Interview with Playwright Andrea Lepcio
Andrea Lepcio discusses her play, Looking for the Pony.
What was your inspiration for this play?
I woke up writing the play in the middle of the night about six months after my sister died. It is a true story and suddenly I felt moved to try to capture the extraordinary experience that was cancer. I wrote a 20-minute play that went on to be done by several festivals and got published. The second director and cast asked me to write a full-length version. I said, “She’s dead, what do you want from me.” But with their encouragement, I went back to writing. The core of this supportive group was Michelle Hurd, Adrienne Hurd (yes, sisters), and Barbara Gulan. I wrote and tossed out pages. We would get together to hear it. I was resisting much of what the play wanted to be. Finally, my mentor, who is Big Writer in the play, said why don’t you tell the story chronologically. I sat down and it started to feel right — hard and painful — but right. Different notions of the play caused the original group to disperse and I found new colleagues as I moved toward production. That was also sad, but sometimes that can happen as work finds its life.
What do you want the audience to come away with?
I love sharing my sister with audiences. So first that they have to joy of coming to know this wonderful person. I want them, of course, to have a catharsis, but it is very important to me that they are released by the end of the play. J. Smith Cameron who originated the role of Oisie really helped me with this. It was her idea to bring their familiar mantra in as the closing line of the play. I always loved how she delivered that line because I think she gave audiences what they needed. Release from the pain back to the fullness of life which is, of course, what had to happen for Oisie to be able to go on. And for me.
What was the most challenging part of writing this play?
That I was writing to me. I wanted to write to my sister. I was less interested in writing to me. I found my story much less compelling. I had to dig in to allow myself to write the fullness of our relationship. She was helping me give birth to my new life as she was fighting for her own life.
What playwrights have inspired you?
So many, truly. I had the great joy of studying with Irene Fornes, Tina Howe, and Milan Stitt (Big Writer). Beckett is a beacon. Williams is an invitation. Current writers, I go to school on include Lisa Kron, Janine Nabers, Kimber Lee, Will Eno, and more. I think we are in a very rich time for playwriting.
Why did you start writing plays?
I wanted to be an actor when I was little but got derailed by conservative parents. When I came back to acting as an adult, I got involved with a new theater that became the Mint Theater. At the time, they were offering classes and one was playwriting. I took it…for fun. It was like meeting myself. It had never previously occurred to me to be a writer, but that class was life-changing. Does that answer the question? Suddenly I had stories I wanted to tell and I fell in love, specifically, with dialogue as a way to tell stories. I got teased a lot as a kid for talking too much, and I guess it is true that I love what people say and that we say things to get what we want, to figure life out, to make connections. I also feel once I discovered writing, I found it to be a great way to think about the world. It allows me to ask questions and ponder all the things about life that I don’t understand. So much! It is a way to reach for….truth.
What projects are you working on now?
I am kind of insane. I write multiple projects at once. The lead project of the moment is a climate change play specifically about the ozone agreement (Montreal Protocol) and the contrast between the success of that agreement and the failure to date of the climate agreement (Kyoto Protocol). It is a big fat research dependent play about extraordinary people doing good work. I’ve got a new rock musical with Ariel Aparicio called Lf&Tms. And I’ll be doing a workshop this fall with a dance-theater piece Me You Us Them with director Jo Cattell.
What kind of theatre excites you?
I like theater that is intimate with the audience (as opposed to distancing). I like wild and theatrical. I like to see things I’ve never seen before. I have to have diverse casts. All white theater bores me.
What advice do you have for playwrights starting out?
Write every day. Tina Howe told me to do that about 15 years ago. She said that way I can write poorly for… And she paused. I thought she would say a day or at most a week. She said for four months. That struck fear in my heart. She said I can write poorly for four months because I know I’m going to write every day and eventually I will start writing better again. I’ve written every day ever since.
Andrea Lepcio is best known for Looking for the Pony, finalist for the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, and for the NEA Outstanding New American Play Award. It was presented in a “Rolling World Premiere” Off-Broadway at Vital Theatre Company in New York and Synchronicity Performance Group in Atlanta and had several subsequent productions. Plays and musicals under development include World Avoided, Strait of Gibraltar, Central Avenue Breakdown, Room 16, and Lf&Tms. Andrea is the Dramatists Guild Fellows Program Director. M.F.A. Dramatic Writing, Carnegie Mellon University. B.A. Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic. Andrea lives in Harlem, New York, and Seal Cove, Maine.