Monday, March 23, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 731: Lisi DeHaas



Lisi DeHaas

Hometown: New York, New York.

Current Town: New York, New York. (Since 2009)

Previous Towns: San Francisco & Los Angeles (1991-2008)

Q:  Tell me about Leave Me Green.

A:  LEAVE ME GREEN explores the relationships among a group of New Yorkers touched by loss. It takes place in the winter of 2009 when Gay marriage was not yet legal in New York State. It centers on Rebecca Green, and her son Gus, who have just lost their third family member, Inez, to the war in Iraq. It addresses issues I have written and performed about over the last two decades: gender and sexual identity, how the personal is political, GLBT rights- specifically marriage equality and the importance of speaking openly about our families. It’s a good old American “kitchen sink” drama. It’s a story about a non-traditional family struggling with grief, in a traditional dramatic container. The play is a dramatic reflection of my worst fears. What if I lost my life partner and was left a single parent? What if grief overcame me and I became an active alcoholic? What if my son felt betrayed by not knowing the origins of his birth story? The play formed out of my recent experience mourning three sudden deaths in my family, one of which left my nephew without his mother. As I struggled with my own grief, and my family’s grief, writing the play became an affirmation of the fullness of life. It was in and of itself a practice, a commitment to living.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A couple New York City plays. One, in very early stages, is a full-length four-character play about two misfit middle-aged people who reconnect upon returning home to their neighboring childhood apartments after the deaths of their respective parents. The other, Balloon Man & Cat Lady, is a one-act about an alcoholic ventriloquist who sells balloons in the park, and his feral cat rescuer wife. They play explores their doomed co-dependent sinkhole of a relationship the only escape from which is death. The play needs some work to become the comedy I hope it will be.

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

A:  One of the first stories about my childhood is that at three years old I pounded on the locked door of my parent’s room and yelled, “Someone open this fucking door!” – and lo and behold, they stopped whatever it was they were doing in there, and did. My, “If you Hear something, Say something”, strategy was very effective. Unfortunately my take no prisoners pre-school attitude waned in the face of my childhood fascination with ballet. I studied at the American Ballet Theatre School near Lincoln Center, which has long since been torn down. It was a very cool building- featured in the classic film The Turning Point. What they didn’t show in the movie was the epic roach infestation throughout the school. The older students had a great show where they would pull back the cork board in the lobby to reveal what was behind it: a shiny rectangular teeming mass of roaches. I would stand at a safe distance from this horror, as other kids feigned terror with delighted squeals, and wonder at their bravery. At age nine I was cast as “Fifth Position” in the ballet Etudes and I got to do a grand plié (in fifth position, of course) and a little jete on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. Suffice it to say that is the largest theatre I’ve ever had the privilege to perform in. In college, I discovered that if I did something called “Dance-Theatre”, I could actually talk while dancing. This was a welcome discovery. I decided to become a Performance Artist and move to San Francisco; because the birth of my literal and figurative voice coincided with my realization that I was batting for the, “Other”, team. At 22, I made a performance called, “Recipe For Grief”, about a Midwestern housewife testifying to the murder of her transgender lover by her husband. At the end of this piece, having stripped off my 50’s housewife attire and hung it on a clothesline behind me, I did a naked movement sequence consisting mostly of back bends, then smashed eggs on my head to represent the bashing. The piece ended with a blood-curdling scream. Eventually the text in my work became central, even though the characters I portrayed were discovered through improvisation in the studio. Twenty years later I’m writing stories for other people to perform, but my writing evolved out of my own experience of being a performer.

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

A:  Three things: More diversity, More accessibility, More resources.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Jean Genet, Antonin Artaud, Mabou Mines, Bill T. Jones, Tony Kushner, Larry Kramer, Lisa Kron, Peggy Shaw & Lois Weaver, Alvin Ailey, Paula Vogel, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Paul Rudnick, Peter Brook, Kate Bornstein, Justin Vivian Bond, Lee Theodore, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Holly Hughes, Suzan Lori Parks, Sonya Sobieski, Tommy Kail & Lin Manuel Miranda, Karen Hartman, Tanya Barfield, Aristotle, Anna Halprin.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that isn’t afraid to get personally political in service of the greater good. Lisa Kron’s, “Well”, “Fun Home”. Doug Wright’s “I am My Own Wife”. Suzan Lori Parks, “Father Comes Home From The Wars”. I like theatre that is physical, embodied, an emotional journey for the performers and the audience. I loved the Anne Washburn and The Civilians’, “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” Virtuosic spectacle. Musicals. Melodrama. Theatre of the Absurd. Drag. Transformation. Catharsis. Work that opens our mind and heart simultaneously.

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

A:  Share your work regularly, get feedback from a group. Bearing witness and supporting other people’s creative process feeds your own. Find a writing routine, a sustainable ritual, and stick with it. I get up very early in the morning, make coffee, light candles, burn sage, and write for a couple hours. If I don’t have to go into work and my family life allows it, I write for longer. If I stick with this structure three, ideally five, days a week, I enjoy writing much more than if I stop and have to get started all over again. Momentum is key. It’s always my goal to see as much theatre as possible: new work in progress as well as full productions. This being said, I am nowhere near close to seeing as much as there is to see on any given week in this city.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My new play LEAVE ME GREEN, directed by Jay Stull, is at The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson St., in a limited run through April 11th. You can find more information on our Facebook page: https://www.Facebook.com/LeaveMeGreen or call: (866) 811-4111 for tickets.


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