Jim and Jane Jeffries acknowledge they don’t possess an extensive knowledge of geocaching. But when it comes to playwriting, they clearly know what they’re looking for.
The Eau Claire couple, who have written 50 plays together, are premiering the two-act comedy “Treasure Hunt.” The production uses the recreational adventure pastime as a thread connecting the production’s 10 scenes.
“(W)e didn’t know anything about geocaching until some friends of ours invited us to do it,” Jim said.
Jane added: “We actually haven’t been able to do it, but we understand how it works so we were able to write it from that.”
The couple spoke about the play, their theatrical experience and their co-writing process recently during a conversation at a downtown Eau Claire coffee shop.
For the uninitiated, the pursuit is described on geocaching.com as a “real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices.” As the site goes on to explain, participants navigate to a set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find a container called a geocache hidden at that location.
Apparently, millions of the containers are hidden around the world, and Jim noted that there are 100 geocaches within a five-mile radius of Eau Claire.
The playwrights use the containers to advance the story, which comprises a series of approximately 10-minute plays.
“And so the geocache is what connects it,” Jane said.
Weaving together scenes that may not have originally been intended to stand together has required creative revising, but it sometimes has worked to their advantage, Jim said. Further alterations have been based on suggestions from the actors.
“(S)ometimes the actors say, ‘You know, it feels more natural for me to say this,’” Jim said. “I say, ‘You know, you’re right.’”
Jane, who also is acting in this production, mentioned other examples of collaboration.
“We’ve workshopped some things,” she said. “And sometimes they’re goofing off and they throw in things, and we’re like, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
That input, they said, is one of the reasons “Treasure Hunt” may appeal to actors. Another is that the roles are substantial.
“I’ve been in plays where I’ve had a minor role but I’ve had to be onstage for 90 minutes,” Jim said. “I’m all for minor roles; I think they’re great. But in this one, if you’re onstage you’ve got a major amount of lines for that scene.”
They praised the talents of their cast, some of whom they’ve worked with before while others are new to one of their productions.
While “Treasure Hunt” scenes are varied, they have some common themes.
“I think one of them is reconciliation,” Jim said.
“That connects quit a few of them,” Jane added. “And relationships.”
One scene, she explained, is about two generations attending the women’s march. What’s found in the geocache is a campaign button for 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
“But no one knows who Geraldine Ferraro is,” Jane said, referring to the running mate of U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
As the scene unfolds, one woman finds out her friend voted for President Ronald Reagan, and that prompts a serious discussion.
Of Jim and Jane’s 50 plays, some are comedies and others more serious. They include one-acts as well as full-length productions, and they also have numerous scripts for madrigal dinners. All the productions are available on their website, Jest Scripts (madrigaldinners.com.)
Jim and Jane’s dramatic experience includes performing at the Wisconsin Renaissance Faire, which they said provided the most valuable critiques of their work.
“Because if they don’t like your play, they leave,” Jim said. Added Jane: “They get up and walk away. That taught us a whole lot.”
Jim and Jane’s website includes a humorous description of their writing process: “Jim has the most important job of carefully crafting each pun, joke, and slapstick humor. Jane takes care of such minor details as plot, character development, story-line, setting, and making sure that the plays ‘make sense.’”
In the case of the “Treasure Hunt,” Jim took the lead on more scenes than Jane did, but their process always involves collaboration.
Typically, they said, they’re each working on one script, and they’ll write a few pages of their respective draft, then trade them, read what the other has created and advance the story by a few pages.
“We can never remember who wrote which line,” Jim said with a smile.
The process seems like a smooth-running operation, and they agreed that it is — for the most part.
In fact, their explanation could read like a stage comedy:
Jane: “Almost always.”
Jim: “Except when she eliminates your favorite jokes, or eliminates your favorite character. ‘Got to get the pace up …’”
Jane: “Sometimes we have to talk it out. ‘Where did that go?’ ‘I saved a copy. Hang on. Hear me out.’”
Jim: “Usually after a while I realize she was right.” (She smiles.)
In other words, reconciliation is more than a good theme for a script.
“Works in a marriage too,” Jim said.
“Yes it does,” Jane added.
But then Jim again enacts a conversation they might have about some hypothetical revision, taking his and Jane’s lines:
“That was a great joke!”
“Didn’t go with the play.”
“I don’t care.”
Then Jane adds a line for herself in that invented conversation:
“‘You set that whole thing up just to get to that joke, didn’t you?’”
The real-life scene ends with both laughing.