We’ve all enjoyed people watching at some point. And there is perhaps no more interesting or more diverse place to do so than in an airport.
Local couple and playwrights Jim and Jane Jeffries were so intrigued by the various things that could happen in an airport that they decided to create a whole play about it.
“All these scenarios started building up in our heads and we decided to write 12 different journeys that are happening at an airport,” Jim Jeffries said. “Some of them are pure comedy and slapstick, and some of them are more serious about life-changing decisions.”
The Jeffries will premiere their original play “Arrivals & Departures” at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday on the Hollywood Stage in Valleybrook Church, 412 S. Barstow St. Admission to the show is a suggested $10 donation that will go toward the Eau Claire-based nonprofit Fierce Freedom and improvements for the Hollywood Stage.
Jim Jeffries said some of the scenes include complaints and mocking of common airport gripes such as being charged for extra baggage weight, the various boarding zones that load before the average passenger gets to and one about baggage handlers.
“They are mostly unseen and usually unappreciated,” he said. “There are a lot of jokes about baggage handlers, but it seems like a tough job.”
The two have been writing plays together since 1995 and have made a business out of writing comedies. This show, however, breaks away from the typical, light-hearted humor at the heart of the majority of their work.
While several of the scenes are light and humorous, others tackle more serious subjects. “Forsaking All Others” is about a woman who is contemplating becoming a nun while “Scanners” takes a look into the personal life of an airport security guard.
Jim and Jane Jeffries both enjoy making people laugh, but Jim Jeffries said they really wanted this show to move beyond that.
“Spoofy is always fun, but if you think of the comedies you really like there’s usually big, serious parts to it,” he said. “I really love ‘The Incredibles,’ but there are some very serious themes in there.”
That was a change for actress Sekaida Rogers, who has worked with the Jeffries on several different shows. She appreciates their humor, but was surprised to see the depth to which some of these scenes go.
“It offers a very interesting balance (of serious and funny) you don’t get with a lot of performances, and they do a good job of approaching these subjects in a nonbiased way,” Rogers said. “It approaches a lot of ideas that I haven’t seen done by theaters in the area before.”
The actors are also challenged by the roles they play.
Actor Mike Thieste, who has worked with the Jeffries on many shows, said each person plays three or four different characters in the show. Thieste’s roles include Chase, Traveler 1, CEO and a speechless guard.
“I like that variety — You get to play act so many different characters and it kind of tests your abilities,” Thieste said. “Actually, Jim and Jane like to test our abilities. They’re very good at what they do.”
Perhaps it is because they have been doing it for so long. Jim Jeffries said he and his wife began writing plays together when she worked in a middle school’s drama department hat had no budget. To free up some funds, they wrote their own plays.
Now, the duo perform shows in the area and at Renaissance fairs, which Jim Jeffries said are his favorite place to perform because the audiences are so honest.
“With live theater we had the huge advantage that we knew what was and what wasn’t working, and Renaissance fairs are probably the best experience for that,” he said. “They’re very harsh, and I like harsh audiences. If they don’t like your show, they will leave.”
Writing together has both “challenged and strengthened” their marriage, Jeffries said. Whereas, for most, writing is a solitary act, that is not the case for them.
Typically, he said, they work on two plays at one time and they’ve developed a fairly good system. Still, it doesn’t always go smoothly.
“We’ll each work usually about the first five pages, then switch plays and go through what the other person wrote, write five pages more and then switch back,” he said.”There have been some pretty serious arguments about it.”
The Jeffries have sent scenes from “Arrivals and Departures” out to competitions and production companies around the country. So far, Onion Man Productions in Chamblee, Ga., St. Paul’s Art Council in New Albany, Ind., and the South Walton Short Play Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., have all selected one.
Jim Jeffries said he is honored and excited to see their work get recognition on a large scale.
But what he really appreciates is the actors in the area such as Rogers and Thieste who have been working with them for so long.
They are not only talented, he said, but also dedicated to their work.
He doesn’t consider them a “family,” but said they are more of a team.
“When you think of family, you think focused on each other, but when you’re a team you’re focused toward a goal,” Jeffries said. “If you’re having a good time, that’s nice, but, really, it’s directed toward the audience. Our actors are really good at focusing on the audience and making sure they are part of the experience.”
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