A Timeless Vision with Jacqueline Goldfinger

Most playwrights strive to write plays that speak to the present.

Jacqueline Goldfinger, however, goes several steps beyond. She writes plays that speak to the past, the present, and the future.

Jacqueline Goldfinger. Photo Courtesy of Artist.

She has earned countless awards for her bold theatrical vision, including the Yale Drama Series Prize and the Smith Prize for Political Theatre.

We sat down with Goldfinger to learn more about her work with FST’s Playwright Collective and her award-winning play Babel, a dystopian dark comedy about prospective parents who collide over what to do with the results of a genetic test that could determine their child’s possibilities in life before they are even born.

You’ve been involved with FST’s Playwright Collective since its inception in 2017, and your new play Babel was part of FST’s NNPN Women in Playwriting Festival. Tell us more about the play and your creative inspiration behind it.

I was inspired to write Babel after I got pregnant with my twins. During my pregnancy, I was so amazed by what doctors can now do, and know, about fetuses in utero that I wanted to write a play about it. I didn’t think the general public had any idea how far we have come, and are going, scientifically in terms of in utero medicine.

How has Babel progressed since FST audiences first experienced it through the Burdick Reading Series in 2018?

It was wonderful to hear it for the first time. It taught me a lot about what scientific information engaged the audience, and where the science was too dense and diminished the drama.

Right now, we have six productions of Babel lined-up at different theatres across the country beginning in April 2021. I’m just hoping that the theaters can re-open in time!

Playwright Jaqueline Goldfinger and actress Liz Power talk to the audience following a live workshop performance of Babel. Photo by Sarah Haley.

You’ve also recently written another play, commissioned by FST called People of the Light. Tell us more about it.

I was inspired to write People of the Light when I saw an exhibit about the Depression Era at the Museum of Florida History (in Tallahassee, where my parents live). Like many during the Depression, Floridians simultaneously experienced an economic downfall, an environmental disaster, and a spiritual crisis. The story of People of the Light is about one Florida family dealing with this triple catastrophe.

You are well-known for this kind of “Southern Gothic” play. How would you describe the Southern Gothic genre for someone who is unfamiliar with it? What draws you to this genre?

Jacqueline Goldfinger leads an FST playwrighting workshop. Photo by Sarah Haley.

The Southern Gothic genre is very popular in literature – think William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Zora Neale Hurston, or Kate Chopin. It’s characterized as a traditional story with elements of the macabre, the unexpected, and a clear moral lesson.

This genre is rarely translated to the stage, but I find that translation to be an exhilarating challenge. You don’t want the audience to become so overwhelmed by the bleakness of the world that they tune out. So I’ve found that it’s really important to find moments of humor, lightness, and grace to sprinkle throughout the play.

Where are you now with People of Light and what are the next steps for getting this play up on its feet?

I had a great online workshop with Jason Cannon (FST Associate Artist), Rachel Moulton (Development Associate and Associate Artist), and other members of the FST family. We’ve done as much development as we can do online, and now we are waiting until we can get together in person to do a final workshop.

We are also in the brainstorming stage of our next Playwright Collective project, and I cannot wait!

You’ve been an advocate for the development of new work for years. Why do you think it is important that theatres, like FST, invest in contemporary playwrights?

Art and society evolve hand in hand. They each inform the other. If art stops evolving, so does the society around it. Art is the vision, society is the execution, of culture and civilized life. They need each other to survive.

Jaqueline Goldfinger is a playwright and dramaturg. She grew up in the rural South and is primarily known for her work in the Southern Gothic genre. She has also written original plays across genres as well as adapted classic literature for the stage. She is an Affiliated Artist at New Georges and The Lark Playwright’s Center. She is a member of the writers’ labs at Azuka Theatre and The Barrow Group. She won the Yale Drama Prize, Smith Prize, Generations Award, Brown Martin Award, Barrymore Award, and Philadelphia Critics Award. She’s been nominated for the Weissberger Award, Blackburn Prize, and Foote Prize.