Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 41: Laura Lynn MacDonald

Laura Lynn MacDonald

Hometown: Orland Park, Illinois

Current Town: Milwaukee, Wisconsin - via Chicago and New York City.

Q: Tell me about your adaptation of Peer Gynt playing in Central Park.

A: Christopher Carter Sanderson, the Founding Artistic Director of Gorilla Rep asked if I’d write a new adaptation/translation of Ibsen’s epic play. Neither of us was interested in creating a direct translation (or a four hour production!) Instead, I was given the freedom to fly with my own writing as I followed the adventures of Peer Gynt as laid out in the original text. What we’ve created is a two hour production with nine actors playing fifty-six roles and two brave souls playing Peer. The production is underscored with some inspired songs and sound effects by Andre-Phillipe Mistier. The Great Boyg, an ominous force that intercepts Peer’s life, sounds like an echo from the underworld. The characters in the play are enhanced by imaginative masks and costume pieces by Mikaela Holmes and Benjamin Heller. There’s a fabulous pig and a three-headed troll. And like all Gorilla Rep shows, this one will keep the actors and the audience moving from scene to scene around Summit Rock in Central Park.

Q: You were one of the founding members of Gorilla Rep. How did the theater come about?

A: Sanderson had been creating theatre in public spaces in New York City since 1989. In 1992 he decided to form his own company out of a group of actors he’d cast in a production of UBU IS KING! (performed in Grand Central Station) and two board members. I was one of the band of actors wielding a large phallus at Grand Central Station. It was powerful and fantastic. We were all very serious about our artistic intentions in those first company meetings. I have some great photographs of all of us reading over the first contract at Jy Murphy’s apartment. There was a feeling in the air that we were making something memorable that afternoon. Gorilla Rep has grown and refined since that time, but the mission remains the same: “...to provide the highest quality productions of classical dramatic material with the flavor of contemporary immediacy to people where they are FOR FREE.”

Q: What's the theater scene like in Milwaukee? If I came to town tomorrow, what shows or theaters would you suggest I check out?

A: Milwaukee has a significant arts and theatre scene for its size. It’s such a beautiful, accessible city. Several artists have moved here for work and stayed here to live. Right now, I’d recommend The Chamber Theatre’s production of Mark Brown’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, with a phenomenal scenic design by Keith Pitts. Milwaukee Rep will soon be producing THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR, Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Gogol’s play, which is sure to be a hoot. One of my favorite theatres to recommend is Next Act - a wonderful intimate theatre that does consistently lovely work. They will open their season with MARY’S WEDDING by Stephen Massicotte. Another gem is Renaissance Theatreworks, our only company founded and run by women. Milwaukee sadly lost The Milwaukee Shakespeare Company to the economic downturn. Hopefully, she will rise again.

Q: Tell me about working in the literary department at Milwaukee Rep.

A: Joe Hanreddy, the Artistic Director, introduced me to Kristin Crouch, The Rep’s Literary Director. I assisted her throughout last season by reading new play submissions, writing production articles and doing dramaturgical research. Beyond reading so many wonderful (and not so wonderful) scripts, the most fun for me was sitting in on first rehearsals where the vision for the production is shared with the creative team. The Rep allowed me to meet directors and designers I admired and watch them work. I was given a commission to write their educational touring show, then later, I taught playwriting workshops in Milwaukee area schools. It was a tremendous opportunity to get a glimpse of what it takes to put on a 14-show season.

Q: You’re also a dramaturg. What do you like most about dramaturgy?

A: I love collaborating. I also love storytelling. Dramaturgy for me is taking off my playwriting hat and discovering how I might best serve the script or production at hand. It’s collaborating to tell the story the playwright or director wants to tell. Sometimes it’s creative or critical feedback, sometimes it’s editing, researching, or writing marketing material for shows. It’s all part of the experience - from what you see when you enter the lobby, to what you hear during the show. Every project I’ve worked on has been different. And often, especially in the creation of a new script, we’re all surprised at the outcome.

Q: What kind of theatre excites you?

A: I like plays that mine language. I like plays that make me laugh during the sad parts. I want to watch people (or other-worldly creatures) struggle for meaning - struggle for love - maybe reach for God. And I’d rather be terrified in my mind than see long bloody knives. So many plays and playwrights inspire me. Some favorites are Chekhov, Euripides, Shakespeare, August Wilson, Stoppard, Rajiv Josef, Nilo Cruz, Sarah Ruhl, Naomi Iizuka, Anna Deavere Smith, Arthur Miller and Mary Zimmerman’s adaptations.

Q: You started off as an actress in NYC, then you took a long break, finding your way back to the theatre over ten years later. What was that journey?

A: In 1995 my mother was injured in a car crash that subsequently changed the trajectory of my life. I was just thrown in another direction. Eventually, I expressed myself creatively through bodywork. I was a certified massage therapist, Spa Manager and National Trainer for Elizabeth Arden Salons and Spas. I loved the travel and teaching for the first time. Several years passed before I got the performing bug again. I’d moved to Milwaukee and was cast in a few plays and commercials. I got married and had a baby, ... then another baby... One sunny January day I thought I was going to combust if I didn’t do something, write something, express something - so, I wrote a screenplay. Over the next year it turned into WELCOME TO FREEDOM, this intricate love story about two gay teenagers - one shipping off to Iraq. I just lived and hid inside that story and it fed me when I really needed to be fed. Since then I haven’t stopped writing dramatic stories - either films or plays.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: I’ll just tell you what I’m trying to do. Having kids, I try to write as often as I can. I do a lot of my writing long hand, so there are pads of paper everywhere, especially the car. I don’t know why my characters like to talk to me while I’m driving, but they do. I get out of my own back yard. I go to classes, workshops, free talks by so-in-so who wrote this-n-that. I often see 1-2 shows a week. I try to go to previews or performances with talk-backs whenever I can because there’s a chance to learn more about the show or say “hi” to the director. If there’s an opportunity to volunteer at a theatre I’d love to work with, I try to be there. If there’s a benefit, I try to go. I’m a member of several organizations (The Dramatist Guild, Chicago Dramatists, The Playwrights’ Center) and writing groups that have allowed me to meet some fantastic colleagues. I read books about history. What I do know, I teach - and the classroom gives huge returns to me. I try new genres. I push my boundaries because I don’t want to keep writing over the same territory or writing in the same form. I improvise. I just sit down and start banging it out. And if I’m in a writing groove, I let everyone know I have to disappear for a while.

Links for Laura Lynn’s show: www.gorillarep.org , www.lauralynnmacdonald.com

5 Questions with Leonard Jacobs: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/?p=3684

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