Playwright Inda Craig-Galván modeled one character after a classmate who didn’t seem to put in as much effort as other students but still got a degree.  

Inda Craig-Galván’s play “A Jumping-Off Point” will premiere on April 20 at Jungle Theater just five days after the production’s world premiere in Maryland.

The play has three characters– Leslie, an ambitious playwright and TV writer, Miriam, her forgiving, ride-or-die best friend, and Andrew, a former classmate of Leslie’s who comes off to Leslie as someone who just doesn’t care about his work. Leslie and Miriam are Black and Andrew is white.

In the play, Andrew comes out of the woodwork to accuse Leslie of plagiarism after she lands her first deal with HBO. Andrew accuses Leslie’s HBO project as being reminiscent of a play he wrote when they were in grad school together. A story about Black people in the Mississippi Delta.

The title “A Jumping-Off Point” comes from a phrase Craig-Glaván commonly heard in the TV writing world when adapting an existing piece into a new work. In the play, Leslie refers to Andrew’s play as “a jumping-off point” for her script.

“Executives will say ‘consider the book a jumping-off point,’” Craig-Galván said in an interview with Southwest Voices. “Sometimes what they mean is you can veer from it, do what you want and make your own choices and sometimes what they’re saying is ‘we don’t love the book, but it’s a great title and it’s already got a fan base.’”

The comedic drama asks the question, “Can a person steal a story that wasn’t yours to begin with?”

Playwright Craig-Galván, who has written several plays in addition to being a TV show writer for“Will Trent” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” wrote the play in grad school at the University of Southern California when she was dealing with an Andrew of her own.

“There was one white man in the program and he did not ever put forth as much effort as the rest of us,” she said. “It seemed so unfair that someone who was not trying as hard as everyone else was going to end up with the same degree as us. And out of my frustration, I wrote a first draft of this play.”

“What would happen if that person does have a little kernel of an idea but isn’t able to execute it in a way that’s respectful or responsible? And this Black female member of his cohort decides ‘you know what, I’m going to take that little kernel of something and I’m going to make it better.’ Is that appropriation to begin with, with him writing a story about Black people?” she said.

Craig-Galván was born and raised in Chicago, where she joined the renowned improv group Second City as a writer and actor. She had been drawn to comedy since she was little, when she overheard her older brother watching the Richard Pryor exorcist sketch on “Saturday Night Live” when she was supposed to be sleeping. The sketch captivated her for how funny –and scary– it was.

“I was just fascinated by the way [SNL actors] took, sometimes it’s just silly things, but sometimes it’s addressing politics or addressing things that were a little more important in the world, and making that funny,” Craig-Galván said.

Play-writing didn’t come to Craig-Galván until she was well into adulthood. She moved to California around 2009 to act and realized she missed her Second City comedy partner as much as she missed writing.

Writing a piece that was longer than a five-minute sketch took dedication, but she eventually wrote a play that helped her get into the master’s program for dramatic writing. She started grad school the same year her daughter started her undergraduate degree at a different school.

“I didn’t grow up in a household where I was told I could be a writer or in the arts, so it’s just not something that I pursued until I was a fully grown woman,” Craig-Galván said. “But it’s never too late.”

The first draft of “A Jumping-Off Point” came in pages she submitted for a graduate school class each week. After graduating in 2017, the play sat in a drawer for years before she re-worked it for a festival.

She pulled “A Jumping-Off Point” out of a drawer when the Bay Area Playwrights Festival asked if she had any work to submit. She rewrote and submitted the play, where directors and actors workshopped it with Craig-Galván. The first public reading happened at the end of the festival, and representatives at both the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland and Jungle Theater reached out to Craig-Galván about producing the show.

“It doesn’t usually happen that quickly, that you work on selling something and it immediately gets picked up,” Craig-Galván said. “For this to have been a play that I initially wrote in 2017 to now be getting its world premiere and second production, it feels like a good chunk of time, but also a lot of that time was spent on me growing as a writer and as a person.”

Craig-Galván has been working alongside the Maryland cast and crew to produce the play’s premiere, but she’s been more hands-off on the second production of her work at Jungle Theater. The April 20 premiere will be Craig-Galván’s first time in Minneapolis. The playwright, a huge Prince fan, already secured tickets to Paisley Park.

When the house lights dim as the play begins, Craig-Galván said she starts to feel the nerves about audiences seeing her work for the first time.

“The more worried I am that nobody is going to understand my stories, the more I find that stories are universal,” she said. “Even if I’m writing something about my very specific childhood, or my very specific mother, or my very specific grad school cohort, there are people who always say things resonate with them.”

After the Bay Area Playwrights Festival reading, Craig-Galván said she had people come up to her saying they had an Andrew in their lives.

“Storytelling is really trying to get to the truth, and genuine emotion in building characters who feel like real people,” she said. “The audience is going to find something they respond to and that resonates with them.”

“A Jumping-Off Point” runs April 20-May 19, with preview shows April 17-19, at Jungle Theater. Jungle Theater is located at 2951 Lyndale Avenue S.  Tickets are available now starting at $15 using a pay-as-you-can system.