Ellen: I've been reading The Play that Changed My Life. Is there a play that made you want to become a playwright? Or any crystalized moment- a production you saw, or perhaps an experience you had- that led you to a life in the theater?
Lila: Ah yes, that 'tantalizing web of theatrical allure,' as Paula Vogel put it, right? For me, it was (don’t laugh) watching Mary Lennox sing "The Girl I Mean To Be" in New Haven's Shubert Theatre production of The Secret Garden when I was around 7. Even though I didn’t have the ‘MFA vocab’ to codify it then, witnessing a character’s “want” geyser up from such an immediate place that it needed to be sung—even more so than spoken—deeply resonated: “I need a place where I can go…” I think the idea that a mere 2.5 minutes could both contain a story and expose an inner world was (and still is) a kind of sorcery to me. The web was spun; I was trapped for life!
Ellen: When did you first start writing?
Lila: During my freshman year at Barnard, I was connected to the playwright Cathy Caplan who invited me to be the "actress" for her playwriting group, a 4-hour weekly ritual. It was the first time I was immersed in the process of working on text from the inside out, as opposed to wrestling with it from the outside in. At that point, I was only writing poetry, studying with [the Poet Laureate] Mark Strand. But my impulse to marry my bipolar lives—my introverted one as a poet and my extroverted one as an actress--led me to take my first playwriting class, which was taught by the extraordinary Joe Kraemer, then the head of the Lit Dept at Juilliard. It turns out, the first thing I ever wrote in that class—a 10 min teen thriller about a death threat scrawled on my dorm room white board (true story)—evolved years later into Monkey Bowl, the play that you [Ellen] dramaturged for its MTC reading last spring!
Ellen: And can you tell us a bit about your most recently produced work?
Lila: I most recently worked on a one-act called "Night Float," which was produced at Playwrights Horizons in July, alongside Craig Lucas’ one-act “The Catherine Wheel.” The plays were commissioned by the Relational Medicine Foundation, whose mission is to promote the positive healing force of transformational, person-to-person relationships between a doctor and a patient. Both Craig and I were partnered up, as it were, with a heart transplant patient and their spouse; these patients generously shared their intimate and often painful stories with us, through a series of interviews and meetings, which ultimately served as inspiration for our plays. Meanwhile, a documentary was being filmed about the process of the project, from inception to performance, which added this strange ‘meta’ layer to the whole thing (plus a camera crew!).
The Wall Street Journal wrote a great article on the project, which you can read here.
Ellen: What do you find most challenging about playwriting, and what do you find most rewarding?
Lila: I’m a restless soul by nature, so to get me to sit and focus, alone in room, for a long stretch of time, is often dicey. My brain is like: should I finish this sentence or go to the gym? Or get a snack? Or go to that Anthropolgie sale Ellen told me about? So I LIVE for the moment when I can put a fresh script in the hands of a great bunch of actors and trusted director, and shout: GREEN LIGHT GO! I know its cliché, but so much is discovered and unearthed in the madcap rehearsal process—objectives are clarified and lines are tweaked and choices are made—that I wish I could snap my fingers and a team of thespians would poof appear in my living room. Which leads me to what I find most rewarding: collaboration! Anne Bogart recently said to us in a class, something like ‘making a play is like a peep show; the actors, playwright, director, dramaturg all look through different windows, but they can shift booths at anytime.’ I wish I came up with that metaphor myself!
Ellen: Lila is by far the most glamorous playwright I know; what are your thoughts on fall fashion right now? Is there a piece you are hoping to add to your wardrobe? Or a favorite piece that you have been rocking out?
Lila: Two words: RED JEANS!! I am a "ginger” (she says shamefully) so my whole life I’ve been told to avoid wearing the color red like the plague (godforbid!). So, red jeans to me feels like a guilty pleasure. Plus, they add a head-turning pop, and transition smoothly from day to night (or night to day, whatever is your speed).
Ellen: What are you currently working on? And what is that process like?
Lila: I'm working on a film adaptation of a short story, which for me is a terrifying yet welcomed shift from playwriting. Craig Lucas (my thesis mentor) recently instructed me to do this Jungian-based playwriting exercise—you’re supposed to write the second you get up in the morning, still in bed, in that half-asleep dream state. Now I am trying hard to embrace this explosion of my oneiric “consciousness” (although, I must have my coffee before), I am. But I think working on a film presents a whole new alphabet of structure and rules that I am really excited to abide by. I say bring it! Who needs Jung! Plus, the conversion of literary fiction to a visual medium is a tricky beast.
And then, there’s my thesis play……
Ellen: When can we see your work next?!
Lila: So, my thesis play, “BACKSPACE,” will be produced at New York Theatre Workshop April 26-29 of next year. Its about the reunion of four guy friends--who graduated 4 years ago from medical school—in an old country house, with their current significant others. Its an exploration of how the past and present collide and combust in your late 20s/early 30s, magnified by the fragility of life that these young doctors are confronted with every day. Plus, there’s always lots of sex and secrets. I would pitch it as The Big Chill with an MD tagged on the end. And you may know my nonpareil dramaturg, Miss Ellen Joffred?
And, “Night Float” will have its West Coast premiere (my very first) at the Geffen Playhouse next Spring. So stay tuned!
Ellen: Merci mille fois to chère Lila for sharing these wonderful thoughts!! Keep your eyes out for her work, it is not to be missed. And now I might go looking for some red jeans...