Interview with Shellen Lubin

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Shellen Lubin discusses her new play AFTER THE THIN MAN. This is the second in a series of four posts featuring the playwrights of the Bennington 365 Women a Year Festival.

Interviewer: Natalie Osborne

Q: How did you hear about 365 Women a Year? 

A: On facebook — not even sure whether it was a post in the Playwriting group there — or just noticing one of Jessica’s posts — but I immediately became involved.

Q: Why did you choose Stella Adler and Sylvia Gassell as your historic women? What drew you to them? 

A: I studied with Stella Adler when I was younger, and she was in her 70s. Sylvia Gassell was in a play of mine when she was in her late 60s. Sylvia told me about Stella coming back from Hollywood and telling her not to go out there as a “character actress” because there are no parts for them. It’s something that has stayed with me all these years. I decided to imagine the moment when Stella gave up on acting as a profession and decided to teach, and that decision became the center of this play. (Also the fact that she was right, because, as brilliant as Sylvia was, how much did she really get to work in New York?)

Q: Can you walk me through the process of adapting a persons life for the stage? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together? 

A: I read and read until something about their path excited me, sparked me, and then focused my research on that aspect, fleshing out “information” where I needed it. The biggest challenges are 1) knowing that truth is more important than life, and so you have to write what makes the play work, not worry about what actually “happened”; 2) knowing that whatever you write about them, there is so much more, and the more ground you try to cover the less depth the piece will have.

The clicks were mostly found in the writing itself, the discoveries that come up when you create characters in your mind and set up the scene and discover where it goes. Some of the greatest clicks were: when I discovered why Stella became a teacher, something that she never discussed publicly and I’ve never heard anyone say about her, but I’m sure is true; when I discovered why she set up her classroom the way she did, not just to aggrandize herself.

Q: What are you most excited about for the reading on the 27th? What are you most nervous about?

A: I am excited about seeing where the director and actors take these women–these characters–having nothing but the words I have written in front of them to start from on their expedition. That has only happened a few times in my life (where I got to see the production but was not a part of the process), and it is always somewhat breathtaking.

Nervous? Hmmm … I guess only that maybe I didn’t write what I thought I did, and it doesn’t get where I wanted it to … yet … because there are always re-writes.

Q: Are there any playwrights that inspired you while you were working on this piece, or who inspire you in general? 

A: Lanford Wilson. Secrets. Discoveries. August Wilson. Athol Fugard. And Shakespeare. Keeping things active.

Q: What has been your favorite aspect of working with 365 Women a Year? 

A: I have only once before written a biographical piece, and working on these two pieces has really helped me with that one (still in the middle of re-writes). I have also only written a few short plays. Most of my work has been full-length. It has been very exciting to just pick women I want to write about and then read all about them, become absorbed in their lives, and discover what it is I want to say, the angle I want to come from, how I want to say it.

Q: Do you have any advice for the playwrights joining 365 Women a Year in 2015? 

A: Don’t think you have to decide what you want to write about the person first. Go deep into them and find where they touch you deepest.

And don’t try to cover too much ground. The illumination of one moment or a sequence of a few moments is actually much more interesting than a bio-pic (as it were) of their lives. It’s not a history lesson. It’s a play.

Shellen Lubin is a playwright, songwriter, and director, most recently writing music & lyrics for Susan Merson’s BETWEEN PRETTY PLACES and THE QUALITY OF RESPECT, her take on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Other produced plays include: IMPERFECT FLOWERS, WAITING, COFFEE ONCE A YEAR, ELEVATOR INVENTIONS. Musicals include: MOLLY’S DAUGHTERS, MY BRAVE FACE, and DEAR ALEX, DEAR HARRIET. She is currently working on the musical WHAT ZEESIE SAW ON DELANCEY STREET (with Elsa Rael and Matthew Gandolfo) and THE SARAH PROJECT. Co-President – Women in the Arts & Media Coalition; Co-Secretary – League of Professional Theatre Women; DG, BMI, SDC, AEA  @shlubin @MonMornQuote. You can see her play AFTER THE THIN MAN at the Bennington College Student Center on March 27th, at 7:40pm. Or watch the online stream on HowlRound TV

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