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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Nov 25, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 622: Lizzie Olesker

Lizzie Olesker

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about the play you are working on in your Audrey Residency at New Georges.

A:  My play EMBROIDERED PAST is about hoarding and the loss of nature; accumulation and depletion. In part a "family drama", the play also incorporates object and toy theater elements. I wrote a rough, first draft during a week-long silent retreat with playwright Erik Ehn (an amazing, intense experience). What sparked the play was this recurring image of an 80 year old Chinese woman obsessing on her past, listing her few possessions. Also, the image of a middle-aged white woman sitting on a chair outside her house, not wanting to go back in yet unable to leave for good. Her husband, perpetually on the couch, is a serious hoarder who thinks of himself as a collector. Their grown son appears in the middle of the night, with nowhere else to go. Just outside the frame of this small, domestic story is the reality of environmental degradation and climate change, explored in miniature.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I'm also working on DOING THE WASH, a site-specific performance for neighborhood laundromats around NYC . I've written some text and just began working with actors in creating movement sequences around women's personal and historical relationship to the work of doing laundry. I will also be interviewing people currently working in drop-off service laundromats. Experimental filmmaker Lynn Sachs is going to collaborate, creating filmic elements for the performances from the interviews. Wash and Dry Productions, which has been producing literary readings in laundromats for several years, commissioned this new piece.

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 father died suddenly when I was just 12 years old. This profound loss affected me in many ways, making me tougher and more sensitive at the same time. I was still a girl yet felt like the world had completely shifted. I quickly understood impermanence and the relativity of one's experiences. I become more responsible yet also more rebellious. I suddenly had a stronger sense of injustice in the world.

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

A:  Make it more affordable and accessible to more audiences. It would be great if theater was less stratified and there were more opportunities of bringing new plays into production.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Let's see... Euripides. Bertolt Brecht. Anton Chekhov, Adrienne Kennedy, Maria Irene Fornes, Joe Chaikin, Samuel Beckett, Tony Kushner, Mac Wellman, Caryl Churchill, Will Eno, Annie Baker, Anne Washburn, Suzan-Lori Parks, Enda Walsh, to name a few...

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  When something is transformed. When I feel like my head and heart are literally expanding.When reality shifts through language and image, in time and space. When I'm being made smarter: emotionally and intellectually. And of course, when the familiar is made strange and the strange, familiar.

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

A:  Find and/or make a community of other artists who you like to work with and respect, who you can be in dialogue with. Find a way to direct and put on your own play, in whatever interesting context you want- it doesn't have to be a formal theater. Read a lot of good literature. See a lot of theater. Go to see visual art which relates somehow to whatever it is you're working on. Have faith. Hang in there.

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