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Atlanta playwright Shaffer comes to Seattle for Brownie Points

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Janece Shaffer is delighted to fly from Georgia to Washington to attend the opening of Brownie Points tonight (May 20) at Taproot Theatre.

“I’ve wanted to come to Seattle for twenty years,” said the Atlanta playwright during a phone call last week, “and it is the place that has always eluded me.”

Shaffer called all of her interactions with the Taproot staff “a refreshing, exciting, experience.”

It began when Shaffer submitted one of her plays to director Karen Lund for consideration. “Karen sent me back this email that she loved the play but it wasn’t right for the theater. So I sent her Brownie Points and then she came to the premiere of the show in 2010. She saw it three times over the course two days!”

In her article on Taproot’s website, Lund recalled “Watching the sold-out houses laughing with delight as the characters challenged each other with questions about race, religion and parenting made me know I was in the midst of something special.”

For a group of mothers trapped at their daughters’ campout, the close quarters causes them to tell each other stories that might be avoided in more conventional settings.

“There have been instances throughout my life where race has become a stumbling block and you don’t know what to say,” said Shaffer. “I wanted to create a world where these conversations have to happen.”

The play, for Shaffer, was a place to pose the questions where, she admits, “I clearly don’t have the answers.”

“Every time we do this, the women around the table would be so smart, so honest, the material just became better,” Shaffer said.

Brownie Points also made her face a few of her writing fears. “I was devastated by the idea of putting words into the mouths of African-American women,” she said. Workshopping the play at Atlanta’s Horizon to predominantly white audiences and True Colors to predominantly African-American audiences, and at Theatre J in Washington, D.C. to predominantly Jewish audiences, helped her hone the comedy and bring a myriad of insights to the stories that the characters tell each other.

Having African-American actor/director Jasmine Guy direct the world premiere in Atlanta also sharpened the play, she said. Guy often pushed the actors in ways that Shaffer felt would have been uncomfortable for her to do.

“During the development of the play, I felt I was coming to the rehearsal hall with my hat in my hand,” she recalled.

This current staging at Taproot Theatre will be the West Coast premiere. “How dressy do you get in Seattle?” Shaffer worried at the end of the phone call. When assured that Seattle style is fairly relaxed, even on an opening night, she sounded pleased, “Oh, good, I don’t have figure out how to stuff another outfit into my suitcase.”

Brownie Points continues through June 18 at Taproot Theatre. For ticket information, see their website.

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