Developing 'Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven' through RTW's Br!NK New Play Festival
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Br!NK workshops for 'Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven.' Photo Courtesy of Renaissance Theaterworks.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published May 31, 2018. It has been updated and republished in honor of the upcoming world premiere of Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven.
When Renaissance Theaterworks selected Reina Hardy as a 2017 resident playwright for the Br!NK New Play Festival, she knew she wanted to get her play Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven in front of younger audiences. While she thought the script about a 13-year-old’s intergalactic destiny would appeal to a teenage crowd, she was pleasantly surprised when a group of 5 and 6-year-olds engaged with the script at a toured reading at the Boys & Girls Club.
"It made me realize that I could keep the play’s appeal to older audiences, but brighten it up and tighten it up even more so every movement is totally precision-tooled," Hardy explains.
To close its 2018-2019 mainstage season, RTW will produce Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven. This is the first time RTW is fully staging a play from its Br!NK New Play Festival, with its world premiere set for March 29.
Mallory Metoxen, RTW’s artistic associate who spearheaded the program in 2013, explains that although Annie Jump earned a spot in this season's line-up, RTW’s main goal for Br!NK is to help playwrights take their scripts to the next level. “It’s too much pressure to say, ‘ok, this needs to be ready for production by the end of a week.’”
The festival started off as a week of workshops for selected Midwestern women playwrights, followed by a reading and public feedback session at the Broadway Theatre Center. While this portion remains, RTW also added toured readings to community partners, like Hardy’s at the Boys & Girls Club, as well as playwriting labs for professional or aspiring playwrights, and Br!NK Br!efs, a collection of fully staged 10-minute plays.
Metoxen served as director for the staged readings of Annie Jump and says multiple people approached her afterwards to say they thought the show was ready for production. Annie Jump falls under RTW’s 2018-2019 season theme She Blinded Me With Science, which focuses on strong scientific female characters.
In Annie Jump, the title character is a 13-year-old science genius with an alien-obsessed father. One night Annie meets Althea, an intergalactic supercomputer who wants to help the teenager take humanity from the earth to the stars.
Hardy got the idea from an NPR story about a man who ran a website inviting aliens to contact him. She combined this with a theoretical concept from the science history book Coming of Age in the Milky Way, where the universe evolves a consciousness. On deadline for another staged reading, she wrote the play in three days.
Along with realizing she could rework her script to appeal to a wider audience, the workshopping process allowed Hardy to develop an “emotionally satisfying” ending, which she had trouble finding before.
Metoxen says she loves the collaborative nature of the festival and the unique discoveries made when a playwright, director, dramaturg and cast combine to workshop the plays.
“We get to bring a bunch of artists together and come up with this beautiful once in a lifetime thing,” Metoxen explains. “During the workshops these people are absolutely on a mission to make sure they understand what’s on the page and really investigate what this play could be.”
"Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven," presented by Renaissance Theaterworks, runs March 29 - April 21 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, visit r-t-w.com or call the box office at (414) 291-7800.