A third-generation Atlantan, playwright Janece Shaffer loves the maple tree in her front yard; the wisdom of author Priya Parker; cold watermelon in summer; her husband Bill Nigut, host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s radio show “Political Rewind;” and a great story. You might know her from her plays that have been performed on the Alliance Theatre stage including “The Geller Girls,” “Managing Maxine,” “Broke,” “Bluish,” “He Looks Great in a Hat” and her most recent work, a musical titled “Troubadour,” which featured original music by Grammy Award-winning Sugarland star Kristian Bush.
After 20 years of crafting stories for the stage, Shaffer was eager to teach others what she had learned about creating powerful stories. Instead of creating an experience that unfolded in a theater, she set out to teach storytelling strategies via workshops and one-on-one coaching with the same kind of impact, emotion, understanding and connection, whether in a boardroom or a classroom or a living room. And so in 2017 she launched her company, StoryReady, and has since worked with Georgia Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Georgia Power and The Home Depot. She’s created a signature storytelling curriculum that is now required for all biomedical engineering students at Georgia Tech. Shaffer also leads a yearlong, story-based leadership program for more than 100 engineering educators at the most respected higher ed institutions in the country.
Her writing credits also include the film, “Monster,” which debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is now featured on Netflix; presenting a reading of her adaptation of Our Town with Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.; and collaborating with Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon on a piece based on personal narratives.
Read about the possibility of running into Shaffer at a junk store …
Jaffe: Most unusual job?
Shaffer: When I was in high school you would find me perched in a glass window in Lenox Square mall dipping fruit in dark chocolate like I was the epitome of grace and elegance. I am not, and so to make things more interesting at Le Chocolat Elegant, I spoke to customers with a slight French accent.
Jaffe: The last time I cried?
Shaffer: I lost my dad, Max Shaffer, a little over a year ago, and I think I’ve cried nearly every day since his passing. Not always with sadness, but always with appreciation that I hit the lottery when it came to dads.
Jaffe: I was star stuck meeting?
Shaffer: I was overwhelmed when I met Manuel, an unparalleled clothing designer in Nashville. At the time, I was deep into my work on my musical, “Troubadour,” which is about the bedazzling of country music in 1951 by a Russian Jewish tailor. I had spent hours pouring over Manuel’s incredible designs – his gorgeous embroidery and super showy stud-work. With one look at one of his candy-colored suits, you know this was a man who wholeheartedly believes “more is more.” And when I finally met Manuel all I could do was cry because I felt I knew him, but we had never met.
Jaffe: Lesson from the lockdown.
Shaffer: We will never use all those dried beans, and that all we have is now.
Jaffe: Exotic vacay.
Shaffer: Teaching storytelling in Ireland and then going on a mad search to find out what we could about my great-grandfather Abraham Softel Birzansky, a beloved rabbi who lived in Cork.
Jaffe: The last time I danced.
Shaffer: I fell in love with Bill the first time we danced in a deserted Woodruff Arts Center after a long coffee and a showing of the Alliance’s gorgeous production of “Falsettos.” As soon as his hand was on the small of my back, I was gone. We are just back from a week on the Georgia coast, and we danced around that screen porch overlooking the marsh.
Jaffe: Guilty pleasure?
Shaffer: Wandering through junk stores in the search of treasure. I am a pirate and a magpie at heart.
Jaffe: When were you the happiest?
Shaffer: Bill and I took our kids Emma and Billy on a camping trip to celebrate my birthday. The rains were torrential and so we spent the first night in an awful hotel. The next day, the sun came out and we found a camp site. That night the four of us piled into our small tent. The night was clear and we slept with only the tent netting above us. I could see the stars and the moon, and I could touch everyone I loved most in the world with such ease. Pure bliss.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Janece Shaffer
- Priya Parker
- Georgia Public Broadcasting
- Bill Nigut
- Alliance Theater
- Kristian Bush
- Georgia Pacific
- Delta Air Lines
- Georgia power
- The Home Depot
- Lenox Square mall
- Max Shaffer
- Abraham Softel Birzansky
- Woodruff Arts Center Georgia Tech
- Sundance Film Festival
- Scarlett Johansson
- Robert Downey Jr.
- Kenny Leon
- The Lowdown