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Spotlight On: A.A. Brenner!

Playwrights’ Corner
Headshot of A.A. Brenner

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that we LOVE our artist community, and we are so grateful to get to support them and their work. During this time when all of our programs are happening over zoom, we're really missing the opportunity to chat with them in the Artists' Pantry over snacks and get to know them a little more. So, we figured we'd check in with some of the artists we're working with this season to learn a bit about what they're up to, and most importantly, what their favorite Lark snack is. 

First up, we're shining a spotlight on A.A. Brenner, former Lark Apprentice and Finalist for the 2020-22 Apothetae and Playwriting Fellowship. A.A. Brenner (they / them) is a playwright, dramaturg, and New Yorker. Their writing blends naturalistic dialogue with heightened realism to explore queer, Jewish, and disability themes, challenging both societal power structures and theatrical form. Read on for a fun interview to get to know a little about what they are working on, and the music that's moving them these days!

Jennifer Haley: What would be the best, most whimsical way you could introduce yourself?

A.A. Brenner: So my friends actually make fun of me, because apparently I always introduce myself to people exactly the same way which is:

    Hi! [Hand gesticulation for emphasis.] I’m A.A. Brenner, and I’m a playwright from New York City.

But if I were to make this any more fun and / or whimsical, I’d probably include the fact that I’m an amateur ukulele player, a passionate Yankees fan, and that I’ve been known to do the New York Times crossword in pen, the way it should be done. Although, shamefully, I don’t always finish them...or even usually...but I’m great through Wednesday! 

JH:What are you working on right now? It can be a play, or anything else!

AB: I’m currently working on a bunch of plays, the most exciting (and complete) of which would have to be Blanche & Stella, my modernized, queer adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with no cis-white men and a Gentleman Caller who isn’t a gentleman. In my retelling, Blanche and Stella are childhood best friends now in their mid-late 20s who end up living together after Blanche goes through a cataclysmic breakup and shows up unannounced on Stella’s doorstep in Washington, D.C. Also, all of the characters are Disabled, and all hail from a different part of the Disability community.

While I’ve been toying with the idea for the show now for the past four years, the play really snapped into focus after I had a very complex relationship with somebody with a personality disorder. I have always been interested in the characters of Blache and Stella, as well as how they seem to be drawn from a lot of the figures from Williams’ own life that inspired many of his other well-known female characters (for me, there always felt like there was a natural affinity between Laura from The Glass Menagerie to Stella from Streetcar, as well as from Amanda to Blanche), but I never quite knew how, exactly, to flesh them out—Blanche in particular—until this year. 

But now I’ve got her. And I couldn’t be more excited to share this thing with the world.

JH: What is something that is bringing you comfort/joy/laughter these days in the midst of everything?

AB: During quarantine, I have become very obsessed with Kate Bush. I bought all her records. I watched all her music videos. “Babooshka.” “Suspended in Gaffa.” “Wuthering Heights,” of course. She is just transcendent. So between her, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, the Police’s Zenyatta Mondata, and Pat Benatar’s In the Heat of the Night, I’ve experienced a lot of joy. And also playing ukulele (poorly) and meditating. I can’t recommend that stuff enough.

JH: Can you share a fun fact you learned recently?

AB: That Judaism actually has a very rich history of meditation! I learned this a few years ago but recently again picked up a book on the subject by Aryeh Kaplan, and it’s been a fascinating read. 

JH: What is your favorite Lark snack? 

AB: I have to say, I do love those pretzels. (There are pretzels, right? It’s been a while. I have fond memories of those from somewhere though.)

JH: What are you looking forward to?

AB: The Lark’s Winter Writers’ Retreat later this month! I can’t wait to be around such an awesome group of fellow Disabled writers. And to get started on my next play, which I’m very excited about.

JH: Describe your workspace for us! What’s something that we’d be surprised to know you have nearby?

AB: I have two pictures on my desk: one is of my Aunt Helen, who taught me how to read and write, and is the reason I started writing plays; the other is a vintage Tino Martinez rookie card. 

They are both sitting right next to each other, which somehow feels correct, and is also hilarious. Just this fabulous older Jewish woman with flawless red hair and lipstick, sitting next to...Tino Martinez.

I think they might be both sides of my personality.