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The Quality of Life

Jane Anderson: Writer and Director

“Why do we make theater? Why do we create movies or TV series? It’s because people need an outlet when times are difficult or complex.”
– Jane Anderson, in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle

Born in the Bay Area of Northern California in 1954, Jane Anderson discovered her drive for show business early on. After a few years in college, Anderson moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. In 1975 she was cast in the Off-Broadway premiere of David Mamet’s breakout play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

Besides acting, Anderson also worked as a standup comedian. It was during the creation of her routines that she discovered her passion for writing. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, earning her livelihood writing for film and television. The Challenger space shuttle disaster inspired her to write her first play, Defying Gravity. Her next play, The Baby Dance, tackled the subject of adoption. For her first feature screenplay, Anderson wrote a romantic comedy called It Could Happen to You about a policeman and a waitress who receives his winning lottery ticket as a tip.

While Anderson and her partner, Tess Ayers, were in the process of adopting their son, Raphael, she got word that her play The Baby Dance was to be made into a TV-movie. When actress-producer Jodie Foster offered her the chance to direct, Anderson took the opportunity to work on the story that so closely paralleled her own life. The movie adaptation, which starred Laura Dern and Stockard Channing, won a Peabody Award, a Golden Globe nomination and three Emmy nominations for best writing and made-for-TV film

Anderson’s next foray into balancing her theatre work with film came when HBO wanted to adapt her play Looking for Normal (which won the 2001 Ovation Award for Best New Play) into a movie. The movie, titled Normal, told the story of a father who confesses to his family his desire for a sex change operation. The moving film received three Golden Globe nominations, six Emmy nominations, while Anderson herself scored nominations from both the Writers and Directors guilds for best writing and directing.

Here's the trailer for Jane's movie, Normal

Anderson continued to write for HBO, and the ground-breaking work on their The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, which stared Holly Hunter, gained her an Emmy, a PEN Award and Writers Guild Award for best teleplay.

Anderson continued to write for television with the movies When Billie Beat Bobby, starting Holly Hunter, and the Emmy-nominated first episode of If These Walls Could Talk II, staring Vanessa Redgrave. However, even with her busy Hollywood schedule, Jane’s theater work (including Food & Shelter, Smart Choices for the New Century, Lynette at 3AM, and The Last Time We Saw Her) have had runs Off-Broadway and in regional theaters all over the country, including Actors Theater of Louisville, Williamstown, McCarter Theater, Long Wharf and Pasadena Playhouse.

Anderson made her feature film directorial debut with 2005’s The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, the story of a 1950s housewife who writes advertising jingles to help keep her family afloat. Continuing the theme of advertising, she joined the team of writers of the critically acclaimed AMC series Mad Men for the show’s second season.

Anderson has directed the two previous incarnations of her newest play, The Quality of Life, but is enjoying the solo role of playwright for the Arena Stage production while collaborating with director Lisa Peterson. Today, Anderson resides in Northern California with Tess and Raphael, where she continues to write for both stage and screen.

Extras & Insights is funded, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.