The Rocky, Twisted Road to Finding My True Passion

by Jana Segal

I spent my childhood dreaming of being a musical theater actress. There weren't many opportunities for acting in the small towns where we lived in the high desert and then rural Missouri. And there was no money for dance or singing lessons. Being a writer herself, my mom always supported my art and drove me to an nearby town to be in a couple of community theater productions. Mostly I checked out Broadway albums from the library and sang along with them. I had always had a gift for writing songs but I had never played an instrument, so I couldn't write them down. So I would sing my creations over and over until I learned them and then sing them into a tape recorder. One of my best memories of growing up was sitting on my mom's bed and singing her my latest song.

No one in our family had ever gone to college, but I put together an audition piece from the musical, "Chicago" and applied to Avila College. By the time I got to Avila on a performing arts scholarship, I was longing to act. But they didn't let Freshman perform in plays. My heart was set on doing musical theater, but I found that the other Performing Arts majors had years of dance classes and voice lessons. Anyway, it didn't help that I threw my knee out (trying to do the splits on the couch like my gymnast sister) right before taking my first ballet class. But I did my best to amuse the nursing majors in the dorm, practicing my clumsy pirouettes down the hall. One of my wiser ballet teachers said that I had the soul of a dancer (if not the body.) At this time I was also writing plays and songs, so I tried to learn to read music and sight sing. Unfortunately, there was a mean nun who would humiliate me in front of the class because she resented that I had never learned an instrument. Overwhelmed by voice lessons, piano lessons, dance lessons, scene production, and acting, I never did learn to sight sing. But encouraged by my playwriting professor, I wrote two musicals, “Magic Shoes” and “Seeker.” (A music major wrote down my melodies and arranged the accompaniment.) Boy did I show that nun when I won third place in the Missouri College Theater Fest for my musical, "Seeker."  I went on to get my MFA in Dramatic Writing from Brandeis University.

Since then, my passion has shifted to screenwriting. My professional career hasn't exactly taken off partially because I choose only to work on love projects instead of big budget, high concept scripts. But my screenplay, "Walking with Grace" was workshopped at the Frederick Douglas Creative Writing workshop in NY and received a staged reading by Damesrocket theater company in Tucson. I shopped it around Hollywood a bit, got nice comments from some producers, but they said that no one would ever buy a script about old people. (Of course, a few years later, "The Notebook" came out followed by "Away with Her" and "Savages." Oh, well.) At least I had the satisfaction of seeing it performed before it went into the shoe-box under my bed. 

I finally decided that if I wanted to see my work on the big screen, I would have to do it myself. Encouraged by my husband, I produced my short comedy called, "The Bath-a-holic" about a family conducting an intervention on their mother who is addicted to baths and showers. Despite some embarrassing technical problems (in a couple of shots there is too much light reflected on the mother's wet face) it was well received at the premiere and the screening at the Arizona International Film Festival. People laughed in all the right places! 

Meanwhile, I continued to write my love projects. I spent about a year helping my mom by critiquing several drafts of her children's chapter book based on her true story of being reunited with her mother, called, "Model T Biscuits." This story was so full of love that it inspired me to work with my mother on a short script adaptation that eventually won first place in two screenplay competitions. At the time, we were so excited that we started scouting locations in the little Arizona town of Wilcox. I even directed a scene from it at the Pasternak Directing workshop. (A workshop I organized as president of the Tucson filmmakers group AIVF.) Then I pitched the script to some production companies but the consensus was that they could do nothing with a short script. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to expand it without losing the endearing simplicity of the story. So I set it aside. Perhaps I was too close to it,  but I couldn't figure it out for years. Lately, I've been getting the itch to produce this cherished family story.