When Jennifer Blackmer’s mother died in 2010, she dealt with it the way an artist does – by channeling grief through a creative project.
Blackmer, the director of Immersive Learning and an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, had written full-length plays before, but her most recent, “Unraveled,” was the most personal.
Blackmer explained that her mother passed away from lung cancer at the age of 63. Since it was a particularly aggressive case, she said they opted for aggressive treatment, which resulted in her mother experiencing Alzheimer’s-like symptoms of dementia.
“Really, we only had a couple good months with her because of the chemo,” Blackmer said. “We lost her in our lives long before we lost her body.”
Because of how difficult this situation was for her to process, Blackmer said she utilized the opportunities presented by her sabbatical and her acceptance into the Ingram New Works program in Nashville, Tenn., in order to help her deal with it. The result of this time was “Unraveled,” a play about the fictional Joy Gallagher, a philosophy professor, juggling the demands of her job and caring for her mother, who has cancer.
“The play follows a similar trajectory as the real story,” Blackmer said.
Throughout the course of the play, Joy meets Anna, a hospice nurse who teaches Joy about what Blackmer calls the “dignity and bigness” of what it means to lose someone.
Michael O’Hara, the associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, nominated Blackmer’s play for the Association of Theatre in Higher Education’s Award for Excellence in Playwrighting. It won second place out of 150 submissions.
“Her characters are becoming something more than they were, even as they are losing, quite often, something of who they had been,” said O’Hara. “'Unraveled’ is a good example; it is a deeply personal play, partly based on her own experiences with her mother, and yet it reaches far beyond the literal events of her own life to explore the hidden reaches of our human hearts, our fears, joys and hopes.”
Besides her work as a playwright, Blackmer is also a dedicated instructor at Ball State, teaching playwrighting classes in addition to her position in the Immersive Learning program.
“I am grateful every single day that I can do something I love, that I can teach something I love. I truly, deep down in my core, love what I do,” she said. “It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Blackmer’s dedication to her craft and to her students is evident to those who work with her.
“Professor Blackmer is … a tireless and dedicated advocate for her students,” O’Hara said. “One of my favorite quotes she says to students is, ‘Don't write about what you already know, write about what you want to know.’ Writing, for her, is an act of knowing, of becoming, and you get that sense in her plays.”
Currently, Blackmer is focusing on a couple of projects, including working on short works for Minnetrista and working with Professor Jill Christman, an associate professor of English at Ball State, on possibly writing a screenplay of her novel, “Borrowed Babies: Apprenticing for Motherhood."