We continue this year’s Writer/Director Lab Reading Series on May 2nd with Clinton Hill by Tony Meneses and directed by Michael Leibenluft. Here’s an interview with Michael about his time working in the Lab and what makes him tick as a director.
Briefly tell us about the play you are directing for The Lab.
ML: Tony has bravely and rigorously built his lab play, Clinton Hill, around only two characters: William — a lost, grieving young man — and Louie — William’s “adopted sister” and the daughter of his former babysitter. Through the reunion of these two characters, we witness how the complex forces of class, race, and sex infiltrate even the most private and intimate spaces in our lives. Louie and William’s evening together exposes the ugly underbelly of gentrification and the toxic outcome of mixing money and family.
Who – or what – are the greatest influences on your directing?
ML: PJ Paparelli taught me the importance of bringing a humble passion to everything you do as an artist and about the full potential impact an artistic leader can bring to his or her community. Robert Woodruff helped me learn to capitalize on the radical aesthetics of performance — the ways we can play with time and space to elicit revelation and mystery and beauty. I push myself to work in environments outside of my comfort zone – to work abroad and in other languages or with artists based in other disciplines. I think it helps me keep my assumptions in check and also forces me to make my process and what I create both accessible and essential.
What part of the Writer/Director Lab process was the most instructive and entertaining?
ML: The beginning was crazy because we were all sort of staring at this empty page together (both literally and figuratively), and the possibility of these un-conceived plays and this unknown group of artists was kind of titillating. We just started recording dialogue from our lives to get to know each other and as a starting point for creating something. And it turns out we hear and say very weird things! Um, also that time when it seemed like the building was burning down? And four fire trucks arrived on Broadway and there were conflicting announcements about whether or not we had to evacuate…Turns out the fire was contained on an upper floor, so we just kept talking about plays, unabated.
How have your dramaturgical skills developed over the course of the past nine months?
ML: I think my empathy for playwrights has only increased. There’s such a vulnerability and overwhelming possibility in their craft. The last time we read each play in the group has been particularly intense. On the one hand, it felt like a coming out party for each piece — we finally saw the chaotic mix of ideas and moments cohere into a narrative with a fully articulated world. But at the same time, because the plays finally had a nascent shape, they often incited lively and challenging feedback. It’s a long road — building something as big as a play from nothing — and I think we’ve all been learning how to be both supportive and brutally honest at the same time.
The Lab has produced some pretty great plays. Looking over them, do any stand out to you and why do you pick those particular plays?
ML: Oh gosh, so many great writers! Melissa James Gibson! Annie Baker! Dan LeFranc! Jason Grote! Mallery Avidon! I love The Internationalist by Anne Washburn. I think the way it abstracts culture is simultaneously funny and strange and oddly familiar.
Clinton Hill by Tony Meneses, directed by Michael Leibenluft will be read as part of the 2015/2016 Writer/Director Lab Reading Series on May 2nd at 7pm at Soho Rep. The event is free and open to the public; first-come-first served. THe house will open around 6:45pm.