Passivity is the death of theater. I believe plays should be experiences, and those experiences should wake us up, turn us on, and jolt us to a new way of thinking or being in the world.
I create theatrical experiences that are wild, sexy, musical, spiritual, and dangerous—sometimes all at once. For each, I aim to keep the audience essential, entertained, and immersed. Audiences have been trained to consider a play from a safe distance. I am more interested in plays that require the audience’s presence, and ask something of them in return. Sometimes, for me, the audience members are characters in the story. Other times, their participation means traveling to a site-specific location, eating food during the play, experiencing sensory immersion in the world, or engaging with the play days before the event actually starts.
My plays are each a distinct world unto themselves. I’ve made plays in bars, in an elevator, inside a cell phone, in an alley, in the woods, and in a magical cave for an audience of babies. I like that my plays look very different from each other because they are crafted individually to be the most meaningful experience for each particular audience.
The guts and hearts of my plays share common tissue. I’m interested in the way theater can create a communal experience out of very personal, internal struggles: anxiety, depression, sexual desire, spiritual longing, loneliness, and primal/animal instincts. My characters wonder what it means to be wild, where home truly is, how to make a meaningful life in a world of trauma, how to be in love, and how to plumb the depths of their minds, bodies, and hearts in search of truth.
The University of Texas at Austin, where I received my MFA in playwriting, was a wonderful home for me because of its emphasis on collaboration, risk, and kindness. I make theater because I like to be in a room with other beating hearts. I often work with composers, choreographers, visual artists, mobile app designers, chefs, and scholars, in addition to dramaturgically minded directors and performers skilled in devising. Together, we can make worlds bigger and bolder than my brain alone. Together, we make theater that makes us feel alive.
Joanna Garner is a playwright and musician based in Seattle, Washington. Her work has been developed nationally and internationally, including at the Banff Playwrights Colony, Tofte Lake Center, Seattle Repertory Theatre, On the Boards, ZACH Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theater, Great Plains Theatre Conference, groundswell playwrights conference, National Winter Playwrights Retreat, Annex Theatre, Live Girls! Theater, 14/48: The World’s Quickest Theater Festival, the NEWvember New Plays Festival, Theatricum Botanicum, with Austin’s acclaimed Rude Mechs, and at the New York and Hollywood fringe festivals. Her political drama about Iran, The Orange Garden, was a winner of the 2016 Keene Prize for Literature and included on the 2016 Kilroys List.
An accomplished songwriter and musician, Joanna’s original country musical, 100 Heartbreaks, was workshopped in Seattle Rep's New Play Program, with the Northwest Playwrights Alliance, and was presented at the country’s largest arts and culture festival, Bumbershoot. It premiered at the Sahara Lounge in Austin where it was nominated for an Austin Critics’ Table Award for Outstanding Musical.
Her short play about falling in love with lightning, Charged, was published in the November 2015 issue of Bare Fiction Magazine and another short play, Cat Cafe, was a finalist for this year’s Humana Festival of New Plays Heideman Award. This summer, her immersive exploration of food and sex, Please Open Your Mouth, premiered at Café Nordo in Seattle. Joanna will be the 2018 Resident Playwright at Chance Theater in Southern California, developing two new plays with the support of the company.
She has an MFA in Playwriting from The University of Texas at Austin.
>View Joanna's resume.