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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...

Feb 23, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 915: Lissa Moira

Lissa Moira

Hometown: Brooklyn

Current Town: except for about 4 years in California, I'm a Brooklyn girl.

At 14 ½, I found my way across the country and ended up in an arts commune in Berkeley, California. I then returned to Brooklyn and completed college (which I started at just over 14 - too young).

Q:  Tell me about Grand Theft Musical.

A:  Several years ago when Robert Sickinger (the founder of the Manhattan Theatre Club and several Chicago companies) passed away, I met his widow Jo-Ann Sickinger who was introduced to me by our composer John Taylor Thomas. She came to see a musical version of Tom Jones that I directed (written by John Taylor Thomas and on which I contributed lyrics and rewrites), and she asked me to direct some excerpts of Mr. Sickinger’s musical adaptation of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby at his memorial. I was honored. Through Jo-Ann and the memorial, I became hooked on the man, his ideas, his vision and his work. Literally, his last wish was that his Nicholas Nickleby be mounted. My home base as a writer, director and actor is Theater for the New City. Crystal Field, the executive director of TNC agreed, and Robert Sickinger’s Nicholas Nickleby with music and lyrics by Alaric Jans breathed on stage. So I was tasked with living in Dickens’ and Robert's head for several months. Jo-Ann, Robert’s children and the many of his theater colleagues were so pleased with the production, a team was born. Jo-Ann was determined to keep Robert Sickinger’s legacy alive, so we dove into his oeuvre; and Platinum Taps, a 1994 musical he created with John Taylor Thomas’ music, sparked my imagination. It had glorious moments and was essentially a paean to the musical theatre and the denizens of the theater world. It was clearly influenced by several different shows and had a very liberal political bent as well, which jibed perfectly with my own political feelings.

I watched several different videos of the show several times, took in its gestalt, and it was off to the races, rewriting it but maintaining his essence; repurposing the best numbers and lyrics and adding many new ones; adding, transforming and deepening characters; and coming up with what I'm told is the hilarious result, which is still loaded with Roberts love and respect for the musical theater form.

Q: Tell me about a story from childhood that explains who you are as a writer or person.

A:  Growing up in Brownsville, I lived in a building owned by second and third cousins. I was an only child, and my parents worked very hard to take wonderful care of me, so this was not an up from poverty story. However when it came to “things” material things, my cousins who lived upstairs clearly outstripped me. Wall to wall toys, color TV (which at the time and in my neighborhood wasn't unbelievable luxury). But what they had in stuff, I made up for imagination. I created an elaborate and never-ending fairytale which my cousins and I and acted, with whatever props were at hand. There was nothing particularly naughty about the stories, but no adults were privy to them at all. It was our private world, and I had created it. Thus, I fit in. I became an important part of my better heeled cousins’ world. Our alternate reality wasn't virtual, it was flesh and blood. We could physically inhabit it. We weren't avatars, we were us; but better, smarter, better looking, more heroic. I didn't call it theater, and computer games were in the distant future (I'm glad). It was a living story - but come to think of it that's not a bad definition of theater. Draw your own inferences as to how the shape me as a person and playwright.

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

A:  Easy one. Access. Access to seed money for nascent productions. I've seen so much wasted talent. Talent nipped in the bud, dead on the vine for lack of money. On the other end, access for audiences. People need roses to go with the bread. Theater on every level should be available to people of every income level. That's why I love Theater for the New City’s Herculean effort to keep its prices low.

Q:   Who are, or were your theatrical Heroes?

A:  Joseph Papp. Imagine bringing Shakespeare into the Park, making it as relevant as tomorrow, and making it Free for All.

Arthur, Tennessee and Eugene. I use first names because even though they never knew it, they were my oldest, dearest friends going back to my early teens. Luckily, at least I got to tell Arthur Miller how I felt, since he was on the board of Theater for the New City.

And of course Crystal Field. Keeping a non-profit theater going for over 40 years is no mean feat. Making it community conscious and caring is heroic indeed. She's a tough cookie and a formidable force in the theater, and she gives writers their head - and that's a heady way for any artist to live and work.

And finally my heroes are the brilliant casts, artistic teams and crews it has been my joy to collaborate with over the years.

Q:   What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Nearly all theater excites me. I judged at the NYC Fringe for years and would see from 40 to 90 shows within a two-week period, depending on whether I had a production of my own at the festival. What a charge it gave me. A blast for the artistic batteries. Some productions were great, others good and loaded with potential, others dismal but still filled with fodder for the mind; analyzing what went wrong, and if there was a hidden diamond worth diving into the muck to get.

I dabbled in film, had a screenplay that I co-wrote and produced (“Dead Canaries” starring Charles Durning, Dan Lauria, Dee Wallace Stone and Joel Higgins), but I ran back to the warm embrace of the theater. That's my home. That's what pumps me up. From Greek theatre, which starts at such an emotional frenzy, you can't believe the feelings can get any stronger - but they always do; to the extraordinary inevitable, human, poetical arc of Shakespeare, be it a comedy or tragedy; to today's Avant Garde (of course there's a lot of what I call Avant Garbage you have to wait through to get to the real deal). I love Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht, some of Ionesco, Genet - I could go on and on and on.

Q:  What advice would you give a playwright just starting out?

A:  I'm not a good person to ask because I don't follow the classic pattern. I don't write all the time because I directed and act as well (both of which I believe feed beautifully into my writing).

I'm very busy, so I don't just write on spec. If I feel I don't have a chance in hell of getting a project up, I just don't go there. My mind is rife with ideas, and I think about writing and what I love to write about all the time. But I don't do it, because there's no room left in my drawer for unrealized projects. A merely published play is not a play. To me, if it's never seen a stage it's not a play. I know I'm not supposed to say just write; write what you know and what you're willing to become intimate with, what lights your inner fire. But I have to add don't be a playwright unless you have the means or at least a plan to get your work up on stage, or a park, or a street, or a storefront, or a subway car – anywhere. If not, be a novelist. Let someone else turn your book and do a play.

Q:   Plugs?

A:  Following Grand Theft Musical, which I am also directing, I will be directing Giovanni The Fearless, a delicious family-friendly opera about a troupe of traveling actors in Italy. It's a commedia dell'arte with great music in English with devil may care characters, a love story, and a ghost story thrown in for fun thrills and laughs. Not to mention puppets and mechanicals. The music is by Myra J. Spekter for whom I just erected a more serious opera entitled Lady of the Castle, the video of which will soon be seen on Washington DC TV and is going into the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. Lady of the Castle will have an Off-Broadway run this coming Fall.

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