Interview by Laura Ng
Playwright and producer Jerome Gentes previously has wielded his MFA from Columbia University as a book reviewer, managing director of Classical Ballet of Western New York, teaching artist and writer for Children’s Hospital Oakland Foundation and Research Institute. These days, when he isn’t creating UX/CX content strategy for the likes of Meyer Corporation US, Gentes can be spotted serving on TBA’s Individual Services Committee and on the board of the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco.
|TBA featured member Jerome Gentes. Photo: Colin Hussey
What are some of the inspirations for your polymorphic career?
Major props to Buffalo, New York, and its poetry and theatre communities. Especially Just Buffalo Literary Center, where I was a K-12 teaching artist; kids are some of the bravest and freest risk-takers I know. In 2007, I helped start the Elmwood Writers Group there, which is still going. Buffalo’s grassroots, collaborative, what-have-you-got-to-lose attitude and practices changed my life, especially after years of trying to build a New York City writing career the wrong way. I’d wanted to make a big, career-launching splash. My MFA wasn’t even in playwriting or theatre, but writing creative nonfiction. When I broke up with the idea that I had to be successful [in New York] with a creative nonfiction project, I freed myself to find the way back to poetry and theatre, my first passions. Four years in Buffalo gave me humility and taught me that art is about effort, not results, and that what we call failing is actually learning. Tech takes credit for the fail-faster-learn-more ethos, but local and regional arts have lived and thrived by that approach for years.
Favorite project/production that you’ve been part of—or inspired by?
The Fall 2012 Playwrights’ Center of SF 24-Hour Fest rebooted my involvement in theatre. My second Fest resulted in Schrödinger’s Christmas, a 10-minute musical I cowrote with Jon Rosen and really cherish. More recently, I was one of the facilitators for Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field at Berkeley Rep, and the people and communities we engaged with have opened my mind and heart even more broadly. I’m constantly inspired—Megan Cohen’s The Horse’s Ass, Katie May’s Abominable, Hamilton, and David Byrne’s Here Lies Love, the efforts of so many worthwhile projects and creatives.
What do you like about the Bay Area theatre scene, and being a TBA member?
The scene is a never-ending, geographically challenging festival in a constant cycle of growth and change. TBA membership gives a relative newbie like me a kind of all-access ticket to that. I savor the chance to attend and adjudicate shows, volunteer for them, support them. I’m still eager to get up to Sonoma County and down to the South Bay to see what orgs there are doing. I’ve gone to the TBA Conference each year since joining, and that’s always great for connecting and reconnecting. Individual Services Committee participation focuses this into a once-monthly exchange with other committee members on critical issues like gender parity and diversity.
Are there misconceptions about the theatre field that emerging professionals don’t hear enough about?
A misconception I’d really like to shatter for creatives of all kinds is [that of] theatre as an insider’s game. It’s too anarchic for that, so plunge in and get going. Meet people. Play with them. The rewards of getting in there and helping others, learning from them, are real. I come across many emerging playwrights who can’t let go of their work, so I’d like to encourage them to do this. The sooner any artist tests and absorbs this fundamental, the more fun they’ll have.
What off-resume skills/experiences have made unusual contributions to your art?
I worked in restaurants for a long time. Each meal service is simultaneously product, performance, promotion and production—a loosely scripted immersive experience with a participating, highly expectant audience. The goal from point to point is to deliver consistency, seamless and scalable perfection, but the success may be in how and where it falls short and having to incorporate that on the fly. Sometimes you do this together; sometimes someone simply does their offstage, underappreciated task. Also, exploring cultural matter far outside my comfort range. Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, for example, isn’t the sort of book I reach for reflexively, but he takes us so far inside the battle of Mogadishu that I could feel the combat experience.
Anything coming up soon that excites you?
As part of the Musical Cafe Showcase Series production team, I’m excited about our upcoming Fall Showcase at PianoFight in November. On October 16, we are cohosting a daylong event on getting plays and musicals produced and self-produced in collaboration with Play Cafe, our parent organization. Musical Cafe will host a mixer for writers and composers and other creatives, so maybe some great projects will come from that someday—maybe the next Hamilton or Fun Home!
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.