Call Answered: Leegrid Stevens: "Spaceman" at The Wild Project
I have always been intrigued by space travel and small theatre companies. It doesn't surprise me when I heard about Leegrid Stevens' Spaceman, a new play that follows astronaut "Molly Jennis" on her attempt to be the first human to reach Mars, I fastened my seatbelt to get ready for take-off!
After winning two New York Innovative Theatre Awards during it's Off-Off-Broadway run, Spaceman, written by Leegrid (who won a NYIT Award for Outstanding Sound Design) and starring his wife Erin Treadway (NYIT Award for Outstanding Solo Performance), will make its Off-Broadway debut at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street) from February 22-March 13. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? I started in theatre as an actor. When I became frustrated with my casting I started directing. When I became frustrated with the plays I had to direct I started writing. I think it took me a while to realize that I could write, that I could tell my own stories and that I didn’t need anybody’s permission or blessing to do so. Writing plays has become something of a compulsion for me. It makes my existence here make sense. If I stop, I start getting depressed pretty quickly. It feels like I’m wasting my life.
2. Along with your wife Erin Treadway, you are the co-founder of Loading Dock Theatre, the Brooklyn based theatre company. What made you two want to start your own theatre company? Erin and I were producing plays. I would write and she would act and together we would produce. We finally decided to put a name to our producing efforts and call ourselves a theatre company. We didn’t really want to start a theatre company. We just wanted to create plays.
3. What has been the best part about this venture? What is the most challenging part? Building the set was the most challenging. We had to teach ourselves how to weld. Did you know that you can get a thing called “metal fever”? It’s when you inhale too much welding fumes and you get a fever. I learned the hard way on that one. Carolyn Mraz, the scene designer, and myself built most of the set, welding in the basement of a church (properly ventilated). They let us use the space until they realized that welding smells like fire and they kicked us out one week before we opened our first workshop at the Incubator Project. We managed to find another place where we could house the set and rehearse but it was a pain.
The best part about this venture has been working with a team that is flat out incredible. I was worried this play would come off as stupid or cheap or ridiculous. Everybody knows the saying 'write what you know’ and, well, I certainly didn’t do that here. I researched, of course, but I was worried that my lack of experience (I have logged zero hours in space) would translate to a cheap or unrealistic feel on stage. That has not ended up being the case as everybody involved has really bought into the reality and created a believable world on stage.
4. You & Erin are getting ready for the Off-Broadway debut of your new play Spaceman, which you wrote and Erin stars in. The show also just won two NYIT Awards, one for Erin for Best Solo Performance & one for Sound Design. What excites you about this upcoming run? I am most excited for people to see Erin’s performance. I’m obviously bias, but I think she’s incredible. Oh, and I also excited to assault some ear drums!
5. What do you think audiences will relate to most about this show? I think audiences will relate to the loneliness of the main character, "Molly." This play was inspired, in part, by a proposal from a former NASA engineer in which he suggests that the only way we can reach Mars in the near future is by sending a one person crew on a one way journey. I was fascinated with that idea and the isolation that single crew member would have to endure.
6. The show started in your Brooklyn loft. How did you decide to turn your home into a black box theatre, while keeping it your place of residence? Turning the loft into a theatre has allowed us to rehearse and build a show in a way that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. We are able to put much more work into the set and lights as well as rehearsals. It is such an advantage to be able to rehearse in the set, with the lights and sound, instead of with rehearsal cubes in some studio in midtown. It just isn’t possible to create a show at the level we want to create without the time and space the loft affords us.
7. How will you create/keep the same intimacy of your loft in this Off-Broadway run? Well, the Wild Project is already a very intimate theatre so I don’t really think we are going to lose much in the way of intimacy. We also won’t be getting noise complaints at the Wild Project!
8. What made you want to write Spaceman, a show about astronaut "Molly Jennis" who attempts to be the first human to reach Mars? This play originated with the idea of portraying a planetary crash landing on stage. I just really wanted to make it loud. That was pretty much it. I submitted that idea to Incubator Arts and, shockingly, they accepted it. So then I had to create a play around the crash landing. I thought it was going to be a joke but I ended up really getting into the play, researching and I ended up feeling really good about the script.
9. Along the way, "Molly" faces a host of problems, but the biggest one is the psychological effects of spending so much time alone. When were you at your loneliest & what thoughts went through your head? How did you get past them? I grew up Mormon and I served a mission in Portugal. In one area where I served we had no actual members of the church. So it was just me and my companion in a city, knocking on doors, trying to talk to people on the street about God and Joseph Smith. Pretty much everybody hated us. On Sunday we would go to church, which consisted of me standing up and giving a sermon to my companion and then him standing up and giving a sermon to me. Then we would go to our apartment and eat lunch (dry bologna sandwiches). It was so absurd and bizarre and lonely. My companion must have been a prototype robot or something cause he was very stiff and it was difficult to hold a conversation with him. I ended up spending most of my free time writing letters to anybody I could think of back home. I even wrote several letters to a girl who already broke up with me just prior to me leaving for the mission. I wasn’t trying to win her back or anything, I was just desperate to communicate with somebody. She never replied, of course.
10. If you were the first human to reach Mars, what do you think you would find? Hopefully water! Ultimate dream, of course, would be to find some evidence of life. I get chills thinking about that. Can you imagine how monumental that would be? It’s probably not there though. Just seems unlikely. I do hope we are able to establish a colony. What an amazing beginning that would be.
More on Leegrid:
Leegrid Stevens grew up in the hill country of Spicewood, TX. He moved to New York after attending SMU in Dallas and now lives in Brooklyn. His plays have been seen in downtown theatres in New York including HERE Arts Center, Incubator Arts Project, Lark Theatre, Altered Stages, Theatre for the New City among others both nationally and internationally. You can find some of his plays in print including Post-Oedipus (Playscripts), Leda’s Swan (Stage Tribes, Theater-Verlag Desh Publishers), Sun Stand Thou Still (Plays and Playwrights 2004), and The Dudleys! (Indie Theatre). Leegrid’s production of his play The Dudleys! just won the NY Innovative Theatre award for Outstanding Innovative Design; he was nominated for two NY Innovative Theatre Awards, Outstanding Script and Outstanding Sound Design (won), for Spaceman at Incubator Arts; Leegrid’s production of The Twelfth Labor received four NY Innovative Theatre Award nominations including outstanding production. A recent workshop production of his play, The Dudleys! in Austin earned him several B. Iden Payne awards including Outstanding Script, Outstanding Composition and Outstanding Sound Design. Leegrid’s adaptation of Miss Julie, titled Ms. Julie, Asian Equities, was recently named as one of Broadway World’s ten best productions of 2015. He holds an. MFA in playwriting from Columbia.