STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR, MAY 23 – JUNE 17 , 2018. A SEXY ROMANCE TURNED THRILLER. Tickets at americanstage.org/STRAIT | #asGIBRALTAR #asWTP
It’s an exciting time at American Stage! We are getting ready for the opening night of our very first 21st Century Voices Cycle New Play mainstage pick. The cycle had its first round of staged readings back in 2016, and from that crop of new plays, STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR was selected to be a part of our 2017-18 mainstage season. As an arts leader, American Stage takes seriously its role in the continuing development of the American canon of theatre; if the new play festival is the first step of that, a mainstage production is the full realization. We are bringing people in the Tampa Bay area bright, bold, and brand new works of theatre as a means to unite and foster discussion. On the eve of this important night, I sat down with the playwright herself, Andrea Lepcio, to get her thoughts on playwriting, GIBRALTAR’s powerful themes, and more. Read on below to see what she had to say!
So, are you liking the Tampa Bay area?
Yeah! I’ve never been to Saint Pete before. I’ve been to Tampa, and other parts of Florida, but yeah, it’s a beautiful town.
What made you want to become a playwright?
That’s a great question. So, my first love — it’s kind of a sad story — my first love was acting, when I was young. I was three years old and I knew I wanted to be an actor. But I had a Depression Era scarred stepfather, and a mother who wasn’t very brave, and so she kind of let my stepfather bully be into doing something else in college. But he died in my senior year of college, and I spent another ten years trying to make a dead man happy, doing serious business stuff. Then, I was in New York City, approaching my 30th birthday, and someone told me, “You know, you can take acting classes just down the street.” So I started to take acting classes again, and started to act and make connections in New York. Then, for fun, I took a playwriting class, and it was like meeting myself. It was a shock.
You said something that caught my interest during the first rehearsal: “When I am perplexed, I usually write a play.” Can you go into that a little more?
I guess there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about human beings and the world. Couldn’t be more so today than ever. So, when I don’t understand things, it’s a way for me to think something out. And, I think, if I knew the answer, that’s a less interesting play. Because I can be thinking and I can share my thinking with the audience and they can be thinking too.
So do you view playwriting more as a dialogue rather than as a lesson?
Definitely. I think it’s less interesting [if you know all the answers].
Reading the descriptions of your plays on your website, I’m struck by how many are centered around real world occurrences and diverse individuals coming together. What would you say motivates you to create the stories that you do?
I almost don’t have to say this anymore because the plays do it for me, but: Never cast an Andrea Lepcio play all white. Never cast an Andrea Lepcio play all white. Even if I have it called for, don’t do it; I’m not interested. It’s my life, it’s how I live. I live in a diverse world; I have diverse friends. That’s one thing that is true for my plays. As for the real world stuff, I guess sometimes, both things can interest me, but it can be interesting to try and tell a story that actually happened rather than just imagining it. I’m interested in the world we live in and the choices we make in the world we live in.
GIBRALTAR has been done twice now — both times by a regional theatre outside of New York. Considering the growing power of musicals in NYC, what do you think is the role of regional professional theatres in new play development?
I think it’s critical. I’ve had at least three premieres that were regional. It’s critical because it helps us develop plays, to get them further along in a regional environment, where I find the quality of everything on a par with New York — there’s no difference in what’s happening. It’s amazing that the resources are there in the regions. It’s also probably more economical, with everything being more expensive in NYC in general.
Back to that theme of GIBRALTAR now being in its second production; what do you think sets this production or the process apart from last time?
Really really fresh insights from this group of people. Really smart and different questions than what I got in Atlanta. I think I got this example from the talkback the other day, the question of why Miriam would suggest marriage. And I realized that it was such a me thing. I am an overly generous person, and I will throw solutions at a problem to help someone. So it was very interesting to get that question and realize “oh my god, that’s just me”, and that yeah, I think Miriam wouldn’t, that she wouldn’t do that. I thought that was a real good edit. And there’s been lots of examples of that. I think some questions from Joe [Joseph, who plays Sameer] — he didn’t feel like Sameer had agency in the second act, and I’ve worked with lots of men on that role, and he’s the first man to really say that to me. But I did find that I appreciated what he was saying and I made some changes that I thought were good changes.
One of the things I find most compelling about GIBRALTAR is the hard switch at intermission. Without giving too much away, I enjoy how much time we get to know and fall in love with these characters at the beginning, and then suddenly see them thrust into a new reality. What motivated that choice?
I knew that was what was going to happen. I think what I didn’t know is how in love they’d fall. I think in some ways, Act 1 surprised me more than Act 2, if that makes any sense. When I started writing, I knew Act 2 was going to happen, but then I didn’t know the dimensions of this falling in love part, so that was almost more surprising in the writing than the second part.
GIBRALTAR deals with very contemporary themes and anxieties, from racial discrimination to invasion of privacy. What would you say your goal was in writing this play?
The PATRIOT Act passed in 2001, and I was not aware that it took away habeas corpus until like 2011/2012. And I was embarrassed! Like, how did I miss that? So it was really out of my embarrassment that I wrote the play. So I ask the audience, are we aware of how much we’ve compromised our civil rights? Do we really know? And especially — I’ve got the “white guys with guns” line because: deaths from terrorists, deaths from white guys with guns. There’s no comparison. Right? Do we really understand? And I’m worried that we don’t.
You’ve mentioned the process of turning GIBRALTAR into a screenplay. Many playwrights today seem to sustain themselves with television work. Especially in the age of Netflix and YouTube, what would you say sets apart writing for the stage? What makes it unique and worth doing/seeing?
Well, for me, I’m always writing to get in that room with those people [points to the theatre]. So for me, it’s the live experience, that shared experience, to hear them gasp, to hear them applaud, to hear them cry, to hear them laugh. That’s why I’m doing it. I think we’re in a golden age of television and I think the writing is extraordinary and I think there are things that are similar, but I think that theatre is more dialogue driven, which is sort of where I live.
We apprentices are starting to dive into the process of creating a showcase, and we are looking to make as much original content as we can for it. As someone who’s interested in writing myself, what are your tips, tricks, advice, etc. for young writers?
The main thing about a monologue is when you write a monologue, the character doesn’t know what they’re going to say and they completely don’t know where they’re going to end. And that’s the most critical thing about a monologue: it’s completely discovered. A Paula Vogel trick is — you pick five random things, like: pineapple, Rwanda, soccer, first grade, and Moby Dick. Right? And then you write. That’s one thing you can do to just kind of make sure it’s interesting and bizarre — that it goes places. For scene work, the most important thing is — there’s the ten minute play, and lots of contests for that, and the most important thing is that it’s not a ten minute argument. Right? Because that’s not interesting. It has to have conflict and go some place, it has to have a beginning, middle, and end. I write everything in five movements, whether it’s a ten minute piece or a full length piece, and the reason I do that is because — you know how when you go to the movie, and it starts off and you’re really interested for 20 minutes and then you get really bored for 45 minutes and then you get interested for 20 minutes at the end? It’s because they didn’t solve the middle, and it’s the middle that’s the hardest thing to solve. So I write in five movements to make sure that I solve the middle. It’s useful to break it down into five pieces so that you really solve the middle, and make sure that it’s all strung together, and that things are complicating in the story that change what the outcome may be.
STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR opens TONIGHT(!) and runs through June 17th. Get more info and tickets by heading over to americanstage.org/STRAIT.