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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...

Aug 23, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 780: Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee

Hometown:  Sunnyvale, CA

Current Town:  Seattle, WA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  My new play The Tumbleweed Zephyr is running in Seattle until the end of August. It's an Old West steampunk train adventure, and part of a trilogy of plays set in the alternate steampunk world of New Providence. It's being produced by Pork Filled Productions, a Seattle theater company dedicated to pushing beyond the usual expectations of what Asian American theater can be. We are committed to diverse casting and non-traditional scripts, which means for this show we have an awesome multicultural cast having a grand old time running around in a steampunk universe.

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

A:  As an Asian American kid, I was lucky that my parents were fairly encouraging of my writing and didn't push me to become a doctor or a lawyer. However, they were pretty strict that if I was going to pursue writing, I should always do my best at it. So when I was a teenager, my dad kept finding all of these essay contests for me to enter. I was really kind of whiny about it, to be honest – I didn't want to write boring essays, I wanted to be Stephen King! This one contest in particular was called "Our Treasured Trees," and I decided on a lark to write a science fiction short story about a guy wandering around in a post-apocalyptic desert to find the secret thing that will save the world (spoiler: it's a tree). To my complete shock, I won first prize and a bike. All of the other entries were very scientific essays about how trees help the environment, so I felt kind of bad about winning by writing something for fun. But the committee member who handed me the award told me she had tears in her eyes while she was reading my entry. It made me realize that most of the time, people just want a good story. Yes, facts are important and teaching people is important, but what really sticks in our hearts and minds are the stories that make us feel something. And there is nothing more magical than live theater to capture that true intimacy of sharing a story with other people.

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

A:  I would make it more acceptable for the audience to have fun. There is a trend lately that modern plays are all about dreary, terrible people doing dreary, terrible things to each other, and the audience goes away feeling dreary and terrible, and there is no fun allowed because this is SERIOUS THEATER. But to me, having fun does not automatically equal being frivolous and silly. I believe the best plays are the ones that tackle important issues and deep emotions, but in a way that is still creative and entertaining. You can be thoughtful and still enjoy yourself. It's okay to have fun at the theater!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My theater heroes are stage managers. Seriously, all the stage managers out there. You guys are rock stars.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love new works that push the boundaries of what is possible on stage, and use creativity to make the most of lean budgets. Seattle has a wonderfully thriving fringe theater community that actively champions new plays, so it's been a great place for me to grow as a playwright. In particular, I love genre plays like science fiction and horror. There's no better creepy scare than feeling the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end during a live performance. The world needs more horror plays.

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

A:  Give yourself a deadline. Even if it's just a bunch of friends in your living room reading your play over pizza and beers, at least it holds you accountable to finish something and have it down on paper by a certain date because other people are showing up. Also, go see plays! Nothing will help you better understand what works and what doesn't work on stage than by going to see as many plays as possible. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Tumbleweed Zephyr is playing at 12th Avenue Arts in Seattle until August 29, 2015. To learn more, visit Pork Filled Productions at www.porkfilled.com.

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