Amy Brenneman is a mother, an actress, a writer and a storyteller. On a recent morning visit to the Yard, Ms. Brenneman could be found balancing all of her roles. Between making sure her daughter made it to the Chilmark Community Center, doing a read-through of her new play, and wandering the grounds trying to find cell phone service, Ms. Brenneman managed to find middle ground.

This weekend she will be telling the story of her personal journey through surgery and recovery, and the curve balls life throws along the way. For the past two weeks, Ms. Brenneman has been working with a group of actors at the Yard to develop her premier play, Mouth Wide Open.

The script was finished on the Vineyard with Ms. Brenneman’s director and cocreator Sabrina Peck just two days before the actors arrived. The actors then had 10 days to learn their lines and develop the characters, but Ms. Brenneman has faith in her cast.

“We needed people that are really, really good and can hang in a more relaxed atmosphere and are very creative,” she said. “My cast is awesome.”

After a reading of the play last week, the actors took extra time to sit on the wicker chairs under the shade of the tent to share stories of their own hardships and recoveries. Ms. Brenneman was listening intently, holding her chin in her hand, engaged in the group’s discussion. At the end, Ms. Brennamen comforted one participant who was moved to tears

This is the first time Ms. Brenneman has created something at this length. While she has performed readings at the Vineyard Playhouse and the Yard, a full-length play is a different beast to take on.

“The stakes are high in some ways for me because it’s me putting my writing out there in a way I haven’t before,” she said. “But it’s relaxed in some ways ... it has a supportive atmosphere.”

Ms. Brenneman has been working on this version of the play since February of this year. Without knowing what she would produce, she asked Wendy Taucher, executive director at the Yard, to reserve a weekend for her a year ago.

“Its subtitle is Travels with God,” Ms. Brenneman said. “It’s sort of like Oprah’s phrase, the ‘a-ha moment’ ... it tends to be what I’m interested in and what I write about.”

Ms. Brenneman first encountered these “a-ha” moments as a comparative religion major at Harvard, traveling around the country, and living in Nepal and India. “It seems to be a through-line of these ‘a-ha’ moments appearing in the most unlikely times,” Ms. Brenneman said. “You kind of never know who the messenger’s going to be.”

Sometimes the messenger is one of her children, sometimes it’s a stranger in a grocery store, but in Mouth Wide Open it was her experience this year being a patient that provided the most inspirational moments to her writing.

“I feel that when I’m open and alert I do 180s every day, I have an opinion or a thought and then, nope, that’s not the truth,” Ms. Brenneman said. It is those moments that grab her.

Ms. Brenneman will find something she’s specifically captivated by, and while she may not know why it grabbed her attention in the first place, her motives come out in her writing. “I can see that deeper kernel in there,” she explained.

“What I love is helping each other tell our stories and sometimes I’ll show up for somebody else’s story, and in this case people are supporting telling this story,” Ms. Brenneman said of her new play. “I really do think of us as storytellers, whether it’s through the writing, the acting or directing, let’s render this story.”

Ms. Brenneman considers her first real experience storytelling with the television show Judging Amy, which told the story of a family court judge balancing emotional cases and being a single mother.

“Because of the tone of where that family came from, I thought to myself, ‘I have to tell that,’ there’s a very specific tone I wanted to tell,” she said. “It’s an amazing experience when anybody can share this, when you have an inception and then to actually see it.”

Her storytelling through Judging Amy won her seven Emmy Awards, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Award nominations, and after the series ended in 2005, Ms. Brenneman took time off to spend time with her children, Charlotte, 9, and Bodhi, 5.

“I went into Judging Amy with no children and came out with two,” Ms. Brenneman said just before her family came to pick her up for lunch. “And the landscape of my life changed so dramatically that that workload seemed inappropriate when my kids were little.”

While at home with her kids, Ms. Brenneman started watching Grey’s Anatomy, a series that follows the lives and travails of a group of Seattle doctors. “I got really sucked into it and I remember saying to my husband, I bet those actors have a really good time because in one hour they get to be dramatic, funny, sexy, they get to be kind of everything and I got to do that on Judging Amy,” she said. “It’s hard to go back from that, it’s like having a good relationship.”

That’s when Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, offered her a role in a spinoff to her hit show, Private Practice. “I really wanted to be in an ensemble and I was really happy when it came along,” Ms. Brenneman said. She plays the role of Violet Turner, a psychiatrist in a doctor’s office in Los Angeles.

But just like the story of Judging Amy, Ms. Brenneman felt drawn to telling the story of Violet Turner. “I feel like I’m telling Shonda’s story,” Ms. Brenneman said of her involvement in Private Practice. “Everybody brings themselves to it, changing scripts as need be, but one of the reasons I signed up for it is I want someone really visionary to be at the helm, and Shonda has a really strong vision.

“Roles have to have multi-dimensions,” she continued. “For me, if I look at some of the police procedural [shows], that would be really hard for me because they’re about the plot and not really about the characters.”

While she equally loves the solitude of writing and the exhibition of acting, Ms. Brenneman is excited to share her new body of work. “I think of it as truly giving birth, like having a couple kids.” Ms. Brenneman said of the creative process. “There’s a moment where you have a little bit of a heartbeat, then there’s some flesh on the bones, and then there’s this thing that exists outside of you.”

Even when she’s not at the Yard rehearsing, Ms. Brenneman and her family tend to stay up-Island most days. “We love Squibnocket,” Ms. Brenneman said. “It’s so funny because I live in southern California and never go to the beach.”

When not at the beach, Ms. Brenneman, her children and her husband, filmmaker Brad Silberling, enjoy afternoons with friends at their Chilmark home, dinner at State Road or the Chilmark Tavern. The kids and Mr. Silberling have just driven down the rocky driveway of the Yard, and they decide to walk to lunch at the Chilmark Store today. Ms. Brenneman puts work on pause to enjoy the Vineyard afternoon; rehearsals begin again tomorrow, but for now, a little family time.


Mouth Wide Open premiers tonight at 8 p.m. at The Yard off Middle Road, and plays Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at or 508-645-9662.