Playwright Craig Lucas on his Broadway career and mentoring the next generation
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘The Life of a Play’ panel
Who: Craig Lucas and Amy Rose Marsh
Where: Explore Booksellers
When: Saturday, Feb. 2, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: theatermasters.org
The Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright Craig Lucas is in Aspen this weekend mentoring the next generation of writers at Theater Masters’ annual “Take Ten” festival, working with graduate students and local high-schoolers on their 10-minute plays.
When Lucas was in their position, moving to New York in the 1970s to launch a career as an actor, he proudly admits, he was clueless.
“I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” Lucas said with a laugh. “I went to college to learn to be an actor because I thought the life of an actor would be easy. I don’t know where I got that idea, and it turned out very quickly not to be the case.”
But he had generous mentors who guided him through the often-cruel world of American theater, as he picked up roles performing in Broadway musicals and then picked up a pen and began writing the works that have made him a legend of the American stage.
“I feel like what was given to me is really what I owe the world back,” he said of teaching and mentoring. “If only to bring myself into parity with the universe.”
Lucas is best known for the modern classic “Prelude to a Kiss,” which debuted on Broadway in 1990 and which he adapted two years later into an Alec Baldwin-starring film.
His diverse body of work in the decades since also includes Broadway musicals such as “The Light in the Piazza” and “An American in Paris,” opera libretti, screenplays like his 1995 adaptation of his play “Reckless” and going behind the camera as a director of the motion pictures “The Dying Gaul” and “Birds of America.”
After his initial success in plays, Lucas concluded that he would have to stretch himself in order to stay creatively alive.
“Some part of me knew that if I had success with something it would be a prison to try and re-create that,” he said.
That’s made him a fearless writer, still experimenting today: Lucas recently finished writing a new play in iambic pentameter.
“What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll laugh at me?” he asked. “Well, they did that all throughout my childhood. I’m used to that.”
His newest play to reach the stage was the groundbreaking and acclaimed “I Was Most Alive With You,” which was written for a cast of deaf actors and performed in American Sign Language. The fall 2018 Playwrights Horizons production was double-cast with speaking actors performing simultaneously alongside deaf ones, for audiences of both the deaf and hearing. Lucas is now adapting it into both a film and a television series.
Lucas will give a free public talk about his creative process Saturday at Explore Booksellers. He’ll be working with the “Take Ten” playwrights through Tuesday, as their short plays get staged readings at the Black Box Theatre and The Temporary (see related story, Weekend section page B5).
“He loves working with students,” said Theater Masters executive artistic director Daisy Walker. “He’s that great combination of being talented in his own right but also generous.”
Lucas said he was very impressed with the caliber of the “Take Ten” plays and the talent of the graduate students he will be working with in Aspen.
“These are young adults who have been writing and it shows in the subject matter that they are wise to what’s happening around them,” he said. “That makes it fun.”
As a teacher and mentor, Lucas said, he starts by asking students what they need and what their intentions are, so that he can focus on their concerns.
“I’m not there to impose anything on them or tell them what to do,” he explained.
At 67, he said, he’s had to remain teachable himself while working with the rising generation of theater professionals, adapting to practices like asking what their preferred pronouns are and attempting to understand the phenomena of “trigger warnings.”
“It’s very interesting and humbling to see the change,” he said. “I’m the one who has to learn how to navigate their world.”
And with his own salad days in mind, the playwright is attuned to the sensitivity of young artists. He doles out any criticism with a dose kindness.
“I learned, through living, that you don’t tell people the truth unless they want to hear it,” he said. “You don’t know what people are prepared to hear, want to hear, need to hear — so I don’t think it’s wise to go in guns blazing with writers who are just beginning their journey.”
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