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Recent UC Berkeley alumna wins prestigious Obie Award for new American play

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JUNE 09, 2013

Julia Jarcho, a recently graduated UC Berkeley rhetoric doctoral student, won the prestigious Obie Award for Best New American Play this May, adding to a list of achievements held by an already accomplished student and playwright.

“Grimly Handsome” is a play of shifting narratives, costumes and time frames, combining noir mystery and fantasy, in which even unnaturally red, carnivorous pandas make an appearance. Obie Lifetime Achievement winner and experimental playwright Mac Wellman described Jarcho’s complicated mystery as “one of the most remarkable things I have seen in New York for a long time.”

Jarcho’s interest in theater and playwriting began at a young age, stemming from her mother’s work fundraising for theaters. Jarcho credits her fascination with the unconventional to her early exposure to experimental works.

“Mine are experimental to the extent that I don’t take a realistic continuity as an assumption,” Jarcho said. “If you know exactly what’s going on, I think that’s kind of boring.”

During her senior year of high school, Jarcho won the Young Playwrights National Playwriting Competition for “Nursery,” a one-act play about Manhattan teenagers responding to a school shooting. After graduating from Harvard University in 2003 with honors in literature, Jarcho moved to San Francisco and began her doctorate in rhetoric in 2007.

Although she was a full-time student writing her dissertation, Jarcho was still heavily involved with theater companies in New York and produced three shows.

“Artistic practice is a Hyde personality for grad students,” Jarcho said. “It kind of kept me from going crazy, and it was a relief from this other thing I was doing.”

At UC Berkeley, she pursued a combination of literature, theater and philosophy. She was a GSI for Rhetoric 10 and 20 and also taught an R1B class called “Theater and Danger” in spring 2011. Jarcho’s interdisciplinary approach is apparent in her dissertation on modernist and contemporary theatrics.

During her time on campus, Jarcho left an impression to many — not only as a gifted playwright but also as a shy and brilliant intellectual who was unique for bringing philosophy to her art.

“She was quiet, never pompous, and at some moment in my seminar would always say some brilliant thing that became obvious to everyone,” said Shannon Jackson, professor of rhetoric and theater, dance and performance studies, who also served as Jarcho’s thesis advisor.

According to Wellman, who taught Jarcho at a playwriting seminar in New York, it is unusual to see such an intellectual among playwrights.

“She is just very, very smart,” Wellman said. “She knows more than the realm of most playwrights.”

Jarcho will begin her position as an assistant professor in the English department at New York University this fall and will continue to combine her academic work with playwriting.

Contact J. Hannah Lee at [email protected]

JUNE 10, 2013