Schenkar, Joan 1950-

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Schenkar, Joan 1950-


Born August 15, 1950, in Seattle, WA; daughter of Maurice and Marlene Schenkar. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Bennington College, B.A. 1968; graduate study at University of California at Berkeley; State University of New York at Stony Brook, M.A and doctoral study.


Office—New York, NY; Paris, France. E-mail—[email protected].


School for the Visual Arts, New York, NY, creative writing teacher, 1978—. Playwright in residence at Polish Laboratory Theater, 1977, Joseph Chaikin's Winter Project, 1977 and 1978, Florida Studio Theater, 1980, Changing Scene Theater (Denver), 1982, Centre d'essai des auteurs dramatiques, 1985, Opera America's Composer-Librettist Workshop, 1985, and Minnesota Opera New Music Theater Ensemble, 1986; visiting fellowships at Cummington Community for the Arts, 1978, Ragdale Foundation, 1979, and MacDowell Colony, 1980; Kentucky Foundation for Women, artist in residence, 1988; visiting playwright, Theater am Halleshen Ufer, Berlin, 1995, and Perishable Theatre, Rhode Island, 1995. Former member of the New Dramatists, beginning 1980; Theater for the New City, cochair of the Women Playwrights' Unit; Force Majeure Productions, artistic director; also professional musician. Guest speaker or panelist at various colleges, festivals, and theatre conferences throughout North America.


International PEN, Dramatists Guild, League of Professional Theatre Women, Brontë Society, Societe des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques.


Grants from Arthur Foundation, 1983, 1984, 1989, Joe and Emily Lowe Foundation, 1983, New York State Council on the Arts, 1986, 1989, 1992, and Ludwig Volgelstein Foundation, 1994; fellow of National Endowment for the Arts, 1981-82, and multiple grant recipient; Obie Award nomination, Village Voice, 1983, for Cabin Fever; winner of Playwright's Forum Competition, 1984; Schubert travel grant for Europe, 1988.



(And director) Cabin Fever (produced in Los Angeles, CA, at La Mama Hollywood, 1976, in New York, NY, at St. Clements Theater, 1977, and in London, England, at Gate Theatre, 1986), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1981.

The Next Thing, produced in Los Angeles, CA, at La Mama Hollywood, 1976.

Last Words, produced in New York, NY, at Studio Seventeen, 1977.

The Lodger, produced in New York, NY, at Theater of the Open Eye, 1978.

Signs of Life (produced in New York, NY, at American Place Theater, 1979, produced in London, England, at King's Head Theatre, 1983), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1983, published with other works as Signs of Life: Six Comedies of Menace, edited and with an introduction by Vivian Patraka, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1998.

Mr. Monster, produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists, 1980.

(And director) The Last of Hitler, produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists, 1981.

Between the Acts, produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists, 1984.

(And director) Fulfilling Koch's Postulate, produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists, 1985, produced in London, England, at Gate Theatre, 1986.

Family Pride in the 50s, produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists, 1986.

Joan of Arc, produced in Minneapolis, MN, by New Music Theater Ensemble, Minnesota Opera, 1986.

Fire in the Future, produced in Minneapolis, MN, by New Music Theater Ensemble, Minnesota Opera, 1987, produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists, 1988.

Bucks and Does, produced in New Jersey at Williams Art Center, 1987.

Hunting Down the Sexes, produced in New York, NY, at Home Theater, 1987.

The Universal Wolf, produced in New York, NY, at UBU Republic Theater, 1990.

Murder in the Kitchen, produced in New York, NY, at Cornelia St. Caf-Theater, 1993.

Burning Desires, produced in Los Angeles, CA, at Hudson Theater, 1998.

Schenkar's plays have also been widely broadcast on radio and released as videotapes.


Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece, Little Brown (London, England), 1999, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), in press.

Short stories represented in anthologies, including Once upon a Time: Erotic Fairy Tales for Women, edited by Michael Ford, Richard Kasek, 1996; and The New F. U., edited by Eileen Myles, Semiotexte, 1995. Contributor of articles to periodicals.


Playwright and director Joan Schenkar brings a diverse background to her work. A musician who plays eight instruments, she abandoned her college education in the midst of her doctoral study to begin composing plays. Her approach to such writing is also unique. Firmly opposed to word processors at the time of this writing, Schenkar writes out her plays by hand and types only the final version. She jots down her thoughts upon wakening.

The majority of Schenkar's plays have enjoyed off-Broadway runs. Her first published play, Signs of Life, offers a surrealistic view of Victorian society in which the male characters alternate between cruelly repressing the women and then marveling at the same females' strange behavior. This play, produced throughout North America and England, employs numerous settings, such as a mental institution and the museum of circus showman P.T. Barnum. These locales provide the backdrop for the diverse cast of characters, which includes an invalid, a maniacal doctor, and famous American author Henry James.

Common elements of Schenkar's plays include outlandish sets, unusual pairings of characters and location, and abundant symbolism. The resultant product is often difficult to describe. Indeed, synopses of her plays often involve descriptions of sets or characters. Between the Acts takes place in a garden and uses the weather and flowers as characters. Using a 1940s radio for a stage, The Last of Hitler presumes that German dictator Adolf Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun are still alive and hiding in a Jewish retirement community in Florida where they star in a radio show. "It's a play about obsessions," Schenkar once told CA. The set for Fulfilling Koch's Postulate is a giant mouth, and the plot involves typhoid fever, a potentially fatal infection easily spread by food handlers. The main characters include "Typhoid Mary," the infamous cook who spread the disease among New York's citizens, and Robert Koch, the German medical scientist whose postulates helped other researchers discover the source of the ailment.

Schenkar's script for The Lodger offers a change from her common mixture of calamitous events and comedy. Set in the distant future, a time during which there is a literal battle of the sexes, the play consists of the dialogue between two female warriors who are holding an unseen male captive. As the story progresses, the women begin to question the importance of victory in this type of war.



New York Times, February 12, 1986; May 22, 1988.

Washington Post, October 24, 1984; October 25, 1984.

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Schenkar, Joan 1950-

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