I’ve always held a certain admiration for playwrights, people who can create a world of their own, emulating feelings and expressions onstage. The greatest of talents is reflected in these characters and Mr. Rosenberg is certainly among that crowd.
Jake Rosenberg, 19, is a California native, currently taking residency in New York City. Here, he is among the most talented in the nation, studying at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Mr. Rosenberg, while young, is still an incredibly accomplished writer, with numerous productions under his belt and even celebrity acknowledgment. How great it was to hear of his success and to see where his future will take him.
So, when did he begin to acknowledge his craft?
“I started writing when I took a playwriting class as a sophomore in high school. Before I took that first playwriting class, I’d never actually internalized the idea that somebody sat down and wrote a play. I’d always naively assumed that either the actors made up their lines when they were on stage or the director magically beamed his or her ideas into people’s heads, or some other explanation. The nuts and bolts of the process had never concerned me, only the finished product, so I really had no conceptual framework of what writing a play actually looked like. Suddenly, once I enrolled in that class, I became very aware of a natural talent I possessed for this specific kind of writing, for controlling the logic of human interactions in a very linear, organized and verbal way. I wasn’t great starting out, I wasn’t Albee or Stoppard, I’m still not, but I was marginally good, and I followed my interest from there.”
And of course, even Picasso had to pick up a paintbrush for the first time, so when did Mr. Rosenberg paint his first picture?
“The first piece I ever wrote was for that class. It was a scene…less than a page, and I think the prompt was “The King Died, the Queen Died of Grief.” Everyone else in the class wrote these serious short pieces about the death of some noble, regal patriarch, and I wrote about Elvis dying on the toilet. Of course nothing happened with it, because I mean, come on, it was the first thing I ever wrote! But everyone seemed to dig it at the time.”
Of course, all writers dream of the first piece taking off, taking them to the splendors of fame, yet that is rarely the case. So then what was his first piece of notable work?
“My first notable piece of work was a play I wrote at 16 years old called The Scotland Company, and to be perfectly frank, it was amazing. And I’m allowed to say that because I wrote it at 16 and it certainly was not amazing, but I worked very hard on it, and to this day, I’m still immensely proud. It was a farce set in Victorian England about the fictional pseudo-invention of the country of Scotland. Before that, during the first semester of sophomore year, I’d written a lot of short pieces for class and ten minute plays as assignments, but I had an idea for class and my teacher encouraged me to run with it and blow it up as big as it needed to be. Through a really lucky turn of circumstances, the Thunderbird Theatre Company in San Francisco selected it for a full production. I was treated so professionally, and really got lucky with an experience where the production took my vision seriously and realized it to the fullest extent possible at a point in my artistic development where I certainly did not deserve to be treated like anything close to a professional. It was on the closing night of The Scotland Company that I decided I want to be a professional playwright, and it has been my dream ever since.”
As a creator, we all have certain predilections for a piece of work we have created. What has been his favorite creation?
“The favorite thing I have written thus far is a play that I’m just finishing up now, entitled Brothers, which takes a look at the really disturbing origins and effects of college fraternity hazing, a subject of fascination I’ve held for a very long time. I’m interested in exploring dramatically both the questions raised by hazing on an individual level (how can you tell someone they can be your brother only if they let you hurt and abuse them?) as well as the immensely detailed world of frat life. From the start, writing Brothers has been a very personal formal exercise. With Muse of Fire, my previous play, I followed my natural inclinations and wrote a very structurally complicated play with a lot going on. Too much going on, to be honest. With Brothers, I wanted to push myself and see if I could go small. So that was my own personal challenge to myself, to test if I was capable of creating a very formally Realist drama…just two people, sitting in a room, talking, and seeing if I was able to make that as dramatically compelling as the larger devices I like to play with. I’m still very much in the process of writing and shaping Brothers, and plan on trying to put it up here in New York next fall.
In my opinion the Greek community, and by extension the country’s failure to address the very real problem of hazing effectively is a national disgrace. We excuse it because we have a very romantic popular notion of college, and so we write hazing off as just a harmless byproduct of youthful hedonism. Hedonism is ok in college, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it can’t continue to be used as an excuse for violence, for suicide, for torture and for murder. I’m proud of what I’ve written by myself in my room, but that’s the next challenge…being brave enough and strong enough to look unflinchingly into the abuses of one of the oldest and most powerful communities in The United States, a community I recognize I’m absolutely not a part of, and call them on their bullshit and take everything that’s going to get thrown at me because of it. Or who knows? Maybe this will be the first play that frat boys flock to in droves. Fingers crossed.”
