Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Interview Playwrights Part 354: Michael Lluberes

Michael Lluberes

Hometown: Okemos, Michigan.

Current Town: New York, NY

Q: Tell me about The Boy in the Bathroom.

“The Boy in the Bathroom” is a three person musical I wrote with composer Joe Maloney. Here’s the blurb about it: “David lives in his bathroom. He never comes out. His mother feeds him thin, flat food she can slide under the door. He has everything he needs. David has obsessive-compulsive disorder and he's not going anywhere... until he meets Julie... and discovers that there might be something - or someone – on the other side of the door that will make it worth opening...”

I’m very proud of the work Joe and I have done on it. Hopefully it’s funny and sad and weird. It’s a very different kind of musical – the subject matter – the size – it’s intimate and personal. We wanted to create a really tiny world that would hopefully have a larger resonance. I think the piece surprises people. It feels much more like a play than a musical.

We originally did it at The New York Musical Theatre Festival and since then the show has received a lot of wonderful development opportunities. It’s now in a production at The Chance Theater in Orange County, CA through May 22nd.

Q: What else are you working on?

A:  I’ve been commissioned by No Rules Theatre Company in D.C. to adapt and direct a new version of Peter Pan. This is going to be a very dark and dangerous new take. I think J.M. Barrie wrote such a beautiful story about the pain of growing up. I’m reading a lot right now about his life and it’s opening a lot of windows. A wonderful imagination often emerges from dark places in childhood. I want the play to be both a child’s dream and nightmare. I want to create a fun and scary theatrical playground. I want the play to be thrilling battle between childhood and adulthood. It’s going to be all about imagination. I’m very excited about it.

I just received a New Artist Initiative grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a residency this summer at The Hambidge Center. Hambidge is a beautiful artist’s retreat in the mountains of North Georgia. I plan on using the time there to work on Peter Pan.

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

A:  You’ll have to buy me a drink first.

I don’t know about a specific story, but for as far back as I can remember I was always making theatre. When I was little, I would put on plays with my toys in the bathtub. I used to force my sister and the neighbor kids to put on shows in the backyard with me. My mother sewed red curtains and we put up a little make shift stage in a corner of my basement. I used to do plays on a trampoline in the round. I wore a red cape for a year when I was seven.

Later in high school I would put on rebel productions with a group of my friends. We would steal huge boulders from the City Park and orange fencing from construction sites for our sets. In one play I made a boy dress up in a Dorothy dress and a girl actually throw up in a bucket. I directed plays by Brecht and Ionesco while the other kids were doing “Damn Yankees”. I wore a beret. I was that kid. Today I still feel like I’m just a little kid making plays.

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

A:  One thing: I want theatres and producers to take more chances on new untested plays and artists.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim, Orson Welles, Charles Laughton, Peter Brook, Zero Mostel, Tennessee Williams, Simon Callow, Bill Finn, Edward Albee, Albert Cullum, Tony Kushner, Kaufman and Hart, Marian Seldes, The Muppets, The Group Theatre. My teachers: Gerald Freedman, Lewis J. Stadlen, Marty Rader. I devour biographies of theatrical giants of the past, the greats who broke through something and created a huge change – a new way of thinking or feeling about theatre.

Also, my friends are my theatrical heroes. Some of them are working for pennies and cheeseburgers and are creating really amazing work all over the country.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I’m excited by anything that I haven’t seen before. I’m excited by plays and musicals that change the form, that do something different and new. I want theatre to surprise me. Most of the time I sit in the theatre and I feel like I know what the person on stage is going to say or sing next or where they’re going to move. I love being surprised. I like crazy theatrical plays that are also deeply personal and heartfelt. I’m excited when I see a story about people who don’t normally get plays written about them. I love things that make you laugh and cry at the same time. I’m excited by the combination of contradictory things, the juxtaposition of things in theatre. The big and the small, the highbrow and the lowbrow, the pretty and the ugly, the extraordinary and the mundane, the dirty and the sparkly, the hilarious and the heartbreaking, the old and the new smashed together in one play.

I actually think we’re living in a really exciting time for new musical theatre right now – there’s a whole crop of original small musicals out there. I’m truly inspired by the writers and composers in our generation who are trying to do something new and exciting with the form. You’re not necessarily going to see them on Broadway - the “American Musical” is still a fairly conservative art form – but it’s also a comparatively young art form and my hope is that it turns into something as diverse and exciting as independent film is. There’s room in musical theatre for all kinds of different subject matter, characters, music and storytelling. I’m really excited to see what happens next.

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

A:  Be yourself. Write the play or musical that you want to see.

Be theatrical. Don’t put something on stage that you could see on TV.

There’s a lot of rejection. People will either get your play or they won’t – but you only need one person to get it.

Be personal. When you’re young and just starting out there’s no reason to not wear your heart on your sleeve. Make your plays personal.

Put your play up yourself. Just do it. Plays are meant to be seen and performed - not read.

Also, and I have to remind myself of this all the time: We are writing plays for people to see. We are telling stories. We are trying to make people less afraid, or more hopeful, or challenge them, or make them think, or entertain them. We’re not creating theatre for ourselves in a box, we are communicating with people.

Q: Plugs, please:

A:  My website:

The Boy in the Bathroom at The Chance Theater in Orange County, CA
through May 22nd.

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