JENNI GREENMILLER’s new play, “An Island,” is based on the true story of Arthur and Nan Kellam, who in 1949 purchased and moved to a 550-acre island off the coast of Maine.
Workshop reading of “An Island” Sunday February 3rd at 3:30PM
Hipbone Studios 1847 East Burnside Street
Nan and Arthur Kellam tested their marriage and their values by cutting their ties to a more conventional world. Nan, an economist and Arthur, an engineer rumored to have worked on the atomic bomb during WW II, chose to live a very rustic existence on Placentia Island for nearly 40 years, cut off from the world in which at one time, they had both thrived.
The Kellams wrote daily in journals, known collectively as The Big Book, from June 8, 1949 to August 8, 1975. Jenni will travel to Maine to continue her research and to visit Placentia Island which is now in trust with the Nature Conservancy. She will also visit the SW Harbor Main Public Library, which houses the Kellams’ journals. Jenni won a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant to conduct this extensive research and complete her play. This summer, she will hold a reading of the completed script as part of the Scriptorium Project at MilePost 5.
Jenni studied communications and theater at Portland State University, studying playwriting with Karin Magaldi. She is a graduate of the Portland Actors Conservatory and was a member of the Sowelu Theater acting ensemble where she participated as an actor in their new works project. Jenni has studied with the SITI Co. in Syracuse, NY, and with Burning Wheel / Siti Co. in Los Angeles, CA. She is a professional speaker and copywriter for non-profit organizations, crafting stories and advocating for the work these organizations do throughout our community. Jenni has acted on various stages throughout the greater Portland area, including; ART, Lakewood Theater Co., Curious Comedy, Lunacy Productions, Brainwaves, and Sowelu Theater Co.
Jenni likes all baked goods, pie especially, donuts and red wine. But really good red wine.
1. An Artist or Artists in My Field I Have a Giant Artist Crush On Is/are . . .
Charles Mee & Sarah Ruhl
2. A Work That Has Shaped My Artistic Voice Is . . .
I saw True Love by Charles Mee at the Zipper Theater in NYC—loved it. The next night I saw Strindberg’s, Dance of Death starring Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren and David Strathairn… I about peed my pants. And then sometime around that same time, or a year before or after, I saw Defunkt do Mee’s, The Investigation of the Murder in El Salvador, and I peed my pants again. (or before. I can’t remember)
Plus poetry and composition work.
3. When I’m Not Creating Art You Can Often Find Me . . .
At the Grocery Store.
4. Five Songs On My Writing/Painting/Creating Playlist Are . . .
I know I’m supposed to put something cultured and intellectually stimulating here but honestly I only listen to music when I’m stuck and can’t get my fingers to move across the keyboard anymore, so it probably doesn’t really matter what I listen, it’s really just about jumping up and down, breaking through the silence, finding another note… Oh alright… PINK…. or Bach’s Cello Suites
5. A Portland Artist/Creative/Arts Organization I’d Love To Work With Is . . .
All of them.
6. I Am Terrified Of . .
7. I Am Obsessed With . . .
Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
8. The Books Currently On My Nightstand is . .
The Lovers Discourse; Roland Barthes
Tender Buttons; Gertrude Stein
The Hobbit; J.R.R. Tolkein
The Peoples History of the United States; Howard Zinn (a bit dusty, but still)
The Poisonwood Bible; Barbara Kingslover
Stories 1,2,3, 4; Eugene Ionesco & Etienne Delessert
9. Three Adjectives That Describe This Work Are . . .
It’s still in process so it’s difficult to say.
10. In the Indie Art-House Biographical Film Of My Life, I Should Be Played By . . .
I don’t know. This one makes me chuckle. And then blush.
BEHIND THE SCENES
1) Tell us about your Fertile Ground Festival work.
In 1949, seeking isolation from the rest of the world, Arthur and Nan Kellam purchased a 550-acre island off the coast of Maine. Arthur was an engineer for Lockheed Martin where he was on the team that engineered the Atomic bomb. Nan Kellam was an economist. The Kellam’s lived on Placentia Island for nearly 40 years, essentially cut off from the rest of the world. They sought freedom from material things and from dependence on technology; independence from others and their expectations; a closer rapport with Nature; the development of self-reliance; and a better perspective on oneself, on marriage, and on the meaning of life. The play is a portrait of their lives, the mental and physical toll of such an unusual lifestyle, and yet a beautifully devoted and loving relationship that endured and prospered in isolation.
In this year’s Fertile Ground, we will be reading a rough draft, of the play.
2) How did this work come about? What inspired it?
In 2003 I came across an article written in the NY Times about Art & Nan Kellam and their life on the Island. I was fascinated with their love story so I ripped it out and tucked it away inside of some journal that ended up inside of my desk. Then last year I was just beginning a playwriting intensive when I found the article, tucked inside the journal inside of my desk and I decided it was time to write their story. A quarter of the way through the process of writing I became stuck and so I started doing some research on the Internet. It’s here where I found Peter Blanchard, executor of their estate, which consists of the preservation of their Island. I sent him an email inquiring about the Kellam’s, thinking he would never return the email, and within an hour he responded with his phone number, asking me to call. And so I did. We spoke for over an hour and he suggested I travel to SW Harbor Maine to visit the Kellam’s journals (volumes) that are housed in the public library. He said to give Candy Emblem the librarian a ring, tell her you know me. So I gave her a call and again, she and I spoke for over an hour. She talked about all the people in the community who would be willing to share their stories about the Kellam’s, and about the volumes of journals written by the couple. She said the same thing Robert said, “You really need to come.” And so, I wrote a RACC grant for research to complete the project. In late March or early April I will be traveling to SW Harbor and meeting with lots of people and traveling to, or rather lobster boating to the island, as well as popping a squat in the library for days to read about the Kellam’s life.
3) Talk about your creative process. (How do you work? When do you work? What gets you inspired?)
I like to work late at night or early in the morning. And I like coffee. People’s stories inspire but sometimes it can be a conversation overheard in a coffee shop or the way someone is walking down the street. I am fascinated with finding a way to play the notes between the lines, the musicality in the unspoken…without defining an actors choice.
I am excited about process. And this project specifically is designed to receive feedback throughout the process both with mini-readings throughout, as well as a final reading of the finished play (Sometime end of summer or early fall) as well as actor feedback throughout the rehearsal process.
Anyone can follow the process, especially when I travel to Maine, via this Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/AnIslandbyJenniGreenMiller?ref=hl
I’ll be updating with pictures and status updates and blog posts.