Normally we start off by asking your name, where you’re from, and a little bit about yourself.
My name is Jaclyn Backhaus. I am from Phoenix, Arizona, and now I live in Brooklyn with my husband.
And what are you working on here at SPACE?
I’m working on two very new ideas for plays. I’m in the research stage for both of them. One of them is about kings throughout history who’ve had many wives, and the other is about climate change and Norse mythology. Right now I’m trying to figure out which one I want to write more, or which one gets my goat a little more. I’ve been trying to figure that out.
Norse mythology and climate change together?
Yeah I read this series of essays between Bjork and this ecological philosopher. This philosopher talks a lot about the end of the world, and the concept of urth or ‘Earth’ which is a root word, but also connected to the word ‘weird.’ It’s about how time is twisted into a circle, and there’s always this cycle of apocalypse leading to rebirth. It’s a very hopeful way to look at how the world is ending. So I’m trying to figure out that in a very layman’s way. I’m not a philosopher, and I’m not very smart when it comes to climate change science.
I’m guessing our research has been reading science journals, and other such things?
Yeah a lot science journals. A lot of really depressing articles… it’s especially depressing when it gets into the politics of the issues, and how no one listens to climate change scientists in America. So it gets pretty bleak but its always interesting to read about.
Now we talked a bit before this interview about your commission for Playwrights Horizons. Are both of these plays being written for that?
I’m sort of trying to figure out which one to write for that. They gave me this commission (which was incredible, they just called me up on the phone) and I have four years to write something. So I’m in the very beginning of that process. So I think whichever ends up being a better fit will be the one I end up pursuing.
With the play about the kings, I’m assuming King Henry the VIII is in there somewhere?
You know he was. I have this book called The Wives of Henry VIII, and I was going to write about that, but then Wolf Hall came out and I thought, “I feel like there are some tangential kings that I could write about instead.”
This has to have happened before.
Right, this is probably a recurring theme. I was at the castle of Chenonceau, which is an old castle in the Loire valley in France. Historically, King Henry II of France gave the castle to his mistress, and, when the king died, the queen, his wife, took it away from the mistress. A catfight of sorts ensued. So he’s one of my signposts. The other is this Maharaja in Jaipur who took this old fort in India, and turned it into a house for all his concubines. He would go and spy on them, and apparently there was one concubine who was a hypnotist and tried to steal all of his money. So, that was pretty interesting to learn about. And then the third one I’m going with is Ernest Hemingway. He didn’t have wives all at the same time but he was a fat cat. He was married four times, I think. For him it was more of a conquest thing, and having it all. He felt like he could never settle for one thing, and always felt he needed more.
He sounds like an interesting guy.
He really was. I like his books a lot, though, and how he writes. I always thought I could be like him, but without that messier side.
You totally could. It’s nice out here on the porch.
It’s really nice! I like how it’s blustery today. It’s the first day it hasn’t been that sunny since I got here.
Have you been spending a lot of time outside?
I’ve done a little bit of outside time. I have this horrible aversion to bugs, so I’m trying to brace myself and face that fear. My room is really delicious though, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in there.
That room has great light.
Yeah lots of light. I never wake up early, but the other day I woke up at 6am. Out the window, it was misty, and I could see out into the fields. It was so beautiful.
That is beautiful. So you’ve been reading, and researching. What else have you spent your time doing?
What else? I mean, eating.
We do a lot of that here, it’s really great.
It’s delicious! I’ve been trying to make friends with the cat. We’re living here symbiotically in a sense. There’s something to him when he looks at you like “I run this place.”
What’s the next project coming up for you?
I have a couple things I’ve been working on and are still doing. I have this project that’s sort of a musical that I’m developing with a composer named Mike Brun and a director named Andrew Neisler, called ”Bull’s Hollow.” Its about a society formed inside a whale. It’s a trilogy, very epic. We finished one of the thirds of the trilogy in the spring, and we’re working on the other two in the next year or so. Its super fun to write because it’s totally crazy.
If you were reincarnated as any farm animal, what would it be and why? Doesn’t have to be on this farm.
I think I’d be a field mouse or a bunny. Something kind of tiny that doesn’t have much to do with the farm, but just likes to live there.
Interviewed by Leigha Sinnott