Interpreting a Dream: Interview with Playwright and Songwriter Judy Klass

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“Interpreting a Dream” is a play by Judy Klass that aired on Zoom via the One House One Heart virtual one-act play festival. The subtitled bilingual story takes place in a school principal’s office where a Spanish speaking translator has been called in to interpret for an immigrant student who is refusing to learn English.

Judy Klass taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island for six years. She now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and teaches at Vanderbilt University. Eight of her full-length plays have been produced and one, Cell, was nominated for an Edgar, and it’s published by Samuel French/Concord:

https://www.concordtheatricals.com/p/836/cell-klass Moreover, “Country Fried Murder” won the S.O.P.S. competition and was produced at the Shawnee Playhouse in Pennsylvania in 2019: https://www.poconorecord.com/entertainmentlife/20190912/shawnee-playhouse-serves-up-order-of-country-fried-murder In total, Judy has seen thirty-six of her one-act plays produced onstage, many with multiple productions, all over the US, and a few have gone up in the UK and in Ireland. Two additional plays have recently premiered on the Shelter Plays platform: https://www.theshelterplays.com/current-productions (bottom two in the third column).

Three of Judy’s short plays are published, each as a stand-alone script, by Brooklyn Publishers. Teens use these scripts in drama competitions. Her plays have also been published in magazines  like the Rockhurst Review and Seven Hills Review, and in anthologies like The Art of the One-Act. One of her short plays will be in The Best New Ten-Minute Plays 2021 and some of them have been turned into podcasts.

When she is not writing plays, Judy can be found writing songs. She recently discussed her creativity and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in writing and why did playwriting interest you in particular?

July Klass (JK): I come from a family of writers — of mostly fiction, but also some non-fiction, plus scripts of various kinds. My parents both taught college but they also wrote, and they really encouraged us to write as well.

MM: You’re also a songwriter, so what genres do you focus on?

JK: I’m eclectic. I’m an unlikely person to write country music, but when I was a kid, there was a country station in the New York/New Jersey area: WHN. So, I did grow up listening to country music, and I like to write country. I also like to write rock, and folk, and pop, and R&B, and dance music, and show tunes, and Americana …

MM: Do your plays and songs ever influence each other?

JK: Well, my murder mystery “Country Fried Murder” is a full-length play that won the S.O.P.S. Award, and it was produced at the Shawnee Playhouse in Pennsylvania in 2019. It’s set at a songwriters’ workshop in Colorado. Before I moved to Nashville, I attended several workshops like that in Colorado — though not in the Rockies, where I’ve set my play. I brought my song “Drunk On One Corona” to one of those workshops, feeling proud of it, sure the hit writers would admire it — and then, those women leading the workshop took me apart, or took my song apart, in Nashville terms. I thought that was funny (not at the time, but later), so I put the song and the take-down, in a slightly different form, in the play. “Country Fried Murder” is a play, not a musical, but it contains a number of songs and song fragments. That’s definitely the play of mine where songwriting comes up the most; it’s both a satire of certain aspects of Nashville songwriting, and also a celebration of it. I wish it could get produced in Nashville; I think people where I live now would get even more of the jokes and references. I also have a one-woman short play called “Sex With Your Ex” built around a song with that name. That did get produced in Nashville. My songwriting friends did get more of the jokes. Do you call a ten-minute play with one song in it a ten-minute musical? I’m never sure. But it’s been produced onstage several times (once in NYC), and now it’s being produced as a podcast by the Lost Souls Monologue project in London. I’ve also written several out-and-out musicals. A full-length musical is maybe the most logical place for playwriting and songwriting interests to collide. My full-length musical called Senator Scrooge had a staged reading at Emerging Artists in NYC in late 2018, but it has not been fully produced.

MM: What inspired “Interpreting a Dream” and how long did it take to write?

JK: I first wrote “Interpreting a Dream” some years back. It had several productions in NYC, and I taught at Nassau Community College back then; I was able to bring one production of it out there. I think what inspired it is I read a call for ten-minute bilingual plays in English and Spanish. And I thought: how would that even work? There would be parts that people who speak only English would not understand, and parts that people who speak only Spanish would not understand … and then, I decided to write a play that had someone translating between the two languages — and even if you didn’t speak one or the other language, you’d pick up on the fact that at times the bi-lingual person is tactfully mis-translating … Sometimes I’ll read a call for scripts, and I take it as a kind of challenge, or it sparks something and leads to me writing a play. I finish it in time to submit it, and usually it does not win the competition I wrote it for — but then, something else may happen with it. I’m so pleased that One House Productions chose to produce “Interpreting a Dream.” It hasn’t gone up in a while. I’ve made some changes to it. It’s never been done before with anything like the subtitles they put in. It was interesting to see how that affected it.

MM: Do you speak Spanish and was it tough to make sure the subtitles were translated perfectly?

