Charlane Tucker, the protagonist of Joanna Garner’s latest play, thought it would take 100 broken hearts to write the perfect country ballad. It only took 43.
Garner’s new show tells the story of aspiring country star, Charlane Tucker, who tours dive-bars around the country with her band in pursuit of enough heartbreak to write authentic country music.
Inspired by her own series of unsuccessful first-dates and her love for old-school country music, the Master of Fine Arts graduate student began writing the country musical “100 Heartbreaks” in 2006.
“I started writing it at a time in my life when I was going on a lot of unsuccessful dates,” Garner said. “A lot of artists write from that place of heartbreak. Country music, especially, is all about taking that pain and suffering and channeling it into music. So I was thinking about – if I was going to go on all these dates – how I could put them to use.”
Tuesday at Sahara Lounge, Garner will star as Charlane Tucker, with fellow Master of Fine Arts student Jess Hutchinson in the director’s seat.
Garner decided to write the role of Charlane Tucker for herself after frustrations she faced while auditioning for other people’s shows.
“I was thinking, ‘What should I do with my life, and how can I be artistically satisfied?’ so I decided to write a play for myself to perform – sort of selfishly,” Garner said. “I decided that if no one’s going to give me the parts I want, I’ll just create them for myself.”
Originally, Garner performed the musical in 2008 as an hour-long, one-woman show. After a successful three-week run at the Capitol Hill Arts Center in Seattle, she chose to adapt the show to feature more actors and songs. She then decided to go to graduate school and brought “100 Heartbreaks” to Austin, where she thought the show would be well-received.
“It’s non-traditional and site-specific, so the audience in the bar is like the audience at this country show,” Garner said. “I think that’s very ‘Austin.’ It’s such a city about music, so to do it here makes a lot of sense.”
Hutchinson said she developed interest in the production after hearing Garner perform one of the songs from the show in a class. The two decided to collaborate to bring the show to Austin stages.
“[Garner] said something about this honky-tonk musical she had written, and I was immediately intrigued,” Hutchinson said. “Then I heard her play ‘One Man Closer to Nashville,’ which is one of the big cornerstone songs in the play. I was hooked by the song, by the quality of it, by her playing it.”
The Austin-version of the show features a group of actors and musicians from UT and Austin, including theatre and dance senior Alexander Villarreal, who plays the band’s bass player. He said working on the show combines his passion for music with his passion for theater.
“I love the authenticity that is portrayed in the story,” Villarreal said. “The fact that music is so vital to the show is wonderful to me. Music is a huge part of my life, and getting to use that to tell stories is amazing.”
After the Austin run closes Feb. 14, Garner hopes to tour “100 Heartbreaks” nationwide and showcase the play in New York. The ultimate goal: to produce a movie.
“I’ve had so much fun with this rehearsal process,” Garner said. “I feel so artistically satisfied and so excited every night to be working on it.”
What: “100 Heartbreaks” written by Joanna Garner, directed by Jessica Hutchinson
Where: Sahara Lounge
When: Tuesday - Feb. 14