The word “passion” is really the only word I can use to accurately describe my hunger to find new talent and new voices. Playwright Lauren Yee is one such talent.
Dreamers turn themselves inside out, sharing a kaleidoscope of experiences, emotions, hopes and dreams. They wrestle with demons, pulling them kicking and screaming from dusty, cob-webbed, hidden places into the light of day. It is hard work discovering the many sides of the self. It’s difficult to smash the mirror of self-reflection and then reassemble the shards and fragments into another mirror for others to reflect upon.
Yee was raised in San Francisco and now calls New York City home, and we’re happy to claim her as one of our own. She was a Dramatists Guild fellow, a MacDowell fellow, a MAP Fund grantee and a member of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group. She has been a finalist for the Jerome Fellowship, the PONY Fellowship, the Princess Grace Award, the Sundance Theatre Lab and the Wasserstein Prize.
Her play “Samsara” was workshopped at the O’Neill Conference and was a nominee for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the L. Arnold Weissberger Award.
Yee is a Time Warner Fellow at the Women’s Project Playwrights Lab, a member of the Ma-Yi Theatre Writers Lab, the Shank playwright-in-residence at Second Stage Theatre and a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center.
She is currently under commission from Lincoln Center Theatre/LCT3, Mixed Blood Theatre and Encore Theatre Company (with support from the Gerbode Foundation).
AmNews: What fuels your creative fire?
Lauren Yee: For me, I can write a play when I know the character’s voice. Usually, that’s the thing that comes first for me in a play.
I love plays that are emotionally intuitive, that connect with me not because it’s a mirror of my own life, but because it so perfectly describes the metaphors and intangible experiences that color our lives.
What are your go-to spots in the city to get a second wind?
I love a good coffee shop; I can’t write at home. Whenever I am stuck at home, I find myself suddenly and intensely interested in things like dusting and sweeping. Everything but writing. I’m also fastidious about my writing space. I have to have a certain amount of white noise to work.
Lincoln Center is a gorgeous place to simply walk around, especially with the new renovation of the theater courtyard and the building of the Claire Tow Theater. It’s a place that encompasses so many high-level arts institutions and is really a public space that’s open to the people. It feels like an oasis to me.
I’m from San Francisco, so getting out of New York City and visiting home is always appreciated. I never learned how to drive, so there’s a certain slowness when I’m back in San Francisco. I relearn my sense of time there.
How hard (or how easy) has it been to get your creative voice heard in this profession?
I hear that if you stay in the profession long enough and work hard enough, you’ll rise up eventually. I know there are a lot of other factors involved in that, but over time, I’ve definitely been surprised about how much I’ve been able to rise in this surprisingly small world and meet some brilliant collaborators. People always say the market for new plays is constantly shrinking, but I think that new plays have fierce advocates in the form of artistic directors, literary managers, dramaturges and others that help to get good work done.
That being said, theater is a field that relies on face-to-face personal interactions. While it’s entirely possible to write and send out plays from your home, the importance of in-person conversations with other makers of theater is crucial. Despite being a recent transplant to New York City, I don’t believe that you need to live in the city to thrive, but you do need some way to reach out in meaningful and organic ways.