Hi! I’m Jessica.
I’m a writer, director, actor, speaker, and coach on a mission to impact our world through the transformative power of story.
My work as a playwright, screenwriter, director, filmmaker, actor, author, documentarian, and TV writer has taken me from the mountains of Appalachia to refugee neighborhoods in Amman; studio lots in Los Angeles to military hospitals in San Antonio; Off-Broadway rehearsal rooms to policymakers’ marble offices. I’ve worked with TV producers, NGO founders, movie stars, thought leaders and filmmakers; in the New York theater, in Hollywood, at Juilliard, and in universities across the country. My work has impacted policy, moved high-level decision makers, even helped save lives—and I figured out how to do it from scratch, through trial and error (which means I can teach it to you!)
In 2000, I was a recent grad and NYC transplant—studying acting, working a day job as an activist, and wondering whether the idea that art could create tangible change was just a Pollyanna pipe dream. About a month after I met my future husband Erik, we went on a date to a conference on the death penalty—and our lives changed.
The conference had set up a call from a wrongly convicted inmate, and for a few minutes, through a speaker, he talked about his case. At the end, everyone was in tears. But Erik looked around and said--rightly-- “but we're at a death penalty conference. This is preaching to the converted.” We started scribbling notes to each other—and we hit on the idea for our first play. We would travel around the country and interview death row exonerees—people who’d been sentenced to death and later freed—and create a documentary play from the interviews.
We had zero idea how to make a play. We were both just actors. We were kids. We were broke. But the idea wouldn’t leave us alone. And that summer, we traveled across the country, living in our car, driving hours off interstates to interview people who blew our minds, upended our assumptions, and transformed our understanding of our society and our world. Over the next five years, THE EXONERATED went from a page of notes scribbled by a couple scrappy kids to Off-Broadway and London runs starring actors like Richard Dreyfuss, Lynn Redgrave, Gabriel Byrne, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Ossie Davis; to performances at the United Nations, for Supreme Court Justices, US Senators and Attorneys General, and for Gov. George Ryan as he was considering commuting the sentences of everyone on Illinois death row (he later did, and has said the play was a factor in his decision). We wrote a book about it, we adapted it into a movie, and the play became part of the national dialogue around the criminal justice system.
It was crazy.
After the dust settled, I realized I had more stories to write. And I’d learned a ton from creating THE EXONERATED, but the idea of starting with a blank page still scared the hell out of me. So I decided to teach myself. I started writing fiction. That turned into my first novel, ALMOST HOME, which was published in 2007; after I broke through that blank page, I moved into screenplays and TV--and we made ALMOST HOME into a movie ten years later. Since then, I’ve been moving into new story forms whenever the work has pulled me, pushing my creative edge and navigating the deep structures, intersections, and unique challenges of each.
I make work, I teach, I speak, and I continue to be amazed by story’s power to transform—to move us, change us, and make us see our world in new ways. My life is devoted to understanding and working with this power, across mediums, to expand our capacity for empathy, to move people, and to evolve our understanding of each other and our world.
writer . director . actor
changemaker . story trainer . coach