And if I heard correctly, there were even talks of an Adam Sandler collaboration?
“I’ll be the first to admit it, I love Adam Sandler. I was raised in a house where Sandler worship was compulsory, and call me crazy, but I think he’s a really talented actor, and a very misunderstood one at that. When I was writing Muse of Fire, which centers on a Jewish comedian trapped in Auschwitz, among other things, I couldn’t help but picture Adam Sandler owning that role completely. And once it got a decent reception here in New York, I, perhaps naively, figured I finally had my big chance to try and hook him, even if nothing ever happened, because why the hell not? So I found his agent’s number after asking everyone all over town, and pitched the hell out of it over the phone. When they got back to me, they seemed like they seriously considered it, but ultimately they declined because he’s doing too many movies. But I’m not giving up, I’m still a Sandler fanatic, and if I ever meet him again, I’m totally going to assault him with my script.”
Well, with a potential celebrity collaboration, Mr. Rosenberg must be in a place where numerous accolades have been given to him.
“I’ve been very lucky to have received some recognition for my writing. I’ve been a finalist for a few national awards, and have been produced by some really remarkable theater companies and have written for some really exciting publications, but to be perfectly honest, I feel like my greatest achievements have always been finishing whatever I’m working on. The buzz doesn’t matter to me, though it’s certainly fun, because at the end of the day I’m only ever writing to please myself. It’s selfish, but I’m the only one that matters when I’m writing. If it doesn’t please me, it’s a waste of time…and it’s certainly happened before where I’ll have worked on something for a year, two years, and have had to throw it away because I just can’t stand it. So completing Muse of Fire was huge, completing Brothers is huge…I’m working on a new play after Brothers that feels really exciting to me, because I’m finally walking on the tightrope of doing something dangerous, something that’s really not allowed in theater for a lot of reasons I don’t want to go into…but it’s breaking with a lot of rules I’ve assumed were unbreakable, and kind of giving the finger to the idea that individuals can’t claim ownership over certain subjects because another group of people already “owns” them. It’s nowhere near done, but just mustering up the personal courage to attempt writing something that’s really breaking the rules on purpose…that’s the best feeling of achievement in the world.”
With so many fantastic things in his arsenal, it is hard to imagine wanting anything more, yet surely he has aspirations far beyond. Are they any further goals, aspirations?
“That’s a fascinating question, and one that doesn’t really allow me to not give a cocky answer…but I’ll take the bait. My future aspiration, my one singular goal, is to be a successful playwright for the stage. I have a lot of other things I’m working on right now, including an app designed to give students better access to Broadway shows and trying to do some more activism work, particularly in the respective areas of free speech and political justice in Israel. I’d also like to try and write some nonfiction stuff too, more scholastic articles and see if I can go anywhere in that world. I want to do everything in the world as long as I feel like I’m helping people and don’t have to show up to work at the same desk at the same time every morning. Getting fame and fortune out of my writing would be nice. Really nice actually. But to be honest, I only want to inspire people the way that my favorite playwrights inspired and left an impression on me. That’s what I want to do. That’s my definition of success.
As for what I hope to get out of my writing…that’s a more interesting question, and I think there’s a more complicated answer. Everyone has an expectation of me and of my writing and why I’m writing and so a lot of people are kind of…how to put it…babying me, if that makes sense. They tell me “Oh, you’ve already accomplished so much because you’re so young… and so they give me this weird praise, but it’s like…you haven’t seen the play or read it…you don’t know if you like it…stop assuming it’s good. I feel like I’m only a big deal because of my age, not because of what I’ve written. I feel far too squeaky clean.
I hope to get out of my writing a reputation of someone who’s known as dangerous. I want to be the person who people can rely on to tell the uncomfortable truth. I want to write things that alarm people with the truth you continue to choose to ignore, because recognizing it means implicating yourself….you know, things that disturb people from their apathy, rather than reinforcing what makes them comfortable. That next challenge, is to actually WRITE something that challenges people, not just be a personality, not have people think they know me because of what’s written about me, but have people think they know me because of what I’VE written…if I can do that, I’ll have satisfied the only person that matters when writing. I’ll have done something worthy because I’ll have done something real.”
Already, Mr. Rosenberg has proven himself a worthy candidate for success. There is not a doubt in my mind that Broadway will be greeting him soon enough with open arms. Congratulations and continue on your path to splendor.