Interview and article by James La Bella, Mad Moon Dramaturg
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Lisa D’Amour, the playwright of Mad Moon, to chat a bit about the show and beyond.
D’Amour is a playwright and interdisciplinary artist working across the country. Her plays include Airline Highway, The Furies, Cherokee, and the Pulitzer-nominated Detroit. She is one-half of the performance duo PearlDamour, whose most recent project Ocean Filibuster was workshopped at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) this winter. Ocean Filibuster will continue workshops at the A.R.T this spring and summer.
WHAT INSPIRED THE WRITING OF MAD MOON?
It was a very local project. I had worked a few years before with the NOLA Project in New Orleans, which Alex [Ates] is a part of. They produced a musical of mine called Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl and it was one of the few times that my niece and nephew could come and see my work, because my work tends to be very adult. It was so fun to do a work for all ages in New Orleans, so we decided the next year that I would start working on a musical for kids—for their high school students to do. In some ways the goal was purely to again make something that my niece and nephew could see.That was the impulse.
By the time we decided to write the musical there was a time crunch. I thought “okay I have to write this,” and “what’s the best way to write something quickly and efficiently?” Well, steal. So I was like I think I’ll steal as many plot lines as I can from Shakespeare and then I thought “Oh that will be really great because then when people are doing it in high school then they can also study the Shakespeare plays” and so it became a really fun game to try and put it all together. My first impulse was A Midsummer Night’s Dream because I knew I wanted to do this overnight arts camp thing. But then lots of other plots lines started to come in to the mix.
I do think of it as a gift to my niece and nephew. They go to a very conservative, Catholic school, and I don’t know that really they get a lot of support around issues of gender identity and sexual identity. So I wanted to open the door for them to talk about those things, and think about those things.
WHO ARE SOME ARTISTS THAT INSPIRE YOU RIGHT NOW?
I recently saw a great play at New York Theatre Workshop called Hurricane Diana by Madeleine George. It was a fantastic play about Dionysus coming back to Earth in the form of a gardener in New Jersey. It was directed by Leigh Silverman. It was a really amazing mix of epic and hysterical while dealing with a very important issue, which is climate change. I thought it managed it all so well without being heavy-handed.
It’s also really exciting to see artists I grew up with in the downtown scene like Heidi Schreck and Taylor Mac (both of whom I’ve worked with on different projects) suddenly have their plays on Broadway. To see a more experimental and intellectual aesthetic infiltrating that world is really exciting to me.
I also have to shout out—there’s so much interesting work being done in New Orleans right now. Goat in the Road Theatre Company has really started moving towards doing original historical works in historical buildings in New Orleans. It’s exciting to see them branching out in this way.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WRITERS/ARTISTS AT EMERSON?
My biggest piece of advice is ‘Make it.’
Don’t worry about the money. Don’t worry about knocking on a lot of theatre doors. Just find your people, scrape together what you can, and make it. Because that is the way you’re going to learn. If you sit around thinking about it or banging your head against a wall fundraising, it’s just not going to happen.
I really advise taking at least two years [after college] to be ‘boots on the ground.’ Go see as much as you can, make as many things as you can, save your money, intern somewhere, or apprentice with a writer or director. Don’t waste your time and money applying to grad school. I’ve been on a lot of selection panels [for graduate programs] and every now and then we’ll invite somebody just out of undergrad, but more often than not we’ll say ‘Wow, they’re so talented, but not ready yet.’
Take time to try things. Find the way you work; find what feels good in your bones. Get experience. My two biggest pieces of advice are ‘Make it’ and ‘Wait’.
Be sure to purchase your tickets to see Mad Moon, by Lisa D’Amour, music by Sam Craft, and directed by Alex Ates March 28 through 31 in Emerson College’s Greene Theatre. Tickets available at emersontheatres.org or 617-824-8400 ($12 General Public | $8 Emerson Community).