Theater professor opens 2018 Women’s Voices Festival
Caleen Jennings chosen to share personal work at local theater festival
Theater professor and local playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings was among a select number of female playwrights chosen for the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Her one-woman play, “Queens Girl in Africa,” performed by Erika Rose, ran from Jan. 4 to Feb. 4 at Mosaic Theatre Company in Northeast D.C.
“It means the world to me,” Jennings said.
Jennings’s semi-autobiographical play tells the story of a young woman struggling with her family’s move from New York to Nigeria at the beginning of her high school career. While in Nigeria, Jackie watches her old country and new country erupt with the racial tension of the 1960s. Erika Rose fills the stage as she transitions between about 10 characters in the play, each having their own distinct voice and set of mannerisms.
In her first year being part of the festival, Jennings had two original plays performed. One of which, “Queens Girl in the World” was the first part of “Queens Girl in Africa” and the other, “Darius and Twig,” is currently touring with the Kennedy Center.
Jennings loves the festival because it educates both men and women on the complexity and duality of the female spirit. She finds it to be a great space for playwrights and theaters to connect, she said.
“It’s a gathering place, not only for theaters to be exposed to and be aware of women playwrights,” Jennings said. “It’s a gathering place for women themselves.”
Jennings has been a professor at AU for 29 years and a playwright since she was fifteen, she said. In her time at AU, she has had five of her plays performed and directed a total of 25.
Jennings’s students were in the audience at “Queens Girl in Africa.” This student section included the cast of the upcoming AU production of “Othello” that Jennings is directing along with her research seminar class for the AU Scholars program. Despite her accomplishments, the veteran playwright was nervous to have her students in the audience, but she ultimately enjoys building a connection with them through her work.
“I think it enhances the relationship in the classroom and humanizes me,” Jennings said.
Jennings believes that playwriting is the most fulfilling and exhilarating medium of expression. She encourages everyone to express themselves and be fearless in the pursuit of telling their story. Although she still gets nervous from her own productions, she says that to hear audience reactions and know they have entered the world of her play is “wonderful.”
“If you’ve got a story, tell it and see what happens,” Jennings said. “The weirder you think your story is, I bet you, the more people will connect with it because we’re all weird.”