“I’m Addicted to Story”: An Interview with Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson





/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;

As one of my last posts for A Motley Vision (I’ll go more into that in a different post) I wanted to conduct an interview with one of my favorite Mormon playwrights (one of my favorite playwrights, period), Melissa Leilani Larson. Mel has created a body of work that is impressive and moving, and she is one of Mormonism’s best and brightest dramatists. So without further ado:

1. So, first, tell us a briefly about yourself. Your personal, educational, creative background as a person and as a playwright, your interests, what makes you distinct?

Melissa Leilani Larson, photo taken by Alisia Packard

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I think that love of reading led me to writing stories of my own. I wrote all through school, first grade on up, until I earned my BA in English/Creative Writing from BYU and later my MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

As far as what makes me distinct”¦ Fabulous actresses far outnumber the parts they can play. My ultimate goal is to write fascinating, engaging, and challenging roles for women. A lot of them–several strong female roles per play. That’s the distinction to which I aspire.

2. You were chiefly an English major/literary personality before you switched your focus to writing for a theatrical medium. What changed that direction? Continue reading ““I’m Addicted to Story”: An Interview with Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson”

A brief interview with Melissa Leilani Larson just before closing weekend


So tell us about the first weekend.

The first weekend went well. We’ve had a little technical craziness but we have overcome it, at least for the most part. I think the show is in a really good place. I feel confident in the cast and in the director, and I’ve been in the booth acting as stage manager so I feel good about that as well. We have a really solid production team and things came together really well in a really short period of time.

The difficulty, as per always, is getting people to come. Getting butts in the seats. I can ply my students with extra credit and bonus points till the cows come home, but even if they all come, it won’t fill our houses. It’s always a gamble; you can feel so good about the show you’re doing, the product you’re putting out there — but if no one shows up, then it’s almost — almost — pointless. Naturally I’ve grown in the process, and I like these characters so it’s a thrill to see them on stage. But I know them so well — I want others to have the chance to get to know them as well.

How has the production’s execution matched your original imagining?

One of my initial goals was to have the play feel filmy so that we wouldn’t have to see any actual film played on stage. The play does have a lot of brief scenes that are connected by title cards — just like silent pictures. One of the nice things about the literal theatre space itself is that it frames things; the proscenium allows for the audience to be separate, and the stage is raised so that you feel like you’re looking up at a screen. There are a couple of scenes in the play that “intercut” with each other — we go back and forth between two locations and two conversations so that questions in one place are answered in the other and vice versa, almost making the two separate scenes into one longer, deeper conversation.

Workshopping the play a couple of years back in grad school, I came to realize how important the live piano was to the show. It lends an air of the period and compliments that idea of framing what is happening on stage — the piano is visible to the audience, but is outside of the main frame. With this production we made the choice to have all of the sound effects in the show come from the piano, and I feel that is a strong and effective choice. I’ve already written into the notes for the play that live music is definitely preferred.

I think we have a great cast. I’m particularly pleased with the two leading ladies in the show. I think they carry it very well between them. I think their characterizations align with my initial imaginings, and that they successfully portray real people. It’s a relief as a writer to see that happen, to make that connection between what is possible on the page and what actually is enacted. So I count myself lucky in that regard.

What sort of feedback have you been getting? And what sort of feedback are you giving yourself (that is, what have you learned that you can apply in future projects)?

The feedback so far has been very positive. There is a review in The Deseret News that came out this week. Also we’ve had two audience talkbacks wherein some great questions have been brought up. People seem to like the characters and the story. They really enjoy the setting for the show — the title cards and the live piano — because it gives the piece a very nice ambience. People are also responding really well to the comical aspects of the piece, which means a lot to me; I’m self-conscious of my attempts at comedy, so it’s really great to hear an audience laugh in the right places.

As far as rewrites go, people like the characters and have actually said they want to see more of them. That the play happens just a hair too fast. Maybe there are a couple of scenes missing, though I can’t quite put my finger on what they are at the moment. It’s been great to see the show on its feet and see things work from beginning to end. Hearing the script aloud and being able to feel out the pacing with actors rather than just myself makes a huge difference in the process. I’ve cut things and rearranged things, and hope to soon figure out where those mysterious phantom scenes might go if I do go about writing them.

Something else along the lines of considering things for future projects: As a woman and a playwright, I try to create solid female roles. At least one, but I usually get away with two or even three. With this project, one of the concepts I started with was for Max and Sam to be surrounded by men, as that’s a proper presentation of the film industry in 1916. A lot of industries, actually. It made sense for the two lead actresses to be surrounded by a cast of, literally, three to five men. Next goal is to try to write a small cast that is all female. What’s it about? I couldn’t tell you. But that’s where it’s going to start.

Just one more question, a practical one: If someone’s in the area and wants to come, are tickets still available? What do they need to do? Will you be signing programs?

LOL. I can sign programs if people want; I don’t know that they will be worth much. The show has four more performances: Friday (the 16th) a Saturday matinee at 2:30, Saturday night, and Monday night. The evening shows are all at 7:30. Tickets are available at the door starting at 6:30 or at any time online at www.provostage.org. There will be post-show discussions after the matinee and Monday evening performances if anyone is interested in those.