A Conversation with Playwright Jena McLean

Playwright Jena McLean returns to the NotaBle stage this year with her latest script, A Canyon Contained. Jena was first involved with our festival in 2014 when she won the High School Playwriting Competition that year. Since then, she has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Drama studies from Mount Allison University and recently graduated from the National Theatre School of Canada’s playwriting program. 

This is the second time A Canyon Contained has been included as part of our festival. Sharisse LeBrun directed a reading of the play as part of our 2019 festival. Three years on, we are incredibly excited to continue this play’s journey as it arrives on our mainstage.

“It’s surreal in a way. I haven’t fully processed yet, in addition to being a total honour,” said McLean, commenting on her first mainstage production. “I can chart a direct path from winning that NB Acts competition in 2014 to being a professional playwright today. I believed in my work because other people believed in my work. 

“Additionally, this play marks a turning point in my life. The process of writing A Canyon Contained helped me understand my own strengths as a writer and taught me to not only embrace nuance but to privilege it. Always. I keep learning about myself and this play every time I engage with it, and now I have the luxury of other artists (and audiences) being a part of that.”

Our mainstage production of A Canyon Contained will be directed by Theatre New Brunswick’s Artistic Director Natasha MacLellan, who has a long an impressive track record bringing new scripts to the stage.

“In my chats with Natasha and my visit to rehearsal, I’ve discovered so much about this play from the fabulous artists who are bringing it to life,” said McLean. “To me, a script is never done, so I can’t wait to take these new findings and see how they fit into a new draft after the production.”

McLean describes her play asa story about two distant sisters suffering through the world’s most chaotic car ride together. 

“Come for the snark, sex chats and secrets,” she said. “Stay for the New Brunswick references and discussions around consent, political engagement, and care.”

While that description may appear to land somewhere between a coming of age story and a bingeworthy podcast series, McLean admits to steering clear of any on the nose messaging with her work. 

“I kind of feel like it’s my job as the writer to set the table of the play before my collaborators and I fill the buffet with a bunch of options. Then it’s up to the audience to decide what they’re craving and what they want to pack in a to-go box with them. With that said though, to me, A Canyon Contained is a story about how complex the notion of care is. It’s a play about how hard it can be to care for others and feel cared for in return.”

A Canyon Contained runs July 20-23 at TNB’s Open Space Theatre with performances nightly at 7:30 p.m. Tickets available at the door.

Learn more about A Canyon Contained and other plays in this year’s festival.

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