Aug 26, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 246: Young Jean Lee
Young Jean Lee
Hometown: Pullman, WA
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a 13P show coming up in the spring, which is called ONE-WOMAN SHOW and which will be performed by me. Singing and dancing will probably be involved. I can't act and hate performing, so it should be interesting to see what happens. The YJLTC show I'm working on is called UNTITLED FEMINIST MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY SHOW, which is basically what it sounds like, and which we'll be workshopping at the New Museum in December. I'm also writing a horror movie set at an artist colony for Plan B and Paramount. I'm preparing for YJLTC's fall tours of THE SHIPMENT, and I'll also be directing a production of PULLMAN, WA in London with an all-British cast in the fall.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: My first memory of writing for an audience was in math class. I was sitting at a table with a bunch of other girls, and I had written really disgusting erotica involving each of them and whatever boy in school they happened to find the most unappealing. I remember reading the stories out loud and watching each featured girl writhe around in grossed-out agony while the other girls laughed hysterically. It never would have occurred to me at the time that I would someday make a living doing something very similar.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Shakespeare, Beckett, Ionesco, John Ashbery (he's written some amazing plays), Richard Foreman, Elizabeth LeCompte, Richard Maxwell, Mac Wellman, John Jesurun. There are a lot of other theater artists who inspire me, but those are the ones who made me want to make theater in the first place.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: If you want a playwriting "career", then you have to think of it as a business. Get to know your market. Think from the perspective of the producers and presenters. What do they need to do in order to keep their jobs? What has succeeded and failed for them in the past? How do you fit into that equation? Find people for whom you'd be the perfect fit and convince them of this. Don't ever think of yourself as a supplicant, hoping you're what they're looking for. Figure out what they're looking for, and if you're not it, then either become that thing (if that's what you want to become) or don't waste your time on them. Someday they may change their minds and come to you. If someone they respect likes your work, then tell them so (instant door-opener). Apply for things--even if you don't get them, important people will see your work. If you end up working for someone who could help your career, WORK YOUR ASS OFF FOR THEM (unless they are ungrateful pricks, in which case quit immediately). Don't fall into the trap of feeling entitled to career success solely on account of your talent. There's a huge market for mediocre art, and the less-talented wipe the floor with the more-talented every day.