Penny Jackson: Screenplay writer, Playwright, Producer & Novelist

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Penny Jackson is a screenplay writer, a playwright, and a novelist. Her first film, MY DINNER WItH SCHWARZEY, based on her published short story, is in post-production. Her plays have been performed in The United States, Scotland, and Dublin, and she is the only American finalist for The Kenneth Branagh Award for Drama at The Windsor Fringe. BEFORE, a play about gun violence was recently chosen as one of the best short plays of 2016. Various awards for her writing include a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, a Mirriliees Fellowship from Stanford University, a Pushcart Prize and The Elizabeth Janeway prize from Barnard College. Penny is a member of the Playwrights/Directors Unit of The Actors Studio and resident playwright at NYMadness Theater company. Her upcoming project is a new full-length play THE BATTLE OF RICHMOND HILL and a full-length screenplay based on her award-winning novel, BECOMING THE BUTLERS. As a film producer, Penny is a co-executive producer of the film BITE ME as well as MY DINNER WITH SCHWARTZEY. Penny is a proud member of New York Women In Film and Television, The League of Professional Theatre Women, The Dramatists Guild, and The Authors Guild.

What do I do best?

That I can create a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. My training in my MFA program in fiction really taught me the importance of a complete story. Unfortunately, too many current plays or films do not have a real conclusion.

I also pride myself of being a very character driven writer. I start with the person first and then the plot follows. An old woman at a bar can inspire me to write about loneliness and family. An overweight girl sitting alone at a Starbucks will be the main character in my play about self-empowerment.  Anger can be a powerful tool. Often my anger takes me to places where I can explore why teenagers bully each other on the Internet or why a seemingly normal kid may be obsessed with a gun or how parents can so often not be able to communicate with their child.

I also am a very positive person and when frustrated will try to remind myself that this too will pass. Keeping an upbeat outlook when working on a film or play is so important. Also appreciation. I always thank my actors, my crew, my director, my producer, and always my audience. They do not have to be there at my play or film. New York City is so rich with so many opportunities that I am so humble and grateful when people see and appreciate my work.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Collaborate. I am very much a team player and I also learned to be a good listener. I am always open to change and revision and rethinking and recreating with people I trust and admire. I am always shocked when I meet a writer who refuses to change a word on any page in their work. I pride myself with connecting with other female artists in order to make a valuable community. I also try to be flexible. On a recent film shoot we realized at the last minute we had to change one aspect of the ending and came up with a solution at 2:30 in the morning in the freezing cold!   

What are my aspirations?

To be able to continue writing female character driven plays and films.  I am now in post-production on my first short film, MY DINNER WITH SCHWARTZY and can’t wait to share this story with an audience. My aspiration is that in the next five years we will have a resurgence of female directors, writers, and producers in film, television and theater. One day, I will walk on Broadway and see the names of women writers on over half the marquees. Every film award ceremony will be filled with women winning in every field of film. We will no longer be the exception but the standard.

My Biggest Success?

My greatest success is that I have been able to write in several genres – a published full-length novel, a collection of short stories, many short and full-length produced plays, a screenplay that has just been made into a wonderful short film, published monologues in anthologies for actors and even a few published poems. When I was only twenty-two I received a Pushcart Prize for best short story of the year.  

My Most Challenging Moment?

When I was in high school and I felt that I was a complete failure. My grades overall were not good and my college advisor did not think I would succeed. I was very unhappy and that may be why I write about teenagers so frequently in my work. But somehow when I went to college something changed. Perhaps it was my wonderful writing professor or the independence of leaving home or discovering that people wanted to hear my stories. Or maybe I just realized that being a teenage girl is just really difficult.

My Motto?

How can you not love this quote by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Emma Thompson has always been my role model as a writer, actor, and activist for gender equality. Hilary Mantel overcame a terrible illness to be one of our greatest novelists today. Every female playwright who had to overcome gender bias and was able to have her play produced. Every female screenplay writer who had to overcome gender bias to have her film produced. Deborah Harry who was and still is my fierce Rock and Roll Goddess. My mother for sharing her love of reading.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

London. The energy and the history and the arts offered by this city are remarkable. I love so many theaters there, The Old Vic, The National, The Royal Court, and I love my actor friends in London too. I was in London in the 1980s during the punk rock movement and although London has changed I will find myself in a neighborhood and remember the energy and revolution of that era. I also adore Edinburgh where I had the privilege to have my play SAFE produced at The Edinburgh Fringe. Theater is everywhere –in parking lots, school cafeterias, churches, and street corners. My other favorite city is Madrid, which has such wonderful museums, food, architecture and flamenco. I love Madrid so much that I included Madrid as a major setting in my novel, BECOMING THE BUTLERS.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I guess my Kindle because my eyes are not so great and I can change the size of the font. I love reading so much. Also my IPod since I can’t stop listening to the favorite British bands from the 1980s such as The Clash and The English Beat.  My brother claims I haven’t listened to a band since 1987 and he may be right.

My Current Passions?

I am a complete Mark Rylance fanatic and am travelling to London to see him perform as Iago in Othello. I am also very excited to see the edited version of my new short film MY DINNER WITH SCHWARTZEY. I am a co- executive producer of BITE ME, a film by Naomi McDougall Jones, and I know this will be a hit when released. I am looking forward to producing more films by women filmmakers as well as creating my own full-length film.

Travel is always the best education and inspiration. My plan for the fall is to visit Croatia and then Australia and New Zealand.

Haven’t given up hope of one day a woman will be the president of our country and am committed to helping that dream become true.

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