JK: I speak Spanish … más o menos (more or less). I wrote the speeches communicating what I wanted to say in Spanish — and then I asked some Spanish-speaking friends to proof the play for me, and fix the idioms and make sure it sounded like something a person would actually say. But I know what the characters are saying, so I sent the text for the subtitles in to One House.

MM: How did you find One House, One Heart?

JK: There’s a community of playwrights online these days who share submission opportunities with each other, and there are also sites one can pay to join that list opportunities to submit plays. I’m involved with both. I don’t remember where I saw the call for One House, One Heart, originally.

MM: Did you always intended this play to be presented via Zoom or would you like to have it performed live, too?

JK: Like I said, it’s been done live on stage in the past. I feel good about it both ways. Live theater is wonderful, but I also feel good about the new world of streaming plays and Zoom plays. It’s allowing playwrights and companies and audiences across the country and around the world to find each other; it’s creating more of a community.

MM: How did you find the actors and how did you feel about the final results of the performed piece?

JK: One House Productions found the director, Jon Jon Johnson — it was up to them and to him to cast it. I sat in on a rehearsal and gave a little feedback, but I recognize the important role of the director in any production, and since I live in Tennessee now, I was hardly in a position to pull rank and try to take over auditions. Fortunately, Jon Jon did a great job, and so did the cast.

MM: You are quite prolific. So, thematically, what have your other plays been about?

JK: Well, I mentioned “Country Fried Murder.” And I have another murder mystery called “Cozy Murder”– that’s a Finalist right now in that same S.O.P.S. competition. I have another full-length play called “Cell” that’s a murder mystery, and it got nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award — they used to give those awards for plays, but they don’t anymore. Anyhow, that play is published by Samuel French/Concord. If I write a mystery play, it’s important to me that it be more than a whodunit: that it be a play of substance, and I’m trying to explore new things in each play I write. “Cozy Murder” is set at a mystery play festival that goes up every summer in a small town in Maine, and #MeToo issues come up. “Cell” is about two brothers of different generations. I’ve also had full-length comedies produced. “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One” was produced in Nashville in early 2019 — that’s a gentle family comedy, where family members tell some very old, and some very involved jokes as they argue with each other. My comedy “Kimberly in Overdrive” was produced in Layton, Utah, more recently. That’s about a college student and her alter ego or imaginary friend: a character named Kimberly that she daydreams about and sees as heroic and fierce and fabulous, whereas she sees herself as wussy and bleah. I’ve had eight full-length plays produced, and 36 one-act plays produced on stage. Some are comedies (I’ve got a background in sketch comedy and stand-up, and there’s not a whole heck of a lot of difference between some ten-minute comedy plays and some well-developed comedy sketches) and some of my short plays are more dramatic — a scene playing out in a friendship or a romantic relationship — and I’ve written some science fiction plays in the last few years. Lately, I’ve had several plays premiere on streaming platforms — including a Zoom play. The “Zoom play” is a whole new form …

MM: How do other aspects of your life—like your childhood, songwriting, and career as a college professor—influence you creatively, if at all?

JK: I do draw on aspects of my life in what I write, or in some of what I write. I’ve written plays about college teachers and students. It helps that I’ve lived in a number of places; I think I can credibly set plays and stories in different states and even countries, and present a range of people based on people I’ve known. I went to public school and then private school while growing up, so that also increased the number of worlds I can write about, and I’ve taught and studied at a range of places. I want to write a novel about Nashville — because in a sense I live in, or interact with, several different Nashvilles.

MM: How have you been keeping yourself entertained during the coronavirus lockdown?

JK: I’m teaching my classes on Zoom this term. And I taught a number of classes over the summer. So, I teach, I meet with students in one-on-one Zoom conferences, I read the stuff I’ve assigned for them to read and prepare for class, I mark papers — and that actually takes up a lot of my time. I’ve managed to do some song co-writes over Zoom, and I have a women writers’ critique group that meets every few weeks that has now gone virtual.

MM: Are you working on any other plays right now? If so, can you give us any specifics?

JK: For a long time, I wanted to write a play or screenplay about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But I wasn’t sure whether to have it be about when she was a young woman at Seneca Falls, or when she was older, hanging out with Susan B. Anthony … Anyhow, I’m circling around the idea of writing a play about a person who has written a play or several about Cady Stanton, and this playwright has a chance to turn Cady Stanton’s life into a screenplay for Hollywood, but she’ll have to do some iffy Hollywood things to the story. And interspersed with scenes of the writer’s life, and scenes from her play or plays, might be scenes from the weird Hollywood version of events in the 1800s she’s being pressured to write …

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

JK: I’d love to have more of my full-length plays produced, and for some to have second productions. I’d love to get more of my screenplays made into films. I’d love to get an agent! (I had one but he passed away several years ago.) I’d love to write some hit songs, in several different genres.

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To learn more about Judy, visit her official website: www.judy-klass.com

Her work can also be viewed here: https://newplayexchange.org/users/5340/judy-klass
And here: https://www.reverbnation.com/judyklass/videos