Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 841: Padraic Lillis


Padraic Lillis

Hometown: Fairport, NY

Current Town: Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about Hope You Get To Eleven or ...

A:  The full title is: Hope You Get To Eleven or What are we going to do about Sally? It's a solo show on the topic of suicide. It's a two part title because the first part addresses the individual considering suicide and the second part focuses on friends and family of people that are struggling. This past fall I was a guest artist at a university where a student that was charming, bright, witty, and warm, a person that no one could say a negative word about, committed suicide. It was a shock to everyone. 105 people die from suicide each day in the United States and that rate is rising. One reason is because we don't talk about it. That's what inspired me to create this solo show. It is an honest, intimate, slightly humorous sharing of my experiences in the hopes of opening up the conversation on the topic of suicide. I'm nervous about performing it because it's very honest and vulnerable. Also, I don't usually act. I primarily direct and write. However, it is an important conversation and if I'm going to ask others to talk about it - I should start with myself. When I shared on social media that I was performing the play to benefit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and why, some of 'Sally's' classmates and her family reached out with appreciation that the play was happening. Hearing from each of them reminds me that it is not just my story...it's a lot of people's story - and with that comes a sense of responsibility that forces me to be honest and thorough in the process of creating and sharing the play.

Q:  What else are you working on right now?

A:  I'm writing my first t.v. pilot. I hope something comes of it. It is about the first female to play professional baseball. I'm loving the process of learning t.v. structure and writing the script. It's a challenge to confront my own habits and shortcomings, as well as being able to look at the barriers that reside in society to fully addressing gendering inequality. It seems like it should be a no brainer - but we all have too much invested in a system that already exists. I made it about baseball for a lot of reasons, it's America's past time, etc...but the primary reason is that I love baseball and it's fun to write about.

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

A:  I'm not sure I can explain who I am as a writer or a person in one story. However, the story that came to mind is that when my brother and I were around ten and twelve years old, we would come home from our Little League games and act them out for our mom. Each story would start with, "You should've seen me." - set up is key, make the story feel important. I learned that from my brother. He's two years older than me. He's bigger than I am and in my mind, and his, he was a great athlete. I would let him tell his story first. So I could learn structure of how to frame the story and what needed to be in there. Also, if I went first there wouldn't be nearly as many spectacular moments as in his story. One night when he was talking about an amazing defensive play he made, with all the enthusiasm in the world, he starts, "the ball was hit, like a shot, it goes flying up the middle, I dove -", extending his right arm as far as he can, "and just as it's going past the infield, I caught it." From the kitchen table, I quietly interjected, "That must've hurt like a bitch." He stopped mid story and asked, "Why?" I pointed out that his glove was on his other hand. My mother laughed, and so did he. Those recaps were formative in my beliefs of story telling - what really happened is not necessarily good theater and it's the details that ground the audience in the world of the play.

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

A:  The perception of exclusivity.

Theater is for everyone. That statement is true for our audiences as well as those who desire to make it. We need to make sure everyone feels welcome and is invited to participate. The theater is where we go to feel less alone in the world. To hear our stories and to feel seen and heard by others. And to learn about our neighbors.

A lot of amazing things are happening right now in the theater. We are having exciting conversations through incredible plays by artists such as Stephen Adly Guirgis, Suzan Lori Parks, Lin Manuel Miranda, Tony Kushner, Annie Baker, Rajiv Joseph, Lynn Nottage, Lucas Hnath, Anne Washburn, and many more. It feels as vibrant a time in the theater as any with a lot of different voices being shared.

Most of those playwrights were creating vibrant work well before they were invited into the well established institutions that are presenting their work for audiences today. Their plays were being produced on almost no budget - and the ticket price was a lot lower. I mention this because money isn't the barrier for participating in the theater. Theater's perceived value to the individual is the barrier.

I want the theater's value to be recognized by everyone but more importantly I want everyone to feel that their value is recognized in the theater.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Peter Brook for a couple of reasons. The Empty Space was the first important theater book I ever read and then the more I learned about his work - I appreciated his commitment to the art form and authenticity and exploration.

Arthur Miller. I was fortunate enough to be in a production of Death of a Salesman in high school. I have to say that statement always sounds absurd until it's followed by the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman played Willy Loman. He was as brilliant then as he was twenty eight years later on Broadway. That play opened my eyes to everything I wanted theater to be. It is personal, it's about family, it's about fathers and sons - and it's about the humanity of us all trying to live up to mythology that is almost impossible to achieve. I want to write political plays like Brecht but I when I sit down to write - what comes out are family and personal dramas. Arthur Miller shows that the personal is political. 

After that my heroes are everyone who get up every day and try to do a little bit more than they thought they were capable of doing yesterday. That's what inspires me. That's what keeps me going.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I have a visceral reaction to smart, funny, vibrant, emotional theater that engages me on many levels; and opens me up to worlds and perspectives that may be different than my own. Hamilton is a prime example of this. Also, I get excited by theater where I can feel that the artists involved are fully investing and sharing themselves in the work.

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

A:  Write for yourself. Write as if no one is every going to see it. Write your truth. And challenge yourself to learn something about yourself and the people you are writing about.

When you finish a draft - get the best group of actors you know together to read your play. Hear it out loud - listen to their thoughts, trust your gut. Rewrite. When it feels important and you have to share it. Get it put up somewhere. Anywhere. Your voice is important. Share it with us.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I am preparing to direct two shows:
The Pink Hulk written and performed by Valerie David. It is a solo show about a two time cancer survivor finding her inner super hero. It is also part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.http://pinkhulkplay.com

In the Event of My Death by Lindsay Joy, produced by Stable Cable Lab Co. at IRT in August. I'm very proud of this show because it is the first play that was developed by The Farm Theater's College Collaboration Project. Also, coincidentally it confronts the issue of suicide - so I'm to proud to be able to continue the conversation throughout the summer. www.thefarmtheater.org

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