Interview: Lisa Dillman

Posted on May 15, 2013

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DillmanWhere are you from originally? Where are you living now?
I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I have lived most of my adult life in Chicago.

What first drew you to a life in the theatre and playwriting, in particular?
I was drawn to the theatre first as an actor. I loved the sense of play and discovery, the ability to inhabit alternative worlds. But I had started writing fiction by the time I was nine years old, and my stories were almost always dialogue based. At some point I realized that these stories were actually plays, and that instead of inhabiting other theatrical worlds, I could actually create them. I felt great power and joy in that.

What is the first play you ever wrote and has it been produced?
My first full-length play was called The Block. It was kind of a meandering cartoon about a socially phobic young woman living with her mother. There was a pedophile uncle imprisoned in her closet. He spent a lot of time sniffing her underwear. The play was produced, once in Chicago and later at a small theatre in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I ran across a hard copy of it a couple of years ago, and I tried to read it. It was bad. And I’m not just saying that.

What or who has inspired you?
It depends on the day. This morning I was inspired by an interview with Cyndi Lauper I heard on public radio. But consistently? Friends. Travel. Natural landscapes, particularly deserts and mountains. Great stories in any form.

What was the initial inspiration for the play being workshopped at PlayPenn?
It’s complicated, but it actually began years ago with a particular conversation I had with a wonderful older actress friend in Chicago. The conversation focused on the relative scarcity of great roles for middle-aged and older women in contemporary plays, particularly roles that dealt with sexuality in any meaningful way.

Why did you decide to apply to PlayPenn, and what do you hope to get out of the conference?
The first time I had a play in PlayPenn I wrote this: “Workshops of this kind show me how the play moves through time; rhythm is so important, and so often areas that seemed coherent and smooth on the page in a table reading end up stumbling around when you actually dig into the work in more depth.” I stand by that. But this second time, I applied specifically because my workshop in PlayPenn 2011 was one of the most wonderfully collaborative experiences I’ve ever had.

What’s the most interesting job you’ve worked while trying to support yourself as a writer?
I teach a bit, but for the most part I have worked for as an education writer and editor. It’s not all that odd.

If you could change anything about the American theatre, what would it be?
I’d love to see a greater trend toward more second and third productions of new plays. Things have actually improved on that score a bit in the past couple of years because of the efforts of organizations like the National New Play Network, but it’s still all too common to see good plays–even plays that have had very successful world premieres–that never find a life beyond that first outing. The thing is, plays actually get better from having had a world premiere. A playwright learns so much from the first production, and the second production can be a wonderful reflection of that.

Complete this sentence: I write plays because…
I not only believe in the power and necessity of theatrical storytelling, but I also love every step of the private/public process of taking a play from first word to opening night.

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