PITTSFIELD — Playwright Jessica Provenz just wants to have some fun; some laughs. She wants others to laugh with her.
She is hopeful that her new play, “Boca,” will be just the bubbly tonic for a troubled time.
“Boca” — at Barrington Stage Company’s Production Center Tent on Laurel Street through Aug. 29 — comprises 11 short plays and an epilogue about the interrelated lives of 12 residents of a gated senior community in Boca Raton, Fla. Barrington Stage Company’s artistic director, Julianne Boyd, is directing.
“There are no moral lessons here,” Provenz, 45, said during an interview in a rehearsal room at BSC’s Wolfson Center complex on North Street. “These characters are imperfect. I think overall ‘Boca’ is about community; people who show up for each other and care about each other; who are ultimately each other’s family.”
Two of the plays have appeared in BSC’s annual 10X10 New Play Festival.
Based on a play Provenz wrote for this year’s virtual 10X10 Festival, “On the Rocks” was sparked by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose fervent wish was that then-President Trump not be in a position to appoint her successor.
“I remember thinking at the time ‘Why couldn’t her family take one for the cause and just put (her corpse) away on ice and not tell anyone (she’d died)?” Provenz said.
“Stay Please,” which appeared in the 2020 10X10 Festival, germinated with a colleague of Provenz whose 90-year-old father “is a real hot commodity” in his senior community. She remembers clearly the date she wrote the play — Nov. 1, 2019.
“We had been given the day off,” said Provenza, who is BSC’s director of development. “It was the deadline day for submissions for the February 2020 10X10 Festival. I remember thinking I would do some errands and write this play.”
She wrote it; submitted it without her name attached to the script — a requirement for 10X10 submissions. It was accepted and that was that.
“I was thrilled. I was delighted,” Provenz said. “The play was finished; I had flexed that muscle.”
In March, just after the end of that 10X10 Festival, Boyd commissioned Provenz to write a play for the senior actors on the company roster.
“Then,” Provenz said, “the world shut down.” Coronavirus. COVID-19.
Still, on request from Boyd, Provenz wrote a synopsis. “I wanted an evening of plays that could stand on their own, but each one should inform the other.”
She completed the synopsis and turned it in. “I thought that would be it.”
Until February of this year, that is, when Boyd came to Provenz and inquired about “Boca.”
Provenz recalled Boyd saying to her ‘what the world really needs is to laugh.’ “Basically she told me to give it a go.”
Provenz wrote 30 pages in one weekend; showed what she had written to Boyd. “She wanted me to write more,” Provenz said.”
Theater is a passion for Provenz.
“I love the experience,” she said. “It’s alive.”
And the heart of that passion is playwriting, ever since she took a playwriting class “for fun” as an undergrad in theater arts at Northwestern University, “I had a great teacher who supported me,” she said.
“I’m a playwright,” she said firmly. “I spent my 20s and 30s in New York doing that.”
Provenz was playwright-in-residence at The Juilliard School where she studied under Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman. Then, she said, “life happened.”
She came to the Berkshires with her then 1-year-old son, Maximus Rhys.
“I was divorced. I was looking for work,” she said. She had a skill for getting people excited about an idea. “That’s what fundraising is about.”
In the intervening years, she’s been, among other things, director of the annual fund and special events at Berkshire Country Day School and is co-chair of the Berkshire County Development Alliance. She’s been Barrington Stage Company’s director of development since 2018.
“I’ve embraced the idea of raising money for other people’s plays. I never realized I would be raising money for one of my own plays,” she said, somewhat astonished.
In addition to the Berkshires, he’s had plays produced and developed at theaters on Cape Cod, and New York. She’s written for film and has penned articles for a few Berkshires publications. She maintains a vigorous daily regimen. She’s up at 5:30 in the morning to write. She gets her son ready for school and gets him out of the house by 8, then heads from their home in Great Barrington to her office in Pittsfield. She’s home by the time her son gets home from school; writes; makes dinner; writes some more until late evening (“I’m an aggressive re-writer,” she said); bedtime; and then begins again. And, oh, yes, she has radiation therapy as part of her day. Provenz is a breast cancer survivor. She’s had it twice; two surgeries. “I am perfectly healthy now,” she said reassuringly, acknowledging that part of her motivation in writing “Boca” was therapeutic.
“I wrote these plays with the goal of making myself laugh,” she said. “I can take myself seriously. You go through these challenges and still have joy in your life.”
“I just want audiences to have a good time, enjoy a night out,” she added.
“I think we need each other tonight,” Provenz said, referring to the first preview performance only a few hours after this interview. “Two hundred people gathering together in a tent to have a shared theater experience.
“I hope to God they laugh.”