Director Lissa Moira is also a well-known playwright ("Before God Was Invented" and "Time It Is") & the co-writer of "Dead Canaries," a feature film starring Charles Durning, Dan Lauria, Dee Wallace-Stone & Joel Higgins. She is a Susan Smith Brownell Nominee, OOBR Award Winner & a two-time Jerome Foundation Grantee. Lissa & Richard West’s DaDa noir musical comedy, "Who Murdered Love?" will be presented at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival – FringeNYC from August 10-25.
Prior to "Who Murdered Love," Lissa is directing "Siren's Heart: Norma Jean and Marilyn in Purgatory" which moves uptown to The Actor's Temple after two successful Off-Off Broadway runs in 2011 (click here for my review). Starring Louisa Bradshaw, "Siren's Heart: Norma Jean and Marilyn in Purgatory," is not the familiar victim narrative about Marilyn Monroe. She is still a living icon in the hearts & minds of millions, but in her own time, Norma Jean was suffocated by the mask of Marilyn & the weight of living up to that impossible ideal of beauty, crushed her. Imagines another place where we see Marilyn, or Norma Jean, as she might have been; as she wanted to be: the well-rounded, unhaunted person she couldn’t be in her all-too-brief life.
"Siren's Heart: Norma Jean and Marilyn in Purgatory" plays at The Actor's Temple in NYC (339 West 47th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a director/playwright? It would be hard to pinpoint a person or event that inspired me to become a playwright, since I was writing stories and acting them out in the backyard with my public school friends from the age of eight. I also played an intricate, complicated game of make-believe with my cousins who lived upstairs - fairies, witches, elves, dragons. Pity, we never jotted our adventures down; we might have given Ms. Rowling a run for her millions. Anyway, playwriting seemed a natural offshoot of, or outlet for an often out-of-control imagination.
I became a director mainly because as an actor, I was repulsed by the audition process I, and my fellow artists were subjected to. A cursory system that often consisted of nothing more than typing (going down a line of actors and basically saying "not you," "you," "not you"). Demeaning and pretty much ineffectual, I rarely left an audition room feeling I (or anyone else for that matter) had truly been "seen." I was convinced I could do better. I created a system of crafting improvs for each project, geared to mimic the emotional, physical, and intellectual palette of emotions, any given play might require.
When auditioning actors I am looking for the gestalt, therefore they never see a cold script until callbacks. No one leaves an audition I conduct feeling they didn't get to "strut" their stuff.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Al Pacino. He came close to working with a small company I was acting and assistant directing with, while I was still in school (Maximus Productions). I'd already had the joy of appearing with James Earl Jones in Oedipus, (performing at St. John The Divine) with that company. When we shared a pizza with Mr. Pacino, it looked as if he was going to do Richard III with us. At the last minute, his agent nixed the idea. I still dream of what might have been.
3. After it's successful run at Theatre for the New City, "Siren's Heart: Norma Jean and Marilyn in Purgatory" is coming back Off-Broadway starting previews July 29. What initially attracted you to this show and what has kept you interested in continuing with it? Walt Stepp's "Only Love Will Do" was selected as part of the Chrysalis Play Development Project I directed at TNC under the aegis of TNC’s Executive Director Crystal Field. It ultimately enjoyed an extended run there, which I directed and did the dramaturgical work on. So naturally, I was interested in anything new Walt might have for me. And when I learned it was about Marilyn/Norma Jeane, I was over the moon, because I always felt she was a smarter woman, and much better actress than she was ever given credit for. So the chance to shape and direct a project that could shed a new kind of light on this luminescent figure was intriguing, beyond measure.
4. What do you idenitfy most with about Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe? The way she always led with her heart.
5. "Siren's Heart" opening night is August 5, 50 years to the day that Marilyn Monroe passed away. What does it mean to you to have this as the official re-opening night? It's sort of like a symbolic séance. Eerie, yet portentous. Houdini tried to make contact with his departed mother every October 31 hoping to increase the odds of Halloween magic happening. He met with failure. Our medium however is Art, and true art is true magic, beyond the reach of mere illusion. We've created the perfect setting for our jewel of a star, Louisa Bradshaw, to open herself to Marilyn and Norma Jeane. And starting on August 5th, we trust they will speak and sing through her – with the exquisite assistance of our musical director Gregory Nissen.
6. What do you hope audiences might experience this time around that they did not get to experience during the first run of "Siren's Heart"? Whenever you get a second bite of the apple, you always want it to be juicier. Our whole creative team has had a chance to deepen the piece, and there are two new wonderful songs, beautiful new passages and added movement. It's not so much that we've polished, as that we've given the show a whole new patina. So if they’ve come once, we hope they'll come again.
7. You are also directing and you co-wrote "Who Murdered Love?" in the NYC Fringe Festival from August 10-25. What made you want to co-write/direct this show? Writing is my first love. I'm fascinated by DaDaism and Surrealism, and I fell for Film Noir, when I'd sit and watch "The Late and Late, Late Show," with my mom. So when my brilliant, off-beat writing partner, Richard West, suggested we write a play featuring take-offs on the Parisian Artists of the Twenties, I suggested we couch it in a murder mystery plot; and I ran with it. When we adapted the play as a musical, creating the lyrics was a blast for me.
As for directing, I can rarely afford to hire me these days, but I sorely missed directing my own work (less artistic wrangling with the writer, makes for a nice change). So I took the plunge into the crazy, but wildly exhilarating artistic world that is the NYC Fringe. And how lucky can I get with a cast that includes the incomparable Luba Mason, Darryl Winslow ("Avenue Q"), Tracy McDowell ("Rent") Ari Butler ("How To Succeed In Business…"), Kimberly Faye Greenberg ("One Night with Fanny Brice"), the gorgeous lyric-baritone William Broderick, the drop-dead gorgeous triple-threat Chelsey Clime (who also starred in my "Before God was Invented"), the silken-voiced Jacob Storms (whom I directed in "Satan’s Whore") and Paul Korecki. Also, the opportunity to work with my Musical Director Chris Wade is nothing short of golden.
8. What do you get from writing a show that you do not get from directing a show? A chance for relatively quiet contemplation. Zen is not an option, in the midst of the deliciously creative, chaotic (albeit controlled) that any truly collaborative production requires.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a writer/director? Happily, I've found that I have a gift for trusting the talent I've gathered around me and I truly enjoy letting others fly with the material and guidance I've given them. I'm glad that I'm able to embody the classic kindergarten accolade, "she plays well with others."
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? In life – whenever things seem to be going really badly, stop and think about those you love, and those who love you back, and the fact that you're whole and healthy; then take a breath, and never give up – or in.
In writing – don't try to fashion a hit – just try to make it good and hope the public will agree.
11. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? The Oscar all dressed in gold and Antoinette Perry doing a dance on my bookshelf. Why dream small?!
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? I'm a water baby. Give me the ocean, a river, a lake. Let me swim and frolic in the water; especially beside the man I love, then a dinner picnic, and a glorious sunset – joy – call me a walking cliché. I don't give a _____, I don't care.. JOY.
13. Favorite skin care product? Whatever's on sale.
14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The ability to fly. I've dreamt about it all my life. And I hear the MTA is raising the price of the MetroCard – again.