In 2006, Theatrical Outfit staged one of Atlanta's most impressive world premiere Southern plays of the decade, Keeping Watch by Thomas Ward. For Going with Jenny, opening Wed., Jan. 28, at Theatrical Outfit, the playwright shares writing duties with his wife, Sherry Jo. The play's a semi-autobiographical, he said/she said account of dating and marriage starring Mandy Schmeider and Travis Smith. Married for 11 years, the Wards currently teach at Baylor University in Texas and discuss the perils of writing about their relationship while still being in their relationship.
How did you meet?
Thomas: We met in college doing theater together. It's almost so romantic it makes me puke, but we played Tevye and Golda opposite each other in Fiddler on the Roof and started dating.
Sherry Jo: We had to fight not to have "Sunrise, Sunset" at our wedding.
Thomas, you were more experienced as a playwright before Going with Jenny. How did you decide to collaborate with Sherry Jo?
Thomas: Right when Keeping Watch opened, I guess I wanted to strike when the iron was hot. I told Tom Key (Theatrical Outfit's artistic director) I had a one-man play in my drawer, and I wanted his feedback on it, for his expertise in the one-man show form. He came back and said he wanted to produce it. After Sherry and I left Atlanta and went to Baylor, I talked to Tom, who said he was still interested but that it was too short for his 2008-2009 season. During that conversation, I said, "What if Sherry wrote Act Two?" Tom jumped at that, and I told Sherry. She was familiar with what I'd written, and I said, "Write a response to it."
Sherry Jo: It's been an interesting process because it felt like a commission for me. I felt close to the play because Thomas had always shown me his writing. Plus, it was about marriage and ex-girlfriends, so I was happy to get my two cents in and make him the punch line of some of the jokes.
Has casting been difficult? In the online video about the show, you talk about the difficulty of casting people to be your alter egos.
Thomas: When I started it, it was going to be a one-man show for myself, based partly on some stand-up comedy I was doing. I began it when I was 24, about five or six years ago. We joke in the clips that we're too old to play ourselves, but I do feel older and a little disconnected from the character. We did talk about playing ourselves in Going with Jenny, but logistics were the real problem. We realized it would be impossible to get away from what we're doing here at Baylor in time. Once we knew that, it really freed us as writers. We made the characters nameless and exaggerated them more, so we could take more liberties with them.
Why do you have those interview videos on Funny or Die?
Thomas: We did those both tongue-in-cheek. We're big fans of "The Office's" mockumentary format. I put them on Funny or Die because it's one of three places I watch viral videos. Thankfully we haven't gotten any "die" votes yet, but we have gotten three funny ones, and about 200 hits overall.
Sherry Jo: About 100 of those hits are probably us going back to watch them.
Has writing a play about yourselves and your marriage resulted in any tension or funny situations?
Sherry: While we were working on it, any time we'd get in an argument, or be about to get into one, we'd say, "Well, that's going into the play!"
Thomas: Or, one of us will do something and the other will say, "See that's why that's in the play!"
Sherry Jo: There's also an awareness of what's private is about to be very public. We're really very private people, and this play talks about some intimate things. Our moms are going to see this, and we talk about this in the play. We were wondering, do we really want to share this?