Homegrown looks at life of working-class artists

Jeannine Coulombe knows how unusual it is for a "working class kid to become a playwright," and ideas about access to the arts swirl through her new play, Homegrown.

The latest work by the International Falls native closes the latest season by the Workhaus Collective, the playwright-driven local company. 

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The play centers on the three children of an aspiring photographer who has just died in poverty. Each child's inheritance is a package of 50 photographs created by their mother.

"The most personal side of it is the rural isolation, and not being born in a place that has community resources and the community structure that supports the arts," Coulombe says. "How many are stifled from a lack of opportunity? To be an artist, you have to have the privilege to fail and the time to figure it out."

Coulombe got that opportunity in her early 20s, when she was able to escape the grind of multiple jobs while trying to write on the side to go and live with her sister in Europe. "I cleaned houses and was a nanny, but I was also able to travel and have the space to write I wouldn't have had," she says.

That work led to graduate school. "I was a bit of an enigma. There was one other person that had a similar background to me. I really came from a different place. I was a very different person -- from the rural Midwest and also have this working class background. I started to realize this is actually what the American theater doesn't address," Coulombe says.

Theater is about collaboration, but Coulombe went further in the development of Homegrown. She enlisted photographer Amy Sundby Jeanchaiyaphum to produce the essential visuals needed for the play.

"In a lot of ways, it is what this play is about," Coulombe says. "It's about art and making art and what it means to collaborate. Collaborating with artists outside the theater became very important."

One of the characters is an aspiring musician and songwriter, so Coulombe brought in Jason Murray to craft a piece of music. As it developed, actor Matthew Rein had some ideas on the kind of song his character would write.

"[Rein] was trying to articulate to me what the song should be. The next day he sent me a recording and said, 'This is what I meant.' It was a full six-minute song. He would have never written it without that character," Coulombe says.

Homegrown isn't the only play by Coulombe debuting this weekend. Her adaptation of Starry River of the Sky opens Friday at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins.


Friday-May 3
Playwrights' Center, 2301 Franklin Ave. E., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 800.838.3006 or visit online.