Dec 2, 2011
I Interview Artistic Directors Part 3: Andrew Leynse
I was born in Pomona, California, but have lived in New York City since I was 8 years old.
New York, City, but my wife, actress Mary Bacon, and I also have a small country house in Arlington, Vermont.
Q: Tell me about Primary Stages.
A: Primary Stages is an Off-Broadway theater company, now in our 27th season, dedicated to inspiring, supporting and sharing the art of playwriting. We are currently the theater company in residence at 59E59 Theaters.
Q: How do you create your season?
A: Putting together a season is always a challenging process. As Artistic Director, I work closely with our founder, Casey Childs and our Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Bossy, in selecting the plays. It is important to look at the season as a whole so we find ourselves interested in themes and/or playwrights, their language and how they will challenge audiences in different ways. For example, we try not to produce four plays in a season that are all dark or all comedies. Also, as an institution, we have a responsibility both to the artistic community of New York City and to showing cultural diversity in our choices. In addition, we have ongoing relationships with many playwrights and work with them on multiple plays. We also seek out early career playwrights as well.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as an artist or as a person:
A: I had the fortunate opportunity to grow up in New York City. My mother exposed me to lots of theater on Broadway and off and I became fascinated with the art form. Also, because my father was a filmmaker, I grew up watching many classic films and studying plot and theme early on. When I was in high school, my school did not have a drama program, so I decided to create a drama club which I then wrote plays for and directed. I realized it was too much for me to act in them as well. During that time, I also had the opportunity to intern and later work at Playwrights Horizons when Andre Bishop was artistic director and my first show there was Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It was an extremely exciting moment to be at Playwrights Horizons and I got the chance to work with some incredible artists.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Perhaps what people’s understanding of theater is. The French have two words for theater: theatre and spectacle, and audiences know when they are going to see a spectacle and when they are going to the theatre. Here in America, the two are often blended and audiences don’t know the difference.
Q: If you could change one thing about your theater, what would it be?
A: It has been a goal of ours to try to expand our producing opportunities beyond four mainstage shows a year and perhaps even have a second stage where we could produce more artists.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that is transformative, that challenges audiences; a playwright’s voice that is unique unto itself, subjects that are compelling and contemporary, that resonate with audiences today.
Q: What do you aspire to in your work?
A; I always aspire to excellence but I am always interested in growing and learning and discovering things in new ways.
Q; Has your practice changed in the last ten years? Do you see changes in technology and culture changing how you work in the next ten years?
A: Our culture is constantly changing and technology has been a large part of that. It affects how we market plays, how we think about and write and read plays and even how we see plays. The theater is constantly changing and continues to evolve in exciting and dynamic ways. But it is still a social event that needs to be experienced by the group and written and envisioned by authors.
Q: What advice do you have for theater artists wishing to work at your theater?
A: I think artists wishing to work at Primary Stages should get to know our work to understand who we are and what excites us. We are accessible in many ways. We have our Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group (which you are a member of), workshops and many playwriting programs through our ever growing school, the Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA). There is an active community of artists here at Primary Stages.