Q&A: Jen Childs on I Will Not Go Gently

The cofounder of the all-comedy theater company 1812 Productions talks about women in theater, favorite Prince songs, and a not-too-distant resemblance to her current role.

Jen Childs starring in "I Will Not Go Gently."

Jen Childs starring in “I Will Not Go Gently.”

1812 Production’s newest production, I Will Not Go Gently, features Jen Childs as a washed-up British rock star, Sierra Mist, seeking a return to stardom. Between settling in the ’burbs, adjusting to the iTunes age, and captivating the awe of her teenaged daughter, it’s a long road back to the top of the charts for a faded ’80s icon.

The show runs through May 15th at Plays and Players, 1714 Delancey Street. We talked with Childs at 1812’s production offices in South Philly.

How are you similar to Sierra Mist?
Sierra is my inner diva. She is the way that I wish I could behave sometimes. She orders people around, and I do not — at least not in the ballsy way that she does. I always said I was not going to be one of those moms who said, “Well, back in my day …” But I feel like so much has changed since when I was my daughter’s age. Sierra is one of those people who just don’t get it and just don’t understand why the world doesn’t work the way she would like it to work … and, secretly, that’s how I feel.

You and Sierra are both mothers to young girls. Is there any mirroring between your relationship with your daughter and Sierra’s with hers?
Sierra Mist definitely wants her daughter to think that she’s cool, and Sierra has this sort of rivalry with this young singer — who is her daughter’s favorite. So, I think it’s that pull that we all understand as parents — of wanting our kids to think that what we do is awesome.

Who are some icons that fostered the creation of Sierra Mist?
Her personality is little bit of Madonna-pretentiousness with the occasional comedic Courtney Love temper tantrum. But, musically, I was really inspired by Joan Jet, Liz Fair, the Ramones – those ’80s rocker girls. Their energies were really important to me.

I Will Not Go Gently is one of many original productions you have written. What was the most challenging production you’ve done here at 1812?
The Women and Comedy Project that I did was really challenging. I was collecting tons of information, and I was trying to have a place where it all fit together. I was feeling a great deal of responsibility toward all of the women I worked with. More than 100 women were a part of that process, and I was feeling this great responsibility to each of them — to make sure they were represented in some way. It was a joyous challenge, but it was a challenge.

Speaking of The Women and Comedy Project, what do you think about the claim “women can’t be funny”?
It’s simple bullshit.

According to the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival, 20 percent of plays were written by women and only 10 percent were directed by women over the last five years at the highest-grossing theaters in Philadelphia. What do you think about women’s role in theater — not just in Philly, but in general?
I think we still have a long way to go. It’s constantly a topic of conversation. And the truth of the matter is, is just – there’s more roles out there for men. There just are. We’re seeing a real surge of female playwrights, which is exciting, and a real surge of female directors. There’s some really, really, really hot female directors, but … I feel like it’s something to constantly keep our eye on. And until we can stop talking about it, until it becomes not a thing that we have to measure, I don’t think we fully made it there.

Another notable 1812 production was your one-woman show Why I’m Scared to Dance. Without putting on the whole show right now, how would you answer that question simply?
Dance, for me, is a metaphor about fear in general, because when you dance, it’s impossible to be dishonest. You have to be very, very honest and open and vulnerable. It’s less about being afraid of dancing and more about being afraid of failure.

With the success of Hamilton, Lin-Maunel Miranda is redefining biographical depictions. If you could perform one person, whether on screen or stage, who would it be?
That’s really hard. I would play Madeline Kahn or Eleanor Roosevelt — like a funny, wise-cracking Eleanor Roosevelt. Maybe that’ll be my Hamilton.

What is one role already written that you just have to play in this lifetime?
I used to have this laundry list of “Oh, I have to play Nora in A Doll’s House” or “Oh, I have to do Queen Margaret in Henry IV, Part 3.” I don’t feel that way anymore. I want to do whatever is not written yet. My life has taken a different direction — with the more work that I create, that excites me so much more.

Do you have a favorite Prince song?
Oh, gosh. That was such a heartbreaker. I’m still not really over it. The first song I ever slow-danced to was “Do Me Baby” in a basement under a blue light. I saw his Lovesexy concert in the late ’80s when it was here. And it was just the best concert I’ve ever seen.