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CTC Blog: Behind the Curtain

How the Light Gets In: An Interview with Playwright E. M. Lewis

How the Light Gets In, by directed by Emilie Beck will play July 18-20 at Bratton Theater, as part of Chautauqua Theater Company’s 2019 season. Tickets are available here.

What was your original inspiration for this piece?                                                                       

How the Light Gets In is a very personal play. I was writing Grace’s journey through the crisis she faces as I was taking my own.                                                               

Do you have a defined process for how you write a new play or is it different for every piece?                                                                       

Every play I’ve written has had its own process. Some have taken years to research and write (like my Antarctic epic Magellanica). Others force me to carry a notebook everywhere, because the words are clamoring in my head so loudly and I can’t write fast enough! Some of my plays are big and socio-political, some are more intimate and personal.... I try to figure out what each play needs.

One thing I’ve begun to do with most of my plays, though, is add a visual element to my writing process. When I’m working on a play, I’ll gather bits of dialogue scribbled on little sticky notes and the backs of envelopes, images that connect to the settings or characters, quotes, photos, small objects... all kinds of things. I’ll tape those up on my wall, and then, as I work on the play, move them around. The structure of the play often begins to suggest itself through this process. Plus, it keeps me in the world of my play all the time.

How do you collaborate with actors, directors and designers in the creation of a new work?

I love working with actors, directors, and designers! They come at the play from an absolutely practical perspective. How do we play this character? How do we build this world? How do we tell this story? Their questions and musings inform how I develop the play. They inspire me, but also keep me honest! When we reach the first production, these conversations become even more exciting, because we aren’t just thinking about how to build the play. We are building it! They inspire me, and also each other. When we’re done, if all has gone well, the story we tell is bigger than any of us could have told on our own. It contains the heart, soul, craft, and artistry of all of us.

What kind of stories are you drawn to as an artist?

I want to see (and write) stories that feature characters I care about, and that show me places I’ve never seen before. I love theatricality and magic realism. But I also want my theater to be fierce and immediate and ask big questions about ourselves and our world.

What is the impact you want your work to have?

I would love it if my work helped people understand that they are not alone, in what they are feeling or dealing with. And I place great value in the community building power of theater... particularly in this moment in our history, when things feel so divided. We have more in common with each other than what separates us.

What excites you most about theater in America today? What do you want to change?

I love the explosion of voices that we are seeing on American stages right now! Some of the recent plays I’ve seen include Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee and Mother Road by Octavio Solis at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Indecent by Paula Vogel at Palm Beach Dramaworks in Florida and the Ahmanson in Los Angeles, The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth on Broadway, and a new Yiddish translation of Fiddler on the Roof off-Broadway. Different worlds, different cultures, different voices.... I say YES to this. I loved visiting all these worlds.

What would I change about the American theater? I wish more people understood the joy and power of what we’re doing here. Theater can build empathy and demand justice. It can create community and help us understand our own history. It can give voice to the voiceless and comfort us in times of terror. What a gift!

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