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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Emily Kaye Lazzaro and Katherine Alexa Mavromatis talk about plays in the Windy City, things with ‘carrot’ in the title, and pies

Emily Kaye Lazzaro and I have something in common…aside from both being a little twisted. We have plays opening tonight in 4x2, at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Chicago. So we decided to talk about it.

KAM: Hey, we both have plays in this thing! Actually, you have two plays: ‘Crickets’ (which I loved at BTM13, btw) and ‘Saving DeShawn, or The Carrot Play.’ What’s that one about? Are we talking about “The King of Carrot Flowers” again?

EKL: I wish we were still talking about “The King of Carrot Flowers” but sadly, no. ‘Saving DeShawn’ is my experiment with writing about race as a middle-class white woman. More middle-class white women need to be opening the discussion about institutionalized racial inequality in America! Just kidding. But seriously, I started writing it because I was thinking a lot about the disparity I see in my own neighborhood and all around Boston and I figured I might as well start a discussion the only way I know how. And then I tried to subvert it. So combine Michelle Obama’s vegetable thing with ‘The Wire’ and throw in some jokes and a switcheroo and you pretty much have ‘Saving DeShawn, or The Carrot Play’.

KAM: That sounds amazing! I love it already! It sounds like environment was really the genesis point of ‘DeShawn’. We associate so many playwrights with specific settings – the places almost become characters themselves. Is location often the source of inspiration for you?

EKL: Absolutely. ‘Crickets’ was heavily inspired by location as well. It takes place at a summer cabin on Labor Day. So the cabin and the time of year are both really significant. But I’m inspired by all different things. ‘DeShawn’ came from me thinking a lot about my neighborhood and Boston and America and human relationships and… pretty much everything. I guess one thing doesn’t inspire me more than another.

KAM: You read my mind, because ‘Crickets’ was exactly what I was going to ask you about next, because the setting – in the BTM13 production – was such a huge part of the tone of the whole thing. I loved it! What’s next for that play, aside from 4x2? Since I’m a ‘Crickets’ super-fan, you know.

EKL: ‘Crickets’ doesn’t have a lot going on after 4x2, aside from being published as part of the BTM13 anthology (which is very cool – my first publication!).

Tell me about your play! I know very little about it because I’m very selfish. What’s it all about?

Chicago-style hotdog at Portillo's
KAM: ‘True Blue’ is about two old friends, and starts with one character thinking it’s a good idea – at 39 years old – to dye his hair bright blue, and kind of unfolds from there. It’s a one-act, and this is its world premiere. (And this is my first premiere to take place in Chicago, for folks keeping score at home, haha.) I love Chicago – the little I’ve experienced of it. There’s good energy there – not just theatre-wise, but music, art, architecture. And food! How can you go wrong, really?

EKL: I’ve never had a play produced in Chicago. You said this is your first Chicago premiere, but have you had any other shows go up there? If you do have experience with Chicago theatre how does it differ from Boston, if at all? I’ve heard from a lot of people that there’s a bigger audience for small companies and small shows in Chicago and I’d love to hear your take on that.

KAM: One of my short plays, ‘Jinxed,’ was produced in a small festival in Chicago last fall, and I decided to go. The event was held in an art gallery (and it was just my kind of place, too – exposed beams, pressed-tin ceilings, etc.) and the people were great. At the reception afterward, a bunch of us were talking about the Chicago theatre scene. From what I could get from the actors and directors who were in on the conversation, it sounds like the Windy City is really cool and welcoming HOWEVER, there are fewer opportunities for outsiders to break in because the theatre community there is so much smaller, if you’re comparing it to somewhere like NYC. Which makes sense. It would be fun to talk to folks who really have a history in Chicago, like Lydia and Walt, about this sometime. Anyway, it feels good to have a play there again!

EKL: Yeah, Chicago sounds a lot like Boston when you describe it that way: less huge and terrifying than New York but possibly more insular. But to be honest, I’ve heard that even New York is an insular community. The agreement seems to be that theatre is hard to break into anywhere you are, ever? Cool. Good deal. Glad we’re all on the same page.

KAM: What else are you working on?

EKL: Right now, I am working on a few things. I finished a first draft of a new full-length and I’m doing some rewrites now. And I’m also working on a first draft of another new full-length that I’m writing for all my actor friends. It’s a cast of 8, which is kind of hard to keep track of but it is a fun challenge. And I’m also trying to have it be a well-made play (i.e. unity of time and place, but not plot really – there’s kind of a lot going on, subplots all over the place) so it’s all happening in real time. Practically, this is a lot harder than I expected. But it’s keeping me interested at least!

What are YOU working on?

KAM: I have a few irons in the fire, too. I’m working on a short piece (called ‘Chicago,’ actually), and I’m about to get back into my full-length play Gravity, which I’ve been writing off and on for a couple of years now. I guess I can’t resist its pull, wacka wacka wacka. (Sorry for that.) Then there’s a one-act, ‘Magic Hour,’ that will be the companion piece to ‘True Blue.’ And of course, this blog! Which I love. I didn’t expect to, actually – love for blogging caught me completely off guard, but now this project is such an important part of my identity as a playwright. Crazy.

Speaking of blogging, I LOVE your blog! It’s so funny. The pie post made me laugh out loud. I’m also pie-challenged (lucky for me, my friend Karen is a pie savant). And the post about what to put on your wedding registry – such good, practical advice.

EKL: I’m so glad you brought up blogging because I also love it! I quit my day job in May and writing plays is my job now, but I struggle a lot with trying to focus and write all day. So blogging, for me, is almost a way of procrastinating, except that it’s also totally helping me as a writer. If I’m working on a scene that is making me CRAZY I just take a break, walk around my apartment, go back to my computer and start writing something for the blog. Then when I post it I feel like I took an adequate break, I can go back to that problematic scene, and I have something real to show for it. When I went to the Dramatists Guild Conference back in June there was a talk someone was giving about how blogging can really be a boost to the career of a playwright but sadly I missed the talk because it conflicted with something else I wanted to see. I’m so sorry I missed it, too, because that’s something I’d love to learn more about.

I also love reading blogs. I read a lot of pop culture and general interest blogs like Videogum and The Hairpin but Playwrights' Perspective is especially great for me because reading about what other BPT alums are up to inspires me to keep up with the pack. Is it jealousy that’s driving me to succeed? Who cares! Whatever it takes, right?

[I also feel that it's important to note here that Emily and I both have our plays at Gorilla Tango because of a connection to the company made for us by another BPT alum -- and regular Playwrights' Perspective contributor -- Anna Renée Pattison. Behold the power of networking, people! And Anna, thank you! --KAM]

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