Friday, August 30, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 603: Jerry Lieblich

Jerry Lieblich

Hometown: East Setauket, New York

Current Town:  Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about Eudaemonia.

A:  As somebody put it in rehearsal the other day, Eudaemonia is “Faust for hipsters.”

The play focuses on three people reaching the end of the first third of their lives, the end of the period of selfish, self-involved self-development that characterizes your mid-twenties. These people are not happy with themselves – they don't want to be who they are, but don't know exactly who (or what) they want to be.

So they each summon into their lives magical, demonic forces to bring about this desired (if misdirected) change. The play tracks how this desire for change, this desire to create a new self, in effect destroys a previous self – how making a new “I” by necessity destroys the old “I.”

But it's also funny, and bizarre, and there's a demon, and a giant egg, and music, and dancing, and Marshall Pailet has done an unbelievable job putting this nearly-impossible play on its feet.

It's going up as part of an event I created with Kevin Armento and Jaclyn Backhaus called (not just) 3 New Plays. We're producing our three plays in rep, sharing a budget, space, set, and production team. We figure that joining forces, we're more capable than any one of us alone.

Their plays, KILLERS and SHOOT THE FREAK, are gorgeous – I'm humbled to be sharing a stage with them.

We've also invited over 60 other artists to use our space for free before and after the shows. So every night there's going to be pay-what-you-can performances – we've got dancers, comedians, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, all sorts. Plus, during the day, artists and companies will get to use the theater as free rehearsal space. We've turned the Paradise Factory into a little pop-up arts ecosystem, and we think that's pretty cool.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on a horror play about a junkyard that eats people. I'm also trying to adapt a play my grandma wrote in the 80's – she passed away several years ago, and so the though of co-writing a play with her based on this manuscript I found is pretty alluring.

I'm also making a devised piece about ghost stories with director Stefanie Abel Horowitz and our company, Tiny Little Band. It's still pretty nascent, but in essence it's an examination of belief – what does it mean to believe in ghosts? In true love? In anything? If I hold fundamentally different foundational beliefs from you, how can we ever speak the same language? And in what ways is fear just an extension of belief?

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

A:  On the first day of first grade, my teacher (a lovely white haired lady with the excellent name Mrs. Costabile), handed out a diagnostic math test.

I started answering the questions – 1+2, 3-1, etc. After about a minute, though, I stood up on my chair, crumpled up the test, threw it on the floor, and shouted “What do you think I am, some kind of idiot?”

Now I don't actually remember this happening – I've only heard about it second hand. But I think it's a pretty funny – if more than a little incriminating – origin story.

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

A:  Space has got to be more affordable. Rehearsal space, yes, but particularly performance space. It's hard to take risks in your writing if the costs of production are so high. I dream of a theater culture in which everybody is making work all the time – like Fringe, but always. We'd eliminate the cycle of “developmental purgatory,” and be able to take bigger, bolder risks with lower stakes.

This is the main thing we've been trying to combat with (not just) 3 New Plays – by teaming up, we've made it much more affordable for the three of us to produce our work. And by opening the space up as free performance and rehearsal space before and after our shows, we've given free space to over 60 artists who otherwise wouldn't have it. We're grateful to have them on board – it makes an instant community around our work. And they're grateful for the space to make and show their work. Everybody wins.

I think if we can all be a little more community minded in the ways we make our art, we can allow for a more vibrant, more diverse arts community. And when that happens, well, everybody wins.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh man, so many. Anne Washburn, Melissa James Gibson, Jenny Schwartz, David Greenspan, Glen Berger, Richard Foreman, Richard Maxwell, Sibyl Kempson, Kristen Kosmas, Madeline George, Annie Baker, Karen Hartman, Dan LeFranc, Jordan Harrison, Lucas Hnath, Caryl Churchill, The Debate Society, Elevator Repair Service, Rude Mechs, Mac Wellman, and of course my first playwriting teachers Deb Margolin and Donald Margulies.

I'm also always impressed by the immensity of the work being created by the artists in my cohort. The Smith + Tinker gang, The Cockpit Writers Group, the Extremely Famous Writers Group – these folks have really got it going on.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm turned on by theater that experiments with language and form. Jenny Schwartz and Melissa James Gibson do such incredible things with words – reading or seeing one of their plays makes you think you've never heard the English language before. Kristen Kosmas and Sibyl Kempson similarly have this way of turning words into concrete things – objects with sound, weight, and shape, rather than just reference.

I'm always a sucker for a play that takes you through an experience, rather than depicts that experience. Anne Carson once described that (in reference to poetry) as subjective mimesis, and I think that's totally right. You leave having felt something new, having experienced something new, instead of simply watching other people feel and experience things (which is the most boring sort of voyeurism, in my book). I'm thinking specifically of plays like THE INTERNATIONALIST or the ridiculously genius MR. BURNS that use form as their primary (and extraordinarily effective) means of communication.

I love plays that give me space and agency as an audience member, plays that don't do my thinking for me, but invite me to fill in the gaps. Be just a little confusing, so I've got something to do while I'm in the audience.

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

A:  Write write write. Read read read. But also do other stuff. Be a person.

Also, ask for advice! Everybody who's doing this is doing it with the help and guidance of a whole army of great mentors, heroes, and friends. And, at least in my experience, most people are more than happy to pay it forward.

For instance, me! E-mail me – – I'd be happy to go out for coffee and talk about this weird and impossible thing we're all trying to do.

Q:  Plugs, please:

by Jerry Lieblich
directed by Marshall Pailet

by Kevin Armento
directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz

by Jaclyn Backhaus
directed by Andrew Neisler

All shows run Sept 8-29 at the Paradise Factory (64 E 4th St., next to LaMAMA).

Tickets and more info at, or find us on facebook at

ALSO! There are so many amazing performances happening in the space all month. Stop by any night and you'll see something super cool! I promise! For instance, on September 14th my roommate is performing a kickass cabaret of folk-rock re-imaginings of musical theater songs! How can you say no!?
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