Q & A WITH PLAYWRIGHT JEANNE BECKWITH
English professor Jeanne Beckwith has taught at Norwich since 2002. A produced and published playwright, her works have been performed in New York City, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, Vermont, Turkey, and on the Norwich University stage. In addition, she is the technical director for the Pegasus Players Theater Troupe. Jeanne and her husband, F. Brett Cox—a fellow playwright, English professor, and fiction writer—live in Roxbury, Vt. We caught up with Jeanne shortly after she returned from a theater conference in Valdez, Alaska. While there, she attended a staged reading of her long one-act play, The Back Room.
How did you get started writing for the stage?
I had written a novel. A friend of mine read it and said, “Your dialogue is your strength,” so I decided to rewrite it as a play. I did and it won a contest. It was my first successful full-length play. I have written about eight full-length plays and a couple of dozen short plays. All of which have been produced.
What brought you to Norwich?
We were living in Alabama and were not happy. One of my daughters was at a summer camp near Brandon, Vt. After we visited her we toured the state and just fell in love with it. We started applying to jobs, and Norwich called Brett for an interview. We love it; we love Norwich. We like the structure that there is. It works really well.
What excites you about writing for the stage?
I just love creating that whole world in my head. I love seeing it performed. I love hearing my words.
What do you like about teaching?
Watching students figure out that they can do it. Especially English composition; I enjoy challenging and pushing students to do more, and encouraging the students who think they can’t write, and then watching them feel that self-confidence when they do.
What do you enjoy about working with the Pegasus Players?
There’s nothing that helps a playwright better than working in theater—with actors, with directors—and seeing what’s happening. We get to be a pretty close-knit group. It’s always fun. There is no theater major at Norwich, so we get a mix of students from across all academic disciplines, both cadets and civilians. My heart always soars when I get an architect or an engineer who wants to do theater. They get a great deal of creative satisfaction out of it.
What is the worst calamity that has happened during a live production that you were involved in?
I was directing a production of The Secret Garden, and in the middle of a Sunday matinee performance the backstage crew accidentally set off a smoke alarm, sending the entire audience outside with lights flashing, horns going off, and a women’s voice calmly announcing over the PA system: “Please proceed to the nearest exit.” We couldn’t start the show again until the fire department had cleared us. But everyone came back!
What are you most proud of?
I am awfully proud of my body of work, but I also have four beautiful daughters who have all been successful in life. They have a good sense of humor, and they all have creative outlets. That, and the fact that I have never given up.
Assuming you could dictate fate, what would be the pinnacle of your career?
That I have a play done on Broadway or one of the legitimate Off-Broadway venues. That would be fabulous ... and then someone would buy the movie rights!