Saturday, March 21, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 730: Shirley Lauro



Shirley Lauro

Hometown: I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa.

A great place in which to grow up and come from!

Current Town: I came to Manhattan after a BS @Northwestern and MFA @U. of Wisconsin. I taught at Tisch, City College and Yeshiva U. and wrote part time, publishing a novel for Doubleday: THE EDGE. Then I left teaching and began to write plays in New York. I’ve lived in Manhattan for many years now, and call it my home. I love the city – the theater, ballet, music, museums, people – I can’t ask for anything more.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I just finished an article for Samuel French that will appear in their online website in their Breaking Character section. It concerns an Israeli production of my play, ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT, which centers on innocent, country German Gentile girls coming of age in The Third Reich. This production was startlingly different from the New York and other productions in that Israelis saw 30’s Germany as decadent, with a production reminiscent of CABARET. It was mesmerizing.

I’m now working on a play whose subject matter is the relationship of a mentally ill mother and her daughter. The theme deals with what a child’s responsibility to a parent as opposed to her responsibility to self. The play is set in Iowa ( as are THE CONTEST, THE COAL DIAMOND, NOTHING IMMEDIATE, and SUNDAY GO TO MEETIN’)

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

A:  While growing up in Des Moines, I was lucky enough to become part of Drake University’s Children’s Theater. We had a season of our own in the University Theater and then we toured Iowa with our fairy tales. I was committed to becoming an actor at the time and was cast as “Cinderella”, Miss Minchin in “The Little Princess,” the Witch in “Sleeping Beauty” much to my delight. Unfortunately no Disney scout swooped down on the scene in Iowa to give me a contract. Point of fact, I think there were no live actors doing Disney movies then. So I was never spotted or signed to become a Disney star. But that Children’s Theater sparked a deep passion for theater in me. Our coach had studied with Marie Opspenskia (sp?), the great Russian Method actress. That coach instilled in me a deep passion for theater that is with me today.

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

A:  A recognition of the theater as an art form instead of an avenue for escapism: sex, flash, and bling! I know that escapist theater has always been with it – but it seems more and more prevalent on the Broadway and Off-Broadway stages now. Only the Indie Off-off Broadway theaters seem to dare to do classics, re-interpretation of the classics, and modern serious plays.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  The great American dramatists from the 20th Century: O’Neill, Miller, Williams. Particularly Williams because of his masterful depictions of women. Also – from the past: Ibsen, the social conscience playwright, who again had such a grasp of women as they were in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. I did a Master’s Thesis on Williams and Ibsen on this very theme. And of course Shakespeare. What playwright would not mention Shakespeare, who impacted us all – from high school to The Old Globe in England, to the American productions.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Straight plays, serious plays with magnificent actors, inspired costumes, scenery, lighting. THE AUDIENCE knocked me out in the recent Broadway import from England. With Helen Mirren doing Queen Elizabeth II, exquisite lighting/scenery/costumes – I was awestruck. Wish America would do plays like that!

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

A:  Get training in all aspects of theater: acting, directing, designing. Theater is theater and a group art. Not steeped in all elements that put a play on the stage is a huge disadvantage. Coming from an English background rather than a theater background is a disadvantage and tends to make one academic rather than theatrical!

Stick with the theater for your training before you jump into writing for TV, big screen, small screen. Being told what to do: how characters are supposed to behave and scenes to move, and what the ending must be – all within a time framework – these are hugely destructive to the playwright’s creative gifts. Only when you are firm in playwriting, should you venture into other mediums.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: My website: www.shirleylauro.com,

Facebook wall Shirley Lauro 

Breaking Character:  http://www.samuelfrench.com/breakingcharacter/

The Actors Studio (reading of new work, 4/15/15.


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