Tuesday, June 08, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 190: Andrea Lepcio



Andrea Lepcio

Hometown: Boston,  Mass

Current Town : New York,  New York

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I work on multiple projects at once. That seems to work for me. Currently, I’m getting ready for a work in progress presentation of a new musical The Ballad of Rom and Julz at Bard Summerscape in the Spiegeltent this July. Cheryl Davis is the lyricist and Brooke Fox is the composer and I’m the bookwriter. This Spring, I workshopped Sad? Mad? Glad? Bad? at New Georges. I’ve been developing this play with director Melissa Maxwell and New Perspectives Theater. This re-write, I think I’m going to re-title the play Tunnel. Vision. Dinner at Home Between Deaths is my newest play. I’ve just finished the first draft of act one and have been bringing pages to read at Naked Angels Tuesdays at 9. There’s also another musical in the works with composer/lyricist Stephen Sislen.

Q:  Can you tell me about the profiles of female playwrights and how you got involved?

A:  There has been this push to increase awareness around the lack of parity for women theater artists over the past couple of years. Julia Jordan and Sarah Schulman called a meeting at New Dramatists a couple of Septembers ago and related activities have brewed since including a working group at Dramatist Guild, the formation of the 50/50 in 2020 group and the Lilly Awards. I’m a big believer that awareness leads to change and I think we are starting to see that in increased opportunities for women. At a November meeting of 50/50, Cindy Cooper suggested we needed a website to promote women’s work. I thought we could ask Martin Denton of New York Theatre Experience. He loved the idea and launched Plays by Women on www.nytheatre.com which lists all plays written or created by women playing in New York . He also committed to reviewing as many shows by women as by men in the coming year and selected 50/50 in 2020 as one of their People of the Year. As we planned and schemed, we came up with the idea of generating profiles of women playwrights to provide audiences, theaters, producers and other readers with a source of information on women they may not know or may have heard or but not seen or read and including those they may know well and want to read more about. I put the word out and was delighted by the response from different writers – playwrights, directors, actors, critics and others – who were inspired to write about a playwright they love. We launched with 19 profiles at the end of April and have many more in the works. We’re including everyone we can from the most emerging to the most established. We’d also like to expand to directors as well as to add profiles of theaters with a mission to produce women artists.

I just checked and you are not far from parity so far with your interviews. Dig that. And I want to add I love being included in something that is for all playwrights, like your interviews, just as I love being selected for a production or an award from among all playwrights, not just women. I’ve waited my whole life for my gender not to matter. Still waiting.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I was 4 when my Mom started dating the nice older man across the court. They both had two daughters (he had full custody of his which was pretty unusual in the 60s.) And so we all went to the beach together and they went alone on enough dates together to decide to get married. I’d already seen a lot of let’s call it change in my first 4 years and was pretty determined to make this thing work. Plus, I liked my step-dad. And I was crazy about my oldest step-sister, Meryl. So one day, relatively soon after we’d moved into their place, Meryl and I decide to put on a show. We made up a story line, a sequence of three comic events. I don’t remember this first work in its entirety, but it involved me entering in some very big pants, encountering something that got me dirty (a common theme in my life at the time – mother hated dirt) and attempting to wash the pants. The piece climaxed with me retrieving my pants from behind the “washing machine” chair, but they were now doll’s size. The thing I remember the best was the laughter. My step-Dad howled. He practically fell off his chair. I felt like I was floating in the air on that laughter.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Make the pie bigger. It’s too hard to make a living doing this thing we all love. So, I suppose, I would also have to make it smarter. I think there is actually a ton of money being spent making theater, but the distribution of that money is skewed away from the artists. I believe it is possible to find a smarter distribution of the resources at hand that could provide artists with living wages and result in the making of better theater.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Anyone who breaks the ice (as de Kooning said of Pollack.) I can’t remember exactly, but Arthur Miller said a similar thing about Tennessee Williams, that Tennessee had broken through the veil of realism to a deeper level of poetic expression, something like that. Anyone who breaks through to something that wasn’t there before, whatever that something is. So, Samuel Beckett, Suzi-Lori Parks, Caryl Churchill. My heroes are also my teachers: Milan Stitt who taught me so many things and encouraged me to build and never lose my writer muscles. Tina Howe who taught me to write every day so that I could fail better as Beckett instructs. And my heroes are the ones who keep making new work for the theater for decades with need, desire, joy and gumption like Terrence McNally and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and Edward Albee and Martha Graham and ….

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I dig intimacy over distance, depth over irony. I like big, challenging, messy, thought/heart-provoking work. I get excited by theater that is reflective of the world I live in meaning theater that includes lesbian, gay, trans characters who are real or unique or unexpected as opposed to stereotypical cardboard cut outs telling the same lame jokes or whiny about the same old thing. I am excited by theater that includes characters of all races and mixed races similarly real or unique and not stereotyped. I am excited by this inclusion whether in a naturalistic play on Broadway or avant garde downtown and get mad bored without it. Overall, I am excited by theater that is life changing. Every time I go to the theater, that’s what I am hoping for.

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

A:  Give yourself the time and the space to write and in that t/s write what you want to write. Figure out what you need and go for that, whatever and wherever that is. Make your own opportunities. Believe that the time is now and the world is yours.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Ballad of Rom and Julz at Bard Summerscape July 25

Looking for the Pony at Venus Theater, Maryland in October and Detroit Repertory Theatre in June 2011

10 comments:

Amy Wratchford said...

I love Andrea and this interview, but I have to disagree with the comment that "the distribution of money is skewed away from artists." In my experience (and that is not by any means an exhaustive representation of the theatre industry as a whole) the vast majority of the expenses are skewed TOWARD artists. That is not to say that we can't, as Andrea says, increase the size of the pie. However, I do believe theatres are paying artists as much as they can (at least the ones with which I've been involved) and artists salaries are often the largest expense in the budget. Thanks for these, Adam!

Adam said...

Really? What level of theater are you working at?

Are you talking about the budget of the show or the budget of the theater?

Ian Thal said...

If the money is being skewed towards the artist, as you suggest, Amy, what is it being skewed away from?

You know that props, costumes, and equipment don't actually have to pay rent or buy groceries once they've been made or acquired, right?

Adam said...

I always thought rent costs the most at all levels. Is that true?

Amy Wratchford said...

Ian, I was using Andrea's terminology, not suggesting that the money was being skewed away from something else. I think it is proper for the artists to get as much as humanly possible.

Adam, I'm currently the managing director at the American Shakespeare Center. Here, artistic salaries and fees account for a full 44% of our annual budget. When I was down in Atlanta with Synchronicity Theatre it was the same story. In fact, just looking at a production budget for a show, artists accounted for a majority of the expenses by a pretty sizeable margin. We're all doing what we can.

Adam said...

Does artistic include the artistic director or any of the staff?

I know people are trying.

Amy Wratchford said...

It does include the artistic director. Even without him, though, the figure is still 41%. Since we have a resident troupe and a 9-month-long season touring troupe, our actors are truly part of our "staff" as well. We perform 52 weeks out of the year; the artists are our backbone.

Andy said...

I was out all day and missed this. I was thinking of the larger institutional theaters and commercial theater. Smaller, artist run theaters tend to do a lot with a little as you say. I know Synchronicity - which produced Pony last year - does an amazing amount on a small budget. And your current theater, that is wonderful that actors get that many weeks of work. That seems like a rarer situation.

Andy said...

I forgot to say photo by Stephen Sunderlin.

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