I first came to know Lisa a few years back and her kindness, amazing personality, and creativeness really attracted me to her. We became friends and since then have been through some really great times together! We are equal supporters and admirers of each other's work, so to be able to have the opportunity to interview Lisa in this capacity, is a true pleasure and honor!
Lisa Lewis is a rising playwright, essayist, and storyteller who has already had her essays, profiles and book reviews published in The New York Times, ELLE Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, New York Press, and Biography Magazine. Lisa's essays have been written about by The New Yorker, Gawker and The Washington Post. Her live storytelling performances have been recognized by NY-1 News, which called her “a rising voice in the world of literature, comedy and theater.” She spent six years performing coverage and screenplay development notes for New Line Cinema and was a long-time reader and analyst for Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal at Tribeca Productions. Lisa is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Dramatic Writing Program.
Lisa will be presenting an industry-only reading of her play "Schooled" on November 15 at 8pm at The New Ohio Theatre in NYC featuring Tony Award Winner Michael Cerveris, James Kautz (founder of The Amoralists Theatre Company), and Broadway's Phoebe Strole and Mara Davi. Industry reservations can be made by e-mailing SchooledThePlay@gmail.com.
1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer? I have been the beneficiary of amazing teachers. When you’re young (and when you’re old) you’re very sensitive to influence and positive validation, and I was very lucky to have teachers who saw that I had a passion and never once discouraged me. As an only child, I spent a lot of time reading, my parents filled my room with books, so my love of storytelling and language was likely born there, between the pages of Ramona the Great, Gone with the Wind and John Grisham.
2. If you could work with anyone in the industry, who would you choose? Holy Moly! The first name that popped into my mind was Woody Allen. Without Feathers is one of my favorite books of all time, not to mention a slew of his movies make my top-ten list (Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Interiors, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Match Point). I once sat next to him in a theatre and he said he liked my shoes. It was a banner day for me.
3. What made you want to write the play "Schooled" and how did you come up with the title? What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? I spent a lot of time writing family plays (much to my parents’ chagrin.) My new six-word autobiography is: “It’s not all about my mother” - I wanted to challenge myself to move on from those stories. I was really struggling with how my presentation as an attractive young woman influenced my relationship with male mentors and bosses and that I was at times both conscious and unaware of using that. I wanted to examine the issue of culpability in those situations. Class, and access to opportunity have always been themes that interest me as well. I hope that each character in the play has a learning experience and it takes place at a university – everyone is getting Schooled.
Hopefully the audience will walk away arguing about who’s in the right, who deserved the grant, who was hurt more, and in a wider context start asking questions about how we can fix a broken system where access to opportunity is dependent on your economic class and family background - the achievement gap between children born to college educated parents verses not is heartbreaking. What can we do?
4. You assembled a great cast for this industry reading: Tony Award Winner Michael Cerveris, Jams Kautz, Co-found of The Amoralists Theatre Company, and Broadway's Phoebe Strole, and Mara Davi. How did you assemble such a great cast? What excites you most about this industry reading and how did you decide to have it at The New Ohio Theatre? For me, the cast really underscores the generosity and sense of collaboration in the theatre community. I met James Kautz because I was a fan of his theatre company the Amoralists and had a friend that worked with them and connected me to James. I was terribly excited when he did an early reading of Schooled in 2010. Same with Phoebe who came to me through Matt Schneider, my dramaturge, as did Mara Davi. The first time I met Phoebe I was tripping over my tongue talking to her I was so nervous to be working with a Broadway actress – Phoebe has since become a great friend and collaborator. I met Michael through James – he’s a fan of the Amoralists too. We talked at their after parties and he was so kind and cool and laid back. I knew immediately that some day I wanted to ask him to read the part of Andrew. He’s a tremendous actor. I wanted Andrew to have an underlying vulnerability and I kept imagining Michael while I was writing. A year later, I asked him. His enthusiasm and generosity are really inspiring.
I came to the New Ohio Theatre when a friend, David Gibbs of DARR Publicity, introduced me to their Ice Factory Festival. There I found a community that is dedicated, creative and full of energy. Like the cast, the New Ohio confirms for me that theatre is about working with people who share each other’s passions. The reading is an opportunity to connect with even more talented theatre artists, and that is so exciting.
5. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing a play or an article? Where is your favorite place to write? Believe it or not my favorite part of writing is rewriting! There is a thrill in going back to a scene or essay to turn the screw, really develop the characters, find the themes, discover the exact words and feelings. I have witnessed how much better one draft is from the last, and I love the promise of that. It’s a huge relief. I used to enjoy writing at Café Pick Me Up in the East Village, but since I moved to Brooklyn, my favorite place to write is at my kitchen table.
6. What have you learned about yourself from being a writer? Sometimes holding on to facts keeps you from finding the truth. I spent a lot of time writing stories as a way to say, look, this happened to me – but they were so one-sided. Writing plays has allowed me to see events through a prism of other perspectives. Letting characters follow their own journeys, and stray from what I think happened, brings me closer to honest feelings in my own life.
7. You've had articles published in Elle Magazine and The New York Times. What was it like when you found out your work was going to be published? What did it mean to you personally and professionally? Oh my god, I was SO thrilled. It’s such a heady sense of validation – but of course, it only lasts for an instant, and then you’re back to what’s next? I guess that’s the professional roller coaster, yay published, now what? I’m learning to really stop and enjoy any success. Personally, my story in Elle was a little terrifying, because of my family’s reaction to their portrayal in the piece, but it was also incredibly heartening, I had so many readers reach out to tell me they had similar experiences, and it also taught me that I can say the things I really need to say for me. The New York Times piece was just super fun!
8. What's the best advice you've ever received? The playwright Neil Labute told my class at Tisch that our peers’ success is our success too. When a contemporary has a great professional achievement that you’re jealous of, remember that it’s your achievement too. We’re helping each other all the time and we’re part of the same community. Any wall torn down, every connection made, each piece of exciting theatre created, is good for us all.
9. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I once had a dream about a tiny yellow elephant who was my friend. I wish I could dream about him again.
10. Favorite website? Right now it’s a toss up between The New York Times and Halloween or Williamsburg (halloweenorwilliamsburg.tumblr.com/).
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? Favorite way to spend your day off? I substitute anxiety for exercise. I love walking and belly laughs and food. So I guess my favorite way to spend my day off is walking around Brooklyn, while laughing with friends and then we eat.
12. Favorite skin care product? Favorite kind of shoes? I like this Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion – it’s a moisturizer, pricey but I splurge. My favorite shoes are really worn in cowboy boots, but my fav brand is Miz Mooz.
13. Superman or Wonder Woman? Is this for a date? Can I have both?