Friday, March 8, 2013

Director Padraic Lillis on Rise and Fall of a Teenage Cyber Queen

"...It is about needing to know we are seen and loved for who we are in reality, and creating a fantasy to make that possible."
Director Padraic Lillis

How did you meet the playwright Lindsay Joy Murphy?

I met Lindsay about eight years ago when she was a student in the Labyrinth Theater's Master Class. She was part of a very special group, one that I am glad I have been able to stay in regular contact with. Over the eight years, Lindsay has become a very good friend and collaborator. I love working with her.

My first thought about our collaboration is that it is fun and an easy process. However, that is only because she works very hard on her script before we go into rehearsal, and she is a very good writer. I've directed a workshop of a play of hers, Severence, and this play, Rise and Fall of a Teenage Cyberqueen. In both experiences what I appreciate is how open Lindsay is to what the story needs. She is very open to changes. And most of the focus is on, what information is required for the story when thinking dramaturgically.
Playwright Lindsay Joy Murphy
Regarding working with the actors, Lindsay is very involved in the process without saying a lot. She lets everyone do their jobs, appreciates their take on things, and allows the play to grow. And then steps it at the right moments to make sure her intent grounds the growth.

What is the play about?

Rise and Fall of a Teenage Cyberqueen opens with a fourteen year old girl posting a video of herself lipsynching from her bedroom. And the rise is about her videos going viral and the fall is the challenges of this fame. Ultimately, what I find very exciting about this play is that it is exploring the phenomenom of public/private moments that social media allows teenagers coming of age today to have. The ability to share everything publicly is very empowering, and it is confusing. That is what this play is about. Coming of age. It is about children maturing too fast in the age of social media.  And it is about how technology allows adults to remain young, maybe too long. It is about needing to know we are seen and loved for who we are in reality, and creating a fantasy to make that possible. That last sentence is interesting because I think about it in context of the play and social media, but I'm not too sure it isn't also why we do theater.


How do you approach collaborating with playwrights on new plays ?

I love working with writers. My approach is to direct the play that the writer has written. And to do that, I have to ask the writer a lot of questions about their play, the characters and the world they've created. I want to understand the inspiration for the play, and what is the heart of the story for the writer. I know that as a director, I bring insight into the 'stakes' of a moment, and can help clarify the thru-line or intent for a character while working with the actors on a scene, but I always want to be in dialogue with the writer, and have them be in the process, to let us know if our discovery is valuable to them, on the right track, or taking us somewhere that is not valuable.

Padraic Lillis
Lindsay is wonderful to work with because she is open and clear about what is important and necessary to telling the story. I also love sharing the moments of discovering that the play is much smarter than I am. I will point out how the writer did something brilliant for a character or for the storytelling. Usually it is a discovery the writer and I are making at the same time. I believe the writer's unconcious is always working and needs to be acknowledged. It is part of the writer's craft, and I think I like to acknowledge how good the writer is throughout the process because I never want that  to be forgotten. In an 'open' process people can start to think that they're helping to develop a play, and they are, but there is only one writer, and that person is respected throughout the process.

I also want to go back to the statement, that I direct the play.  This particular play has two music videos that were produced, shot, and edited for the production. The writer is invited and involved in every aspect of design, - and in this case filming. However, my job is to communicate with the writer before and after each meeting. It is not required that she be part of every meeting, every editing session, every...they are of course invited, but they wrote the play. That was plenty of work. Now it is our turn to help bring that play to life.

You are also a playwright, what are you working on right now?

I have two projects I'm working on. One is a solo piece that I wrote called, How to Survive Crack Addiction, which I am performing. It is the first time I've performed since college. I'm enjoying developing the play thru performance - and eventually I'll enjoy performing again.  And I have a play that I just started that I'm excited about, currently titled, You Should've Seen Me...right now it's a single mom needing to be recognized for what it takes to raise a family, and the first female to play professional baseball. We'll see where it goes.
Rehearsal for Murphy's Severence directed by Lillis
 You also teach, what is your approach? How do you frame the class, guide the process etc?

I have a play development workshop. My approach is to have actors come in to the class and cold read sections of the play for the writers to hear their work. And I ask a lot of questions. First thing I do, is to ask the writer what did they hear. Plays are meant to be seen, heard, experienced. From there I let them know what I respond to, what I'm excited to learn more about, what I'm invested in. But mostly I ask them what they are interested and invested in...and I hope that I guide them in discovering where that is happening and what needs to happen next to make the play stronger. My goal is the facilitate a process that allows the writer's voice to be as strong and clear as possible.

You can see the Rise and Fall of a Teenage Cyber Queen at the Access Theater (380 Broadway at White Street) now thru March 17th. Purchase tix here or call 800-838-3006. Rise and Fall is produced by LabRats Theater company. Tickets are $18 but you can get them for $15 bucks by entering or mentioning SceneQueen! Do it. 

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