Hometown: I grew up mainly in Louisville, KY and Naperville, IL.
Current Town: Astoria, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A half-hour sitcom pilot called THE GAMBLE, based on my play TRIPLE CHERRY.
Q: Tell me about NY Theatre Mag.
A: This is a great upstart magazine for the theatre community. Beautiful, glossy, photo and editorial rich, it aims to do in-depth stories on leaders and innovators on the NY theatre scene, predominately Broadway and Off-Broadway institutions. What makes this magazine so exciting is its desire to really illuminate artists’ lives. Very often it has theatre people interviewing theatre people, so there’s a great sense of intimacy and understanding in the writing – you get the best stories that way.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: My parents met at a singing lesson in New York in the 70s. My dad was living at the Y and doing children's theatre and wanted to be Robert Goulet. My mom was an actress who later started an experimental theatre company in our hometown of Louisville, KY, and resembled in her glamour and chutzpah the great diva of the era, Miss Piggy. They put their only child in their plays at the state fair (I was a flea and a toaster!) and my grandmother would take me to the famed Actors Theatre and the Guffman-esque Derby Dinner Playhouse. In college, when I moved into my first walk-up in New York, my dad carried the boxes up the stairs while reciting the opening to Barefoot in the Park. Theatre was a big part of our lives. And in such a theatrical family, there was a lot of drama, big personalities and emotions. Sometimes as a kid, I’d pretend that I was watching a play and we were all characters and it was absurd, and funny, and sad, and wonderfully melodramatic. I think a lot of kids do that, look at their life - or the difficult parts of it - as a story. This gave me some distance, and when I started actually writing, some control. As a writer, I tend towards funny, poignant, tragicomedies. Though someday I'd like to do a big, crazy, slamming door farce, with music! I try not to write about my actual family, but they do sneak in here and there. They're eccentric, funny people.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Oh gosh, I’m in the middle of my first self-production and it’s so expensive! And that expense inevitably shapes the content of shows from Off-Off Broadway to the Belasco. But it also forces us as artists to be creative, to work in unusual places, push theatre beyond the proscenium, and write shows that work in non-traditional venues. Crowdfunding has given opportunities to an incredible array of new voices and become a revolutionary answer to the economic challenges of putting up a show. As artists we’re always reacting, adapting and rebelling to the environment we’re in. So, yes, making theatre is expensive, but we must let it be a force of creative change that gives birth to something new and exciting.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: It started with Tennessee Williams, his lyricism and family dramas, then it was Anna Deavere Smith for telling the stories of everyday people in their own words, then Aaron Sorkin for making politics admirable, and Eric Bogosian for being dirty and brilliant, and Donald Margulies and Christopher Durang and Annie Baker, but always there was Woody Allen. Though technically much of his work is in film - it’s been his humor, his insight, his playful neuroticism, his romanticism, that has pushed me to go deeper, be funnier, embrace the digression, and believe in the eccentricity of my own voice.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love comedies, and especially ones that are heart wrenching. My favorite plays last year were Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike and Annie Baker’s The Flick. Plays about people suffering hilariously. That to me is the perfect mirror on real life, which is not all sad and not all funny, but some surreal in-between.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Writing takes time, so take your time with it. It’s not all about productions, it’s also about process and also different artists work at different paces, so give yourself that. And, jealousy/envy is self-destructive. It comes from the fear that there is only so much success to go around, which I don’t believe. I worked in film for many years, and the amazing thing in film development is that the cream rises, good work gets read. There will always be room for another great voice.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Please look out for my play SCHOOLED coming to New York in August 2014 – and very soon, keep your eyes out for the SCHOOLED Crowdfunding campaign. And check out the future issues of New York Theatre Magazine where I’ll be continuing to contribute: http://nytheatremag.com
You can find me at www.LisaLewisWriting.com
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