Spotlight Series: Meet Jennifer Chang, a Director, Actor and Educator Who Helped Found Chalk Repertory Theatre


This Spotlight focuses on Jennifer Chang, a director, actor and educator who helped found Chalk Repertory Theatre, a production company which matches plays to site-specific locations around Los Angeles. I first worked with Jennifer on Chalk Rep’s production of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan which featured a multicultural cast, performed outdoors throughout the lawns and courtyards at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles where the pre-eminent collection of Oscar Wilde materials in the world is housed.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Jennifer Chang (Jennifer): I am a director, actor and educator.  I helped found Chalk Repertory Theatre and am currently a Visiting Professor at Pomona College and will return to UCSD this fall and continue my role as Head of Undergraduate Acting. I staged Chalk Rep’s immersive productions at site-specific locations around Los Angeles because I believe architecture affects human psyche, and I’m curious as to how unconventional spaces can illuminate and unpack story, especially since storytelling provides opportunities for communion and conversation for promoting empathy in order to inspire action and change.

The cast of Chalk Rep's production of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" directed by Jennifer Chang included (from left): Feodor Chin, Scott Keiji Takeda, Allie Jennings, Teri Reeves, Owiso Odera, Amielynn Abellera, Brian Staten, Tess Lina, Peter Wylie, and George Wyhinny
Photo credit: Shari Barrett.

I also believe it is vital to tell stories that challenge mainstream ideas, hold the door to opportunity open to diverse groups of artists, and I hope to dismantle notions of elitism in theater while pursuing rigor and excellence through fun and artful theatricality. I love language – its syncopation, musicality and power. And as a child of immigrants, I am interested in investigating what it means to be an American.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(Jennifer): We (the theatre company and I) were in the midst of casting The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan at Antaeus Theatre Company when the shelter-in-place orders and subsequent shutdowns were implemented.  While we held out hoping that we might be able to continue or postpone, since rehearsal was scheduled to begin at the end of April, it became evident that the show was not going to be able to proceed as planned and the cast and production team were informed via Zoom, phone calls and emails.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

Jennifer Chang in "director mode"

(Jennifer): Its future is currently under discussion by the artistic leadership at Antaeus. The artistic directors and executive director have been absolutely supportive of the show and the vision and want to make sure they are responding to the science and information our state and city leaders are providing and with the longevity of the theatre company in mind. In general, I think only the institutions can really respond to this question, not the individual artists, but even then, it's difficult to predict what will or won't be happening in the next year or so.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Jennifer): I was in early talks for various projects but I have not had follow-up discussions as would be the norm. All institutions seem to be in a wait-and-see stage.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Jennifer): I'm still teaching my classes via Zoom and the on-line academic portal Sakai. Zoom has been the tool used for play readings that I've been and will be a part of in the future. Personally, I've been using this time to do many domestic projects that I enjoy that my schedule usually doesn't allow for, including baking, knitting, crafting, and doing my part to help make masks as I think my current state of watchfulness is best soothed by doing with my hands rather than the usual art-making. I've been asked to be a part of others' projects that utilize smart phones but have not initiated projects myself. I think I'm in a grieving period right now and am taking a break from my own personal theatre projects. I'm happy to be contributing to others' work.

Vietnamese refugees hit the road to see America in "Vietgone", directed by Jennifer Chang for East/West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Jennifer): We will need to be patient and resilient, and whatever one needs to do to survive the wait is important and good. You can make art or not make anything and that is absolutely alright. If you feel like doing and making something that's awesome, and if you don't feel like doing anything at all, that's awesome too! Theatre has survived multiple pandemics so it will be back as soon as we are able, but the road back will require patience and adaptation and we are all coping in different ways and on different timelines. I think practicing patience for each other will be vital.

We are incredibly lucky to live in an age where content can reach us in our homes, and food and other necessities can be delivered to our doors. My family and I are incredibly privileged to be able to partake in these modern luxuries and to be citizens in a wonderful state and city where science and data are appreciated and heeded. While it is a real challenge to be separated from the various communities we are accustomed to being a part of, I am so very thankful that my family is safe and well and that our quarantine can help our larger community.

