Asheville playwright Jamie Knox has collaborators, some of whom speak from within
A lot of artists will tell you an inner voice propels them to create. The Asheville playwright Jamie Knox says, for her, it’s often a voice that isn’t her own.
“I connect on a different level to people that have come before, stories that never got to be told,” she said. “I’ll have something come and sit on my shoulder and kinda tap at me and it’s like write this play, it’s called this, and I’m like, ‘I’m not qualified to write that play. I don’t know the experience of Armenian men,’ or whatever it is. But spiritually and creatively, the practical Jamie Knox shuts down and something else takes over.”
Other than the Magnetic Theatre, companies in this region rarely offer up slots for new work by local playwrights. But Knox is a busy playwright by any metric. Over the past three years, she’s had productions, commissions or staged readings of seven works on varied stages.
“The Shorthand Job” is Knox’s first comedy, co-written by and co-starring Knox and George Awad of Asheville. The Magnetic is premiering another Knox play, “Beautiful Cages,” in September.
"My dramatic work always has comedy in it. Comedy naturally flows in the dialog, but not setup, insert-joke-here like we’re writing now,” Knox said.
Knox doesn’t recall a very humored upbringing. She grew up in Beaumont, Tex., feeling like an outsider and dreaming of movie stardom. She was 11 when her mother died of cancer, and as she dealt with fertility issues early in her marriage, she said she was aware of being both motherless and childless.
“I grew up very unmothered. Even if someone doesn’t walk away, there’s still abandonment,” Knox said. “I definitely married a man that’s very mothering, and decided I was going to make it or do something impressive so that I could feel good and have all the love I was missing.”
She had early success in professional theater, left college after two years and moved to Los Angeles. But she retreated from the competition and the sense she didn’t bring anything special as an actress.
"Then I started doing a lot of yoga and my desires changed and I realized being a movie star wasn’t going to bring my mom back,” she said.
Knox turned down an offer from a Shakespearian company in the UK and returned to Texas to attend two schools, one that would lead to teaching theater, the other to teaching yoga. After she and her husband moved to Asheville, in 2016, Knox opened a yoga studio and found roles with several theater companies.
"I was also infertile and going through fertility things, so spiritually, it was a really creative time for me because my body wasn’t able to create,” she said.“I used that energy in a different way.”
Her entry into playwriting began with a voice giving her a single word: Faster. In 2019, the Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective premiered the play that mushroomed from that, titled “The Education of Ted Harris,” which explores issues around intimacy and consent.
“As a writer, you’re supposed to have a beginning, middle and end all planned out. You do this outline, this storyboard, and that’s absolutely not what happened with ‘Ted Harris,’” she said. “It was just inside me, needing to come out.”
Knox said the allure and effects of secrets thread much of playwriting. “The Shorthand Job” is the first play she’s both written and starring in.
“My character has been abandoned in her early life and she struggles with infertility and she struggles with being heard,” she said.“Those three things are at the core of who I am.”
As with her first play, Knox can point to specific yet mysterious images or phrases that compelled her to write other plays. One such calling led her to write a country music play she said will feature local musicians. After the birth of her daughter, Knox said a recurring vision of a woman in a flowing dress led her to write that woman’s story into a play, putting an end to Knox’s postpartum depression. She said lately, other voices are telling her to write the story of two gay Black men.
"I don’t know what to do with it,” she said.“I don’t want to be just another white person writing about a person of color’s experience. It may just be that it becomes a play about something else entirely.”