San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

From Tech Geek to Artist–An Interview with California Jack Cassidy

on July 11, 2014
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Q. How did you get into playwriting?
I lived most of my life as a contented software engineer. Things suddenly changed when I took an acting class from Janet Hayatshahi – the wonderful actor/director who got her Masters degree at UCSD. I was bitten by the theatre bug! After that, I got into a writing class with the playwright Naomi Iizuka, who is a fabulous teacher.
Q. When was that?
A year ago, when I was 63. Since then, I’ve written three one-act plays, and I’m working on a full-length play.
Q.Tell us about your plays.
I wrote a ten-minute play about the use of performance enhancing drugs by sports stars. It won an Honorable Mention from Lourdes University. But my big success is a half-hour play about government surveillance, titled Border Grill. It takes place at the San Ysidro border crossing a few years in the future. It’s a fun comedy, but it raises issues that I think are crucial to our democracy. That one is in development by Scripps Ranch Theatre as part of their Out On A Limb program! The director, Don Loper, has assembled a marvelous cast. The world premiere, right here in San Diego, will be July 18-27.
Q. Congratulations!
Thank you. I was afraid I’d be an old man by the time I ever got a play produced!
Q. Well, uh … let me ask you this. Who are your favorite playwrights?
I’m a fan of John Van Druten, a British playwright from the early 1900’s. He wrote “I Remember Mama” and “Bell, Book, and Candle,” both of which were made into movies. He had several other lovely plays that are less well-known. I also like Theresa Rebeck. She really gets into the emotional life of her characters. I don’t write like either of those people, but I like what they do.
Q. Does being an older playwright give you any advantages?
One could say I’ve had more life experiences, so I have more material to work with. On the other hand, I don’t remember a lot of those experiences. On the good side, I have a better understanding of myself than I did when I was young. I believe that all of our characters are an extension of ourselves, so that self-awareness helps me understand my characters. On the bad side, it seems to take years and years to establish your voice and find an audience in the theatre. At my age, I have to work fast.
Q. Did your parents name you “California?”
No. My parents named me John Joseph Cassidy III. I’ve always gone by Jack Cassidy, but that’s a common name in this country. Back in the 1970’s when I was publishing software programs with a company called Beagle Bros, I wanted to distinguish myself. I always liked the name of the blues artist Mississippi John Hurt, so I added “California” to my name. I was born in California, and one of my favorite card games is called California Jack.
Q. What inspired you to start writing, if you’ve never done it before?
Oh, I’ve written before! I even went to graduate school in Creative Writing. Twice. I also went to graduate school in Computer Science, and I was accepted to graduate school in Mathematics. I never got any degrees out of all that. I had an unfocused youth. But I did publish a book of short stories when I was young, titled Winning at Poker and Games of Chance.
Q. Can you tell us anything else about yourself?
When I went to Coronado High School, I was on the math team. In my senior year, both I and the team won first place at a statewide math competition. Before I became a software engineer, I worked as a dishwasher/busboy (hard work), a poker player (the most boring thing I ever did), and a nuclear reactor technician. My wife, Janice Steinberg, is an award-winning novelist. Her latest book, The Tin Horse, is a family saga that takes place mostly in Los Angeles in the 1920’s and 30’s.
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Janice Steinberg and Jack Cassidy

Q. Well, good luck on your upcoming play. When did you say it runs?
July 18-27 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. You can get tickets for only $15 by calling (858) 578-7728. You’ll see three one-act plays. One by me, one by Lisabeth Silverman, and one by Jake Edmondson.
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