Being a theatre practitioner is an incredible training ground for understanding collaboration, care and empathy for others. While our theatre brethren are hard hit in the repercussions of separation and shutdown, we are also uniquely able to understand how our contributions fit in communion with others. A big thank you and virtual hug to everyone!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Lights Change: A Conversation with Writer Jacqueline Wright

About 10 years ago when I was an intern-turned-associate literary manager at Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles, I encountered the brilliant dramaturgical mind of Jacqueline Wright. What excites me about her work is that she is a writer and performer who constantly expands our minds as witnesses of the art-making experience. For her, like me, audiences are not just passive consumers of creative work - they are collaborators and, as collaborators, we writers make them work: we don't always tell stories that are linear, cause and effect, character psychology driven, - you name the normative convention often on view in the mainstream. Jacqueline's background in experimentalism makes her a nimble dramatist who weaves into and out of narrative structures, point of views, modalities of storytelling, and genres.

This is no exception in her provocative work Driving Wilde, currently playing at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood. I caught the piece and engaged in a hearty conversation with Jacqueline afterwards amongst the seats which were just filled with enthusiastic patrons of the show. If you listen closely, you'll hear and feel the verve of the audience that exited the theatre a few moments prior, indubitably changed, challenged, and expanded by the experience they just received during Driving Wilde.

I would be remiss not to give you the tools to see this show yourself, for it is a must see. More information is available at TheatreOfNote.com

And now, Lights Change with my buddy Jacqueline and me:


An acclaimed playwright creates a script about – of all things – an acclaimed playwright.

Oscar Wilde, was an Irishman of uncommon wit, reached the pinnacle of his career with the opening in London of his highly acclaimed farce, The Importance of Being Ernest, in February of 1895. Within four months, Wilde began serving a sentence of two years at hard labor in England's Redding Gaol that would ruin his health and bring about his early miserable demise.

A hundred years later, David Hare (another greatly admired British playwright) wrote a play about the troubled end of Oscar Wilde's life. Hare titled his play The Judas Kiss.

The Theater at Boston Court in Pasadena presented the play in an intimate setting that allowed Los Angeles to see the play with great attention to the writing.

Hare's award-winning work in film and television as well as stage should have been sufficient enough to draw local audiences to the production. Also, while the script's first presentation in London wasn't the success everyone expected, it involved an above-the-title name from many a Hollywood film. Indeed, most people put the play's initial failure down to the casting of movie hunk, Liam Neesom as the aging Oscar Wilde. Commercial, yes – appropriate, not really. He'd just been playing title roles on screen in films like Schindler's List and Rob Roy, as well as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (non-musical). A star, yes – but as a disgraced homosexual?

In 2012, Rupert Everrett revived the play in London and took it to New York two years later. A more sympathetic casting to be sure, and one that garnered better reviews (and spurred Everrett to write, direct, and play Wilde last year in his own end-of-Oscar's-life film The Happy Prince).

The script began on the fateful day Oscar Wilde allowed himself to be goaded into
facing prosecution for “gross indecency” rather than taking the opportunity provided by the courts to go abroad and avoid trouble. It ended with Wilde's self-imposed exile in Italy when the cause of the accusation walked out on him. Wilde had been involved with a number of men in London, most particularly flaunting a love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas -  the selfish, troubled, son of the Marquis of Queensbury [he of the gentlemanly code of boxing rules]. Wilde's aesthetic love for Douglas (no less than his physical passion for the young man) required of Wilde that he stand on principle: the love of beauty demands it be admitted. And so he did, and so he was convicted and imprisoned, and died alone far from the island of his success..

Reportedly, David Hare has said he was trying to use “the Wide-Douglas-relationship as a prism through which to examine the phenomenon of sacrificial love.” Sacrificial to English hypocrisy and xenophobia. To honor and to love – Wilde would say. And as one would expect, Hare does it with wit – Oscar's and his own. As for the details of the plot? You should have seen it at the Theater at Boston Court.