An Interview with Mona Mansour, Lauren Yee, and Paola Lazaro
1. What is your relationship to Dorset Theatre Festival?
Mona Mansour: ’m very new to Dorset Theatre Festival. John Eisner from The Lark mentioned my work to Dina Janis, and from there, Dina and I have had conversations. I like the way she framed how the New Play Reading residency could work: very artist-driven, very much looking at what you as playwright want to work on, and the final “presentation” can reflect that.
Lauren Yee: I’m a relative newbie to Dorset Theatre Festival and very excited to workshop something totally new at Dorset. I met Dina at the Colorado New Play Summit a year and a half ago, and it was thrilling to meet someone so dedicated to a playwright’s vision. So of course ,when she asked me to be a part of the Festival this summer, I jumped at the chance.
Paola Lazaro: My relationship with Dorset Theatre Festival started two years ago when I went to Vermont as an actor to work on one of Martyna Majok’s amazing plays. There, I got to meet Dina Janis, and I got to get a taste of the Festival’s amazing and supportive community and staff…and I got to see and experience Vermont’s absolutely inspiring beauty.
2. How would you describe your style as a playwright? What experiences do you try to craft for your readers, casts, and audiences?
Mona: I am always interested, ultimately, in trying to put onstage the beauty and strangeness of human behavior. Whatever politics or events are happening in the world of the play, I want to explore how that affects these people in this moment.
Lauren: I value theatre that celebrates all of the human experience. I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want to see the world anew, I want to see a story I’ve never heard before in a way I’ve never seen before. I want to constantly surprise and delight an audience. My plays are very funny, they’re very sad, they skim the line between heartbreak and humor. And I tend to veer towards family stories, parents and their children.
Paola: I try to be as honest and transparent as I possibly can with the audience, the casts, and the experiences that I’m drawing from. Honesty and transparency are my guides through the process. Hopefully those guides make us feel something or recognize something within ourselves that will make us feel less alone and make it possible to breathe one more breath and leave the house the next day.
3. Why are new play workshop opportunities valuable to a playwright’s process? What do audiences gain from attending these readings?
Mona: Workshops give you deadlines! I think theatre audiences get to learn about process. Meryl Streep, in that documentary about Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Mother Courage, says to the camera something to the effect of, “This is process. It can be ugly.” The cameras were there for a rehearsal, and in rehearsals, casts and creative teams are still finding their way. It’s vulnerable. It is, in fact, “ugly” in some ways. But I think an audience who knows what they are seeing can really get a valuable glimpse into what the whole process is.
Lauren: You never quite know what you have until you see it in front of an audience. Plays are meant to be experienced live, collectively, and in real time. That experience is valuable. As for an audience member during a workshop, they get to be in on the ground floor. You get to see a living, breathing play as it changes and adapts. Is every play going to go on to a long and healthy life? No, but that’s part of the fun. You get to see the path towards plays becoming what they’re supposed to be. It’s the ultimate R&D lab experience.
Paola: New play workshops are extremely valuable to a playwright’s process because, at least for me, without hearing the play read by actors, I don’t know where it stands and where it wants to go. The workshops help me navigate and immerse myself in the world I’m creating, and I believe they are necessary for finding the structure of the piece. I’m very thankful for their existence. In terms of the what the audiences gain from attending these readings, I believe they get to be a part of the creation of something. They get to see a work in progress and how a piece develops. Also, their input and their reactions become parts of the development process as the piece moves forward.
4. After the Festival: any upcoming projects on your radar?
Mona: have a play called We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War that will be a part of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival in July. My frequent collaborator Evren Odcikin is directing, and I’m always excited about getting back in the room with him.
Lauren: I’ve got a co-production of my play The Great Leap at Denver Center and Seattle Rep in spring 2018, loosely inspired by my father’s early basketball career and his first trip to China to play a friendship game. Also up are a couple more productions of King of the Yees, at Seattle’s ACT Theatre and Canada’s National Arts Centre, which is a play also about my dad (and me and dying Chinatowns).
Paola: So far, I have a commission to write a new play for Atlantic Theater Company, and I’m working on developing it. Also, I’m working on writing two other new plays.