Interview: James Ijames

Posted on May 15, 2013

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IjamesWhere are you from originally? Where are you living now?
I am originally from Bessemer City, NC. I currently live in South Philadelphia.

What first drew you to a life in the theatre and playwriting, in particular?
I always knew I would be in the arts in some capacity. What drew me to the theatre was stories. I loved comic books as a kid and there is something really theatrical about reading a comic book because the story is primarily in dialogue which is how plays work as well. You get to be everybody when you read a comic. So I started writing scripts for comic books that never became comic books. So I guess it’s Stan Lee’s fault.

What is the first play you ever wrote and has it been produced?
The first play I ever wrote was Jesus is the Reason for St James Missionary Baptist Church’s Christmas Pageant. It was produced and I was 15. My grandmother would direct the Christmas pageant so I guess she was my first director. Wow. That’s really funny now that I think about it.

What or who has inspired you?
My family. Music. History. Being in Love. Philadelphia lately has been very inspirational. The bus!! I have these people in my life who are muses, they totally know who they are, its something about the way they speak or move or think or curse that captures my attention. So I am inspired by their quirks. Oh and I am so inspired by reading what other playwrights are doing. The questions they are asking. The architecture of their language. I love playwrights!

What was the initial inspiration for the play being workshopped at PlayPenn?
It was actually an exhibition at the National Constitution Center about George Washington. There was so much talk in the exhibit about Slavery and Martha’s ownership of slaves that I started to dig deeper into that material on my own. There was so much there about her family and finally I ran across a quote that really launched the play. I’m fascinated by the founding fathers and in this case mothers. They create this very unique and lasting governing document that offers more freedom to it’s citizens than anything that had ever been seen…but…they owned people. A more perfect union…where owning slaves is A O.K. You have to laugh at how absurd the notion is. It is sublime irony. It could be a sketch on SNL. Wait…

Why did you decide to apply to PlayPenn, and what do you hope to get out of the conference?
This is actually my second time applying. My respect for PlayPenn is immense. I’ve worked with Paul and PlayPenn both as a reader and an actor. It’s by far one of the best places to work on a play. I’m hoping the magic they have, will rub off on me and my play. I’ve written something that is very exciting to me and I hope it excites other as well. Hope to lift the play to another level.

What’s the most interesting job you’ve worked while trying to support yourself as a writer?
Well in addition to acting which is what I do primarily, I’ve done a whole lot of things. One summer while I was working on a play I delivered pizzas in Mt. Airy. I was constantly lost. It was a nightmare…but great writing material.

If you could change anything about the American theatre, what would it be?
Two things. I would make it so theatre was affordable to everyone and I would make it so theatre spoke to everyone. I see theatre all the time and so many times I see things that have absolutely nothing to say to me. I think that should change. I hope for a theater that wants everyone to be spoken too. Hard to do, but completely possible.

Complete this sentence: I write plays because…
I love plays and plays feel comfortable to me, like underwear right out of the dryer.

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