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1000 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS

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

Aug 31, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 870: Lucy Teitler



Lucy Teitler

Current Town:  Brooklyn

Q:  Tell me about your play Engagements, which just had an extended run at Second Stage Uptown.

A:  Engagements is a play about miscommunications and misreads, about the ways in which we all lie to ourselves – it kind of makes this big psychological claim that we lie to each other because we lie to ourselves, that denial is at the root of most bad behavior. It centers on a lovable destructive hurricane of mixed emotions and self-sabotage, Lauren, who adores her best friend, Allison, and thinks Allison is much too good for her boyfriend, Mark. Lauren’s also full of anguish and anxiety about the fact that she’s reached the age when everyone around her is getting married – the play takes place at a seemingly endless series of engagement parties – even though she herself doesn’t want to settle down and get married. So Lauren’s dealing with a lot of dark, serious, big issues, but she's not a person who's comfortable being vulnerable, so she insists on trivializing everything all the time '-- "it's not a big deal!" -- so she tries her hardest to make the play look like a light comedy, a romantic comedy, a Victorian tale of good people vs. bad people -- anything but an actual examination of herself! Because she just can't face what her story is actually about. The play plays along with Lauren and her denial, up to a point, when it won’t anymore, because Lauren can’t anymore. At that point, it stops being the comedy that Lauren wants it to be, and it becomes something else.

So ultimately, Engagements is about how we all think we’re in charge of the story that we’re in – and we all think that the story begins when our role in it begins – but we’re not in control.

Lauren is a PhD student in English, and one of the other characters, who becomes an observer and theorist about Lauren’s situation, is a PhD student in Comparative Literature, so the play calls out these ideas about storytelling in a playful way. The characters analyze literary characters for a living, but fail to correctly analyze themselves or each other in real time, in their own lives. The characters are readers of literature, and the audience is put in the position of being the reader of the literature that the characters are in – and, I may imply, the members of the audience must also be fools on their own stage, especially if they’re lying to themselves about their lives and their motivations. It was all inspired by my own recognition, when I was in graduate school, that I was writing about stories from this position of power, as a reader and a scholar, as an educated person, but that didn’t stop me from being a delusional fool in my own life a lot of the time, flapping around blind in the midst of other people’s illegible, buried motivations. And in a lot of ways that was a really dark feeling, and there’s a lot of twisted darkness in the play. But there’s also an acceptance, and that’s where some of the comedy comes from.... Some of the other comedy comes from the absurd situations into which Lauren's mistakes lead her.

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

A:  This is obvious, but I wish that theater tickets were cheaper, which would then make for a more diverse, younger audience. To be fair, there are a lot of efforts in this direction. Usually, if you’re organized and plan ahead, you can see a lot of things Off-Broadway for relatively cheap, but I guess – it’s been my experience, working in theater and also television and film, that people making theater think the most about the audience, about what kind of an experience they’ll have, about how it will uplift and edify and challenge and seduce them. Everyone making art thinks about these things, of course, but I think it’s just the nature of the immediacy of theater that you think about it just a little bit more – because you’re actually in a room with an audience while you’re in previews. And so because of that, because I’ve witnessed, experienced and participated in that contrast, between the sometimes inward-looking project of film and television, and the often outward-looking project of theater, it bugs me that theater can’t reach more people! That all said, theater is inherently not as accessible as other cultural objects, because you have to be there in the theater in order to see it, there is no recorded version and if there is, it’s not as good. And that’s something I love about theater, and would never have otherwise. It’s a tension. As in so many things in life, what you love creates the feeling that frustrates you. Theater has the power it does because of its limitations – you have to be in the room.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  So many. My ur-texts are very classical. Shakespeare was major, which is so boring, but the truth. Measure for Measure and the other problem plays will keep me creatively agitated and generating work my whole life, I’m sure. I think if I had to choose one person whose work made me want to be a playwright, specifically, it would be Harold Pinter. I took a great course on Modern Drama my freshman year of college (at Williams) and read Betrayal at just the right moment. In Pinter and in Shakespeare, I worship the flexibility of words; each one means so many different things. That’s heroic to me, and uniquely theatrical – not just that words can mean so many things, but that eventually, in different productions, they will mean different things, and the words on the page contain both the potential and the kinetic energy of those expressions. What is happening on stage when Isabella has to marry Angelo at the end of Measure for Measure?? Shakespeare is full of these tantalizing Fermat’s Last Theorems, for every director to have to resolve on his or her own, only to be left unresolved again, for another director. The words allow for that; they are a universe.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm excited by theater that engages the audience to do imaginative work. A great example of that is the recent Men on Boats, which was originally a Clubbed Thumb production, but which I saw at Playwrights Horizon. Jaclyn Backhaus and Will Davis did an incredible job. That was a giant, overarching brilliant concept, executed with gorgeous attention to detail. And the audience’s imagination was engaged the entire time, both by having to visualize the Western vistas and action sequences that the play was alluding to, and by constantly integrating the experience of seeing female actors and being told that they were male characters. So beautiful and thrilling. A real active adventure for the audience.

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

A:  Make work about things that bother and preoccupy you – problems you can’t resolve – and try to let go of ego as much as possible. Understand that for a while, your work may not be as good as your taste, and your job is to work to fill that gap. Believe people when they tell you areas where you can improve; you won’t lose yourself, you’ll just discover more areas where you can go – and also find your boundaries. Develop a practice. Find some way to turn your creative chaos into controlled chaos, so it won’t wear you out.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Watch my episode of the USA series Mr Robot! It plays tonight! (August 30th)

I’m also proud to be a collaborator on Marie C’s amazing web series, My Life in Sourdough. We’re currently in pre-production on season 3, which will be shot mostly in Paris. An episode I wrote for season two is nominated for an award from Saveur Magazine! Vote for us!

I’m also in post-production on a documentary/ art criticism/ sketch comedy fantasia that I made with the inimitable Cecilia Corrigan. She and I – together with cameraman Carlos Rigua – posed as broadcast journalists at the Frieze art fair in New York and shot a segment. We were legitimately there as journalists, and used our real press passes and real names, and our video discusses the actual art, so there was a lot of fourth-wall breaking. It’s like Spinal Tap meets E entertainment television, in the art world. It's not done, so it's not online yet, but follow me on Twitter if you’re interested, as I’ll surely be posting about that soon enough. @lucyteitler

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