My Career Choice: Jennifer Joy Pawlitschek – The Chaos Theory of Now

Jennifer Joy Pawlitschek, playwright and performer, combines science into her art, garnering her an invitation to perform at a NASA conference on astrobiology. Her solo show The Physics of Love has toured all over the country. In her new show, The Chaos Theory of Now, she uses science’s chaos theory to illuminate our uncertain times. Inspired in part by her own far-right Republican farm family, Jennifer portrays a diversity of wild characters, including a Trump-voting farm wife, a lesbian liberal rural politician, an Evangelical homeschooling mom, and a teen punk Antifa activist. She reveals how America got to this point – and what’s next in our unsettled country. At the edge of chaos lies either total ruin or creative new beginnings. Which side will we end up on? Who will we become? 

Seven performances will be staged at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue in New York City, from September 8 through 15. Click here for tickets.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I was born wanting to write and be on stage! When I was 14, my parents decided our family would be a singing/performing group – which I thought was terrific. We performed a mix of comedy and music at community celebrations, and county and state fairs throughout the Midwest. A wonderful beginning for a writer/performer! 

What about this career choice did you find most appealing? 
Today, I’m most passionate about using stories to make the world a better place. It’s not about giving a lecture; rather, it’s about sharing the stories we don’t usually hear. In my current show, The Chaos Theory of Now, I’m highlighting people from my background – poor, rural, Midwest. Many of them are farmers or work closely with farmers. The truth of who they are is rarely truly represented in the arts or media. They are stereotyped. But it isn’t easy to be poor… and there are reasons why they voted for Trump. While I do not support Trump, I understand these farmers so well, and wanted to get their stories out into the world.  Ultimately, we need to have a serious conversation about classism and regionalism in our country, even among liberals.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I took lots of acting workshops. I ended up getting my MFA in Acting from the University of California, Irvine. But I also made sure I got a broader education in the humanities and sciences. Ultimately, I believe that artists are cultural workers. It’s our job to reflect our society back to itself. We can’t do that if we only spend time in in conservatory classes and theatres.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
Both. Today, most people are very excited when they hear about what I’m doing: I mash up themes from science with whatever I’m creating – podcasts, plays, ensemble work, sketch comedy. People are generally intrigued and supportive. 

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Doubt my decision? Sure! Attempt a career change? Impossible. I’m just as much an artist as I am a woman. It’s my nature; it’s who I am.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
I had a very recent tipping point with my current show. A few months after the 2016 election, I started doing the best and most honest writing of my life. The majority of my family of origin voted for Trump. I felt angry… but also, I found a new courage in my work. I know I’m not the only one; you see so many people, especially women, reaching for bigger goals and speaking their truth. For me, the result was The Chaos Theory of Now.

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
There was a time when few artists of any genre were working with themes from science. While audiences found it appealing, theatre presenters and producers didn’t always get it. One told me flat out that I could only do the work in colleges. Now, I love college touring! College and university audiences tend to be really smart and open-minded. But this particular theatre producer thought what I was doing was merely “educational.”  At the same time, that producer was putting up shows that were full of ideas and themes from philosophy, sociology, history and politics. The entire first act of one show he did was a historical discussion on Afghanistan. But he felt that scientific themes belonged in the academy, and not the theatre. Why?  Thanks to the many artists doing art/sci work, this attitude is finally changing.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
My ability to combine art and science has grown and developed over the years. My goal is not to be a science educator; rather, I am an artist who loves the playground of ideas that is STEM. Combining the two has involved creative thinking! And I love it. I do podcasts on evolution with my colleague, Benu Muhammad, who is a vocal sound FX artist and rapper. My troupe, The SciArt6, does sketch comedy and music about environmental issues. And I write and perform solo plays – usually comedies or dramedies that involve scientific themes.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
My favorite moment in my career so far was performing for NASA. The Library of Congress and NASA invited me to perform some of my work for their conference on Astrobiology and Synthetic Biology. It was so much fun to be in the room with such creative and smart people!

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Don’t be afraid of finding a second, or parallel, career that can help you through the quiet times in your artistic career. There are many ways that artists can support themselves. The right “day job” can nurture your art and allow you to take creative risks that you might not be able to take if you rely solely on your art to earn a living.