Meet the Playwright: Lisa Lewis

by Martin Denton · December 7, 2015

It seems that you are involved in a variety of writing venues such as film and journalism. What made you interested in writing for the theater? And specifically, why did you decide to tell this story (in SCHOOLED) as a play rather than a screenplay? 

Film is a gestural medium, it’s about what can be understood without words. Film is also expansive, you can move beautifully, cinematically out in the world. In fact, you need to be able to cut away or else it’s going to get boring. Theater is happily claustrophobic. And it is one place where you can really talk, live in the language and have fun with it. Aaron Sorkin does this in his movies, but it’s rare. SCHOOLED’s theatricality lives in its language and in the pressure cooker of personalities assembled in tight quarters. These are characters who bond over words, so the stage was the natural setting for their story. 

The play has been very popular, so I am wondering what kind of reactions you are hearing from audiences. Have folks been sharing their thoughts about the piece with you after seeing it, and if so what are they telling you? Are they coming down on the side of one of the characters more than another? 

I’m so thrilled it’s been enjoyed as it has. I think SCHOOLED hits a cord with people for whom these experiences feel real and relevant. These are characters many people know or can relate to even if they don't agree with their choices, and it forces audiences to ask themselves what they would do in the situation. I've had many women tell me they've experienced what Claire goes through in the show, and a lot of men tell me they relate to Andrew, the professor. And Jake’s attitude gets a lot of people talking because he’s more mercenary but he’s right. Everyone definitely takes a side. They argue about whether Claire was really pulling the strings, or whether the men were taking advantage of her, and who really hurt whom. What’s most exciting is to hear that people’s loyalties to each character shift from scene to scene. Audiences really embraced the moral ambiguity here. 

Do you think the play is principally about ambition or about love? 

SCHOOLED is about the instances when things get complicated. Claire and Andrew care about each other, but Claire’s attraction to Andrew is mixed up in the feelings she has about her father, in her need for approval and in her hunger for success. Andrew sincerely feels that Claire is a kindred spirit, but that’s complicated by the position of power he wields over her and his own difficult marriage. Jake and Claire love each other too, but for Claire that love is tied to the better version of herself she hopes Jake can help her be. As funny as the show is, it’s ultimately quite sad because the characters feels so deeply about each other they have the real capacity to hurt. 

How did the characters get their names: why are they Andrew, Claire, and Jake and not other names? 

I am truly terrible at character names. I often use names of the people around me (friends, colleagues, old boyfriends), and inevitably someone’s name will end up in a first draft for a character that’s an echo of the actual person or not them at all and it’s embarrassing for everyone! 

These names changed frequently from the first draft to the final, they even changed right before rehearsals began. I ended up choosing Claire because the name seemed both aspirational, and also made me think of the phrase “clear conscience” -- conscience being a major theme in the piece. 

Sometimes the needs of the story itself dictate the name of a character. For Andrew, I needed a name that would shorten easily for Claire to use as their relationship became more intimate, from Professor Owns, to Andrew, to Andy. As for Jake, it seemed like a good strong name, which I thought I’d chosen totally out of the ether. Then a good friend who is a screenwriter and whose mother is a psychologist (as is Jake’s in the play) came to a performance and I realized his name was Jake too! He’s nothing like the Jake in the play personality-wise, but so much of our lives seep unconsciously into our work. It’s hard not to have it peek through here and there. 

What are your upcoming plans, for this piece and for your career in general? 

It would be wonderful to see SCHOOLED go on to have a life in New York and regionally. At this point we would be looking for another producing entity to take it on. Both the press and audience feedback has been so very positive and I think it has great commercial prospects, so our fingers are crossed. 

I'm also working on a new play called FRIENDS, SEX AND REAL ESTATE - which touches on the competition friends experience as they grow up and their life circumstances change. It's a script and story I'm very excited about.





More about the playwright in this article:
Meet the Playwright: James McLindon
James McLindon now has a collection of three plays published on Indie Theater Now, complex and interesting scripts.
Meet the Playwright: Nick Rafello
Nick Rafello is an articulate and exciting new addition to Indie Theater Now. You should become familiar with him and his work
Meet the Playwright: Michael Reyes
Michael Reyes, new to ITN, has two plays online. From his interview he seems to be a fine addition to the site.