of Men of Tortuga, Perfect Mendacity and numerous other plays. In 2010 he won the Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award for an emerging playwright from the American Theatre Critics Association for Perfect Mendacity. Jason is also an actor with numerous TV, film, stage and commercial credits.
He participated in our annual JAW: A Playwrights Festival in the summer of 2010 with the workshopped reading of his newest play, The North Plan; this week, the production opens in its world premiere here at PCS, and we couldn't be more excited to see the play's characters, costumes and set fully materialize onstage.
Recently, we asked Jason a few questions about his writing process and the inspiration and research that went into writing and developing The North Plan. It turns out that the historical and political inspiration for the script just might be stranger than fiction - and more than a little goosebump-inducing. Yet, somehow, the play maintains its gut-busting sense of humor throughout. Check out the full interview, below.

Q: What were your inspirations for creating The North Plan?
I had been thinking a lot about the hyperbolic political climate of recent years, and wondering how long it’s been since Americans have really had to think about what revolution means, or what tyranny really is. I sometimes hear that a political coup couldn’t happen here, for one reason or another, but I think those who say this are imagining something direct and unequivocal -- a cartoon dictator, perhaps, with an evil army. But I think if we had such a coup, it would come clothed in a “re-interpreted” legality, and adorned with talking points. With the help of the media, it would be vague and confusing, at once oversimplified and riddled with impenetrable contradictions, and the great majority of us will be assured that there is nothing we need do but get on with our lives. Such a scenario seems not only possible to me, but plausible. It isn’t hard, unfortunately, to imagine the national tragedy that could ignite it.
Q: What sort of research did you do to prepare for the writing process?
I began reading about “Continuity of Government” scenarios, developed by previous White House administrations, specifically directed toward suspending the Constitution and imposing martial law in the wake of an undefined “ national emergency.” A particularly chilling element of those plans is Main Core, a database system containing information on millions of American citizens marked for surveillance or detention. Evidence suggests that Main Core has been used often for unwarranted surveillance in the last decade or longer, suggesting that a “national emergency” is even more nebulous than most of us would have supposed. The more I read about Main Core, the more it looked like the central prop in the play I wanted to write.
Q: What was your experience developing The North Plan at the JAW festival?
There’s no better test of a play’s promise than to put it on its feet with a good cast and director. At JAW, the actors took the characters to themselves. Each became a specialist on that character. Being able to talk to the actors about where the characters might be going and how they might connect, is a huge leap forward in terms of being able to build the reality of the play. The director at JAW was Rose Riordan, and the dramaturg was Joy Meads, and even in that relatively short time, they were able to give the work a shape that will help define it permanently, and answer some of the play’s questions in ways that I can now consider settled. That’s extremely satisfying for an author, to work with people who create a forward momentum, not just for a single production, but for the future life of the play itself.
Q: What do you hope audiences will walk away with after watching The North Plan?
I very much hope that they will consider their evening well spent.
Q: How has the play changed in your mind since you began writing it?
I was conscious of trying to write it with a great deal of energy and a minimum of fussiness, which I still think was a good idea, but I’ve benefited greatly from working with people who have approached the work with real seriousness. With their help, I’ve been able to see where I might have been too glib, sold a character short, or tried to skate over a logic-hole. Through the development process, I’ve managed to deepen the work, I think, and become more respectful of the characters. Also I find, as I get to know the play, that I become more assured in my sense of where the comedy and the drama meet, separate, and overlap. With this play, that’s a constant process.
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