Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 92: Lisa D'Amour

Lisa D'Amour

Hometown:  New Orleans

Current town:  New Orleans and Brooklyn
Q:  Can you tell me a little about Terrible Things going up at PS122?  Is this the amazing thing I saw in Minneapolis with the marshmallows and wrestling?

A:  Yes, that's it!  It's a true dance theater piece - we are working with the fabulous Emily Johnson of the choreography, and she also dances in the show (  We like to say that the show is about all the Terrible Things that Katie Pearl has done, but that's not quite true.  It's really about how when you do something terrible, or something terrible is done to you, you often have this slightly out of body experience where you are, for a moment, acutely aware of the narrative of your life, and how quickly it can change....and sometimes that narrative feels completely SIGNIFICANT and INSIGNIFICANT all at once.  In the show, we refer to certain theories of quantum physics to explore this phenomenon - especially the Many Worlds Interpretation, which posits that every outcome of every possible situation actually happens, each in its own parallel world.  But here we are stuck in this macro / micro dilemma -- we have these big bodies, that must obey the laws of classical physics....and even though we know a lot about the micro...a world which seems to operate according to a more fluid set of laws...we are stuck here in the macro, next to the boyfriend we've fallen out of love with and his irritating half-blind dog.  This makes the piece sound super depressing but its not -- it is trippy and funny and ultimately, I think, hopeful about the world and theater --- the place where we can, for a moment, inhabit other bodies and places and times...
Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I just finished a play called DETROIT, which a friend of mine recently described as "The Cataract but on Crystal Meth".  There is no crystal meth in the play but there are two couples living side by side, similar to my play The Cataract.  I also just did a little showing of a project called Dufu, Mississip, this funny little musical I am dreaming up with my husband, Brendan Connelly (of Theater of a Two-Headed Calf).  It's the 8th century Chinese poems of Dufu, adapted to a Mississippi landscape.  We showed a glimpse of it at the Catch series at the Bushwick Starr, with Dave Malloy on Ukelele (sp?) and Brendan on washtub bass.
Q:  Can you tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person. 

A:  Two: 

One:  My first play was staged in my backyard on a big hill when we were living in West Virginia.  It was a passion play, and it moved from the bottom of the hill to the top.   I made Missy Zimmerman play Jesus because her hair was long.  We crucified her in our vegetable garden.

Two:  We took a bunch or long road trips when I was little because we were in West Virginia and trying to get my super homesick mom back to New Orleans.  To entertain myself, I would make my brother's do little skits on tape recorders.  (I vaguely remember me as a reporter and Todd as the Big Bad Wolf?)  We'd also spend lots of time trying to get my Dad to say a curse word in the front seat and capture it on tape.
Q:  I've worked with your younger brother Todd a couple times now and am crazy about him although have learned not to go out drinking with him.  Can you talk a little about Stanley and what it was like to work with him on that?

A:  True dat, partying with Todd.  Even worse:  partying with Todd and Brendan.  And add Brendan's mom Donna into the picture and you are really in trouble.

Working on Stanley was a fabulous experience.  When I moved to New York, I wanted to make a piece for Todd that showed off his physical abilities -- he is an extraordinary, and extraordinarily precise, mover.  We started working on this idea of a guy who thinks he is Stanley Kowalski, escaped from the play, long before Katrina....we were in mid-development when the storm happened and we felt like it had to be addressed...we were from New Orleans and the character that inspired the piece was from New Orleans.  Todd was totally committed to the process and of course, the product.  He's amazing isn't he?  We really can't wait to work together again....I've got some ideas brewing...
Q:  Can you talk at all about being in New Orleans after the flood?

A:  Well first I need to remind you that the Saints are 8-0!!!  The city is going totally crazy.  It is amazing how that team is channelling so much energy into the city right now!  I never really watched football again but now I catch every game, wearing my damn fleur de lis shirt.  It sounds like a small dumb thing, a football team, but it is huge in terms of the morale of a city that is trying to remain vibrant.

The city doing great now, with HUGE reminders of the many people who were basically not allowed to come back because they are poor.  This is a travesty.

But many people are back, and the DIY spirit of rebuilding has created a really beautiful thing.  It was crazy, that whole year after the storm. Nobody was getting their subsidy money on time (if at all) and people were just making it happen.  Not everyone could handle (or should have handled) the stress of the zaniness.  Not enough schools for a long time, spotty services like hospitals and grocery stores.   Almost all of that is resolved now (still some gaping holes in things like mental health services) and there's just a lot of energy...and new blood too.  The N.O. theater scene is hopping in part because of like three new companies that have started since the who moved there after college and settled down.

If you meant, like, what was it like to be there in the weeks / months after the storm...that is a different story.  I was in and out (unlike my parents and extended family, who were just THERE).  But when I was there it was a completely surreal landscape.  I remember the party we had at my brother Chris' house in the Broadmoor / Uptown area....he was one of the first people back in his neighborhood (he has 6 feet of water in his house).  And someone called the cops on us because we were too loud and we were like WHOO HOOO!  There are people in the neighborhood to complain!!!  It was exciting...
Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  1.  Find your group of at least four playwrights who are going to be your support network.  Read each other's drafts, listen to each other's success and sob stories.  

2.  Finish what you start.  You will be tempted to leave it halfway done.  This is what leads you to not being a playwright anymore.  Finish it.

3.  Don't worry about making money writing plays.    Do things for free.

4.  Don't waste too much time or money blindly sending plays out to theaters that don't know you.  Meet directors and have them pass your plays on to people.   Intern at theaters and sneak your plays in.  Produce your own plays and invite as many professionals as you can to them -- even if they are out of town and can't come, they'll be happy to know about you.
Q:  plugs please:

A:  Are you a bookworm?  Come to our benefit with Katie's famous librarian action figure mom on Saturday November 17 at the gorgeous Packer Institute:

And then the show, opening December 4!

Also Todd  (my brother) is in a show at the Ontological: