Mar 13, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 433: Ethan Lipton
Hometown: Van Nuys, California.
Current Town: Red Hook, Brooklyn
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m rehearsing NO PLACE TO GO, a musical I wrote for my band, which the Public is producing in Joe’s Pub, and I’m prepping for a production of my play LUTHER, which Clubbed Thumb is doing this June. Feeling exceedingly grateful for both opportunities.
Q: Tell me about Ethan Lipton and His Orchestra.
A; That’s my band. We play all over NYC and sometimes beyond, and we’ve been together almost seven years. The guys I play with (Eben Levy, Ian Riggs, Vito Dieterle) are all great musicians, which I can’t really relate to, but they are also silly, immature old men at heart, and in that sense we are kindred spirits. For a long time the music was my respite from playwriting. Songs are short (plays long), I write them while looking the other way (plays I write hunched over, trying to bore a hole through the keyboard), and performing is immediate (whereas play gestation is more like whale gestation). Recently, though, I’ve been trying to integrate the two in a few projects, which is both exciting and scary; kinda like introducing your two best friends and waiting to see if they’ll get along.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: In first grade I started a mime troupe with Emily Strickstein and Kristin Olson. We explored a number of narratives and themes, most of which culminated in me getting hit in the groin with an imaginary ball. From there I learned how to cross both eyes, then one eye at a time, then how to indulge my sadness, and before I knew it my path as an artist was set.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Today? Let’s see. Actually, if I’ve learned one thing during my relationship with theater, it’s that I can’t change it. Theater has to want to change itself. Then it has to talk it over with the board of directors and figure out a way to integrate an education component, and then, maybe, it can have a fundraiser. After which a talk-back is probably in order, and if we could do all that before pilot season, so much the better. See, the only real problem with theater, I think, is human beings. It requires their participation. Lots and lots of them. And that’s what makes it awful, but it’s also what makes it awesome, all of these grown-ups working together to create “make believe” for other grown-ups. So, you know, we should probably be totally overhauling the art form every couple of years – from our creative processes to our aesthetic expectations to the way we run our organizations – but since that seems to be more work than most of us are willing to do, my short-term solution would be just to involve more animals. Oh, and I’d say we should put as much money into paying artists as we put into paying arts administrators, but I think everyone knows that already.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I love art that takes inspiration from other art forms and I have tons of heroes who make other kinds of art, but as far as theater-makers, I definitely owe a debt to people like Ionesco, Albee, Bulgolkov, Churchill, Guare, Shawn, Howe, the Wooster Group, Fornes, Foreman, O’Neill, and Checkov.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A; A dumb idea deeply committed to.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Wonder. And consider risking everything.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: NO PLACE TO GO, Joe’s Pub, March 14-April 8.
LUTHER, Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks, this June.