Once Upon a Bookshop: Interview with Creative Duo Zac Jaffee and Andrea Kuchlewska

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“Once Upon a Bookshop” is a charming short film by filmmaker Zac Jaffee that touches upon love late in life and the disappearance of traditional bookshops. Zac co-wrote the script with his wife and he also directed in the film and starred in it in the role of Josh. Zac has appeared in several other productions including “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Andrea Kuchlewska is Zac’s wife and writing partner. A playwright and filmmaker, Andrea has been commissioned to create work for the WP Theater and in 2014 she was a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council resident. She also received a Tournesol Residency and a TBA CASH Grant, and has been a Princess Grace Award finalist. Andrea was most recently in residence at Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theatre developing her new play “Etymology.”

Zac and Andrea recently discussed their experiences as writers and artists via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming a writer and how did you find yourself in theater?

Andrea: I think writing finds you and then it takes you hostage. I tried to avoid the call for several years, but surrendering, despite the obstacles, was really the only choice. My path was not direct. I did not know what a life in art looked like when I was young, but I was a kid who loved theatre, was one of the drama club kids at school. I started writing for theatre in San Francisco and found the support of mentors Anne Galjour and Ellen Sebastian Chang. I wrote a solo show inspired by my experience doing Werner Erhard’s Forum as a kid. It was produced at Climate Theatre in a solo festival and I later adapted that show into a play titled Complete.

MM: How did you two meet and when did you know you were meant for each other?

Zac: We met at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco in 2003. I was struck by her immediately, but we were just colleagues for about a year. Andrea was producing a play reading series that was a partnership between Z Space and the Magic that David Dower (head of Z Space) had asked her to do, and I was head house manager at the Magic as my day job while acting in regional theatre in the Bay Area (including at the Magic).

Andrea: I saw fireworks going off in the space between us during a particular conversation in November 2004 in the northside lobby at the Magic. That’s how I knew something was up, but it took me by surprise. I think I knew he was my destiny a few months later when he played “Let Me Roll It” by Wings on the record player in his room on Divisadero Street during a party. Zac and his roommates were all DJs and they threw an epic annual party where they DJed different vibes in each room. His roommate Russ was spinning soft rock vinyl in the front room, where Zac and I shared a big, comfy chair. After that Zac took me to his room and played “Let Me Roll It” while he stood at the foot of his bed and sang it to me. Something shifted in the air.

MM: What is it like to work together on creative projects?

Zac: Ha! Sometimes it is very difficult! But I think we write together very well. I love Andrea’s writing and get inspired when she hands a script to me. Once the producing starts, I think I get more anxious. That said, we always feel extremely satisfied working on something together and putting it out.

MM: What inspired “Once Upon A Bookshop” and how long did it take the film?

Zac: Our friend Kathryn Grody was our inspiration. Kathryn is a genius actor, a two-time Obie Award winner, and is so, so funny. Andrea has collaborated with Kathryn on several theatre projects and set out to write a play for Kathryn and me to star in together, but it came out as a film script instead.

Andrea: We shot the film in two days in March 2019 at Bruised Apple Books in Peekskill, NY with a cast and crew made up of friends, cousins, and cousins’ friends. This was the project we were doing between all our other projects, so we didn’t finish editing (with our editor Hernan Valle) until spring of 2020.

MM: Andrea, how did you get big breaks into major theatrical productions and well-respected residences?

Andrea: I’m a big believer in self-producing in whatever scrappy form you can until you get noticed. And I think the WP Theater Lab was a turning point for me.

MM: Zac, how did you get into acting and how have you landed so many roles?

Zac: I started acting in high school in Marin County, CA. I had a wonderful drama teacher named David G. Smith who wrote original pieces for us that were both funny and had tons of heart. After high school I went right into doing regional theatre in the SF Bay Area before moving to NYC, where I’ve mainly focused on film and TV. I also studied at The Barrow Group, which really changed everything for me and gave me a new understanding of my craft. I still do theater here and there and have produced a couple of solo shows that I wrote.

MM: Andrea you’re currently working on a new play. Can you tell us a little bit about its plot and the inspirations behind it?

Andrea: “ETYMOLOGY” is a verbal adventure in which a poet and a linguist attempt to unravel the secrets of the universe through the art and science of language, if only they can agree for a brief moment. It’s inspired by my love of both the art of language and the science of it and my desire to set them at play in a space simultaneously. I was in residence at the cell in NYC to write the first half of the play, and am now finishing it while workshopping it in a Brooklyn backyard with actors. I have an undergraduate degree in linguistics and this subject shows up in some of my plays.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future?

Zac: Andrea is currently writing a TV pilot with a partner and I’m doing my best to book acting gigs during Covid! And Andrea always has a dream of producing theatre in addition to writing it… let’s see what 2021 brings.

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To learn more about Zac Jaffee, visit his official website. Andrea’s website can be seen here. The film can be reviewed here: https://www.onceuponabookshopfilm.com/

Moreover, here is a link to a festival that ONCE UPON A BOOKSHOP is screening in October 7 – 11. https://lonelysealfestival.com/