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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Voices of BTM XVI: Lisa Kenner Grissom

Lisa Kenner Grissom
I am thrilled to be back at the Boston Theater Marathon and so honored to be among the cadre of talented writers, directors, actors, stage managers—and everyone behind the scenes—who make this Boston theatre tradition happen. I was born in Boston, raised in Swampscott, and have stomped on many of Beantown’s grounds from Brighton and Brookline to Newton and Cambridge. To have my work performed here, where my friends and family can experience what I do, is truly a dream come true.

In reflecting on this year’s Marathon, I was reminded of the first time I met Kate Snodgrass. It was the summer of 2010 at the Kennedy Center Summer Playwriting Intensive, a ten-day immersive writing workshop led by some of the finest dramatists and theatre professionals in the country including Gary Garrison, Mark Bly—and Kate.

Kate was there for less than 36 hours. Why you may ask? She broke her ankle on the first day and had to head back to Boston. Everyone was in a bit of shock over the incident. All the writers were buzzing with questions. First, and most importantly, is she gonna be ok?! Then, we just got here! She just got here! What are we going to do without Kate?!

On the steps of The Kennedy Center, we gathered en masse and one by one gave her a hug before she went on her way. Imagine fifty (or more) eager playwrights, essentially strangers to her, waiting to say hi and bye at the same time. Kate smiled throughout and graciously wished us well although she had met us for, like, a minute. There's something about that moment that has always stayed with me: Kate in the back of a cab headed for the airport, probably in a great deal of pain, taking the time to connect with each of us.

When I decided to attend Lesley University for my MFA in Creative Writing for Stage and Screen, I was excited to work with Kate. In my first semester I had the opportunity to work with her on ten minute plays. I had written one a few years prior and it wasn’t very good. I didn’t really understand the form. Kate gave me, no joke, about thirty ten minute plays to read and respond to. And it was then that I came to appreciate what a ten minute play can do.

Plays are a little like paintings. Indulge me for a moment: think about a Picasso—let’s say a Tony Kushner full-length; now think about a Rembrandt—let’s say a David Ives short. Both take you places, but in different ways. The Picasso mural, vast and epic; the Rembrandt scene, no less epic, but contained. Simmering. In the Rembrandt, a tiny smudge of ochre becomes the candle that illuminates a dark world. The artist had to mix the paint to create the right shade and place it just so in order to get that effect.

In a ten minute play, the writer’s color choices include the placement of a comma, a startling stage direction, an arresting word. Placed just so, these choices can change everything. And they do. At the BTM, audiences get to experience a whole lot of remarkable paintings in one incredible event. So thank you, Kate, for encouraging us to make bold “color choices” on the page, for elevating the ten minute play to an art form, for gathering us en masse to create theatre together at the Marathon. And last but not least, for always making the time to connect.

Don't miss Boston Theater Marathon XVI on May 11! Tickets 

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