Tuesday, January 08, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 544: Lyle Kessler

Photo by Russ Rowland

Lyle Kessler

Hometown:  Philadelphia, Pa

Current Town:  New York City. Greenwich Village

Q:  Tell me about Collision.

A:  An Allegory, a Morality Tale taking place in a College Dormitory between three students, a Professor and a Stranger. It is a drama about the violence sweeping America today. It is told with great humor and intense emotions.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Of course “Orphans” will have a Broadway revival this Spring. I am developing a play called “The Great Divide” at the Labyrinth Theater Company. Also another play called “Godforsaken” and also a play called “The Gospel as told by Rosie Olds.” There is another play of mine being read at the New York Theater Workshop called “First Born” directed by Dan Sullivan with Billy Crudup and Bobby Cannavale.

Q:  What was it like studying with Lee Strasberg?

A:  Lee touched my creative spirit and inspired by his classes and being accepted into the Directors Unit of the Actors Studio wrote my first play “The Viewing” which I directed in the Unit many years ago. The Actors Studio was my artistic home at that time, a decade after Brando and Dean were involved there. A very exciting time and place.

Q:  Tell me about the Imagination Workshop.

A:  A Program my wife Margaret Ladd began at Mount Sinai Hospital bringing theater professionals in to work with hospitalized patients in psychiatric units. We developed the Program together as it expanded to many New York Hospitals and then to hospitals in L.A. In the guise of the characters the patients play in structured improvisations they are able to develop relationships and take risks and chances they are unable to take as themselves. The Hospital Staff is able to see the healthy adaptive potential of these patients, rather than the more regressive selves they experience on the Ward.

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

A:  That is a tough one. I was a Magician and Escape Artist when I was eleven and twelve. I have been escaping ever since. I have escaped Philadelphia, L.A. and I am now finally where I want to be in the Village.

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

A:  More Theater Homes like the Amoralists for actors, writers and directors to collaborate and develop work without an overriding commercial pressure. The joy of acting, directing and writing for a vibrant theater group.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Kazan, Brando, Al Jolson and Harry Houdini.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything that involves me and doesn’t put me to sleep.

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

A:  As Winston Churchill said: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!”

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I’m not sure what this means. Plug who? Plug what? Plug `em with what. I was better at plugging when I was younger. Happy to be working with the Amoralist Company. Great group of actors and people.

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