List Grid

Blogs The Green Room

Young Jean Lee Interview Part Two

    The interview with Young Jean Lee currently featured on the Walker website is only part of the conversation I had with her late December. Here’s the rest of it, with topics ranging from Ms. Lee’s potential film project, her take on archiving live theater work, and her favorite experimental theater shows she saw […]

 

photo by Gene Pittman

 

The interview with Young Jean Lee currently featured on the Walker website is only part of the conversation I had with her late December. Here’s the rest of it, with topics ranging from Ms. Lee’s potential film project, her take on archiving live theater work, and her favorite experimental theater shows she saw in the past year.

Leaneagh

I do a lot of the online content for the performing arts department here, so I was wondering first off if you could talk about how you’ve made a lot of your work accessible online, for example how We’re Gonna Die is stream-able for free on your website or how a performance of The Shipment is available for rental from On the Boards TV. How important is it for you that your work be preserved on video and that it be accessible online?

Lee

It’s incredibly important. Everything that supports the company comes from having video of the show, and having it to present to funders and presenters. On the Boards and Joe’s Pub are the two venues that have offered to present our work online, and it’s been tremendously helpful.

Leaneagh

A lot of artists prefer their work to only be experienced live in the theater. What are the ways you feel the transfer to video alters the experience?

Lee

Well it’s a completely different thing, definitely. But you can still get an idea of what it is and get emotionally invested. The On the Boards recording of The Shipment was shown on the big screen at BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music], at the movie theater there, and we had a few technical problems, but the entire audience still got completely sucked in. It felt very similar to the theatrical experience.

Leaneagh

Also On The Boards does a four or five camera shoot for their performance recordings, right?

Lee

Yeah, that was the highest quality video shoot we could get for a show. But even with the smaller videos, we’ve gotten a lot of tours booked just on crappy videos. So I think you actually can get a sense of the show from video. And I’ve heard people say they are fans just from watching video footage. So I think my work does translate.

Leaneagh

I saw We’re Gonna Die in April at Joe’s Pub and I’ve been able to share the performance with friends here [in Minneapolis] since it’s online and get them excited about your upcoming show at the Walker. It doesn’t seem like many artists in experimental theater try to have their work online, but maybe it would be easier for artists to establish a name for themselves and expand their success if, like a film auteur, people could access a comprehensive form of their body of work online?

Lee

Completely. When I was working on Untitled Feminist Show, it’s all dance, so I got permission from BAM to look at their archives and watch videos of Pina Bausch and William Forsythe shows. It was kind of hard to get to the archives; you have to have special permission. Someone from the general public can’t go. All these amazing shows are kind of lost to the world.

Leaneagh

It’s tragic from a performing arts history perspective, that people can’t get an idea of these historic shows. Would you ever consider re-staging past work for the purpose of preservation?

Lee

Absolutely, I would do it in a second. If somebody approached me, like On the Boards, who had the capacity, I would totally be willing to re-stage everything.

Leaneagh

I wish I had that money…right now.

Lee

Me too.

Leaneagh

In your interview in 2009 with Philip Bither, Walker’s senior curator for Performing Arts, you mentioned your interest in writing and directing a feature film. Can you talk about if anything has changed since then, if Lear, We’re Gonna Die, and now Untitled Feminist Show have renewed your commitment to making experimental theater work or if you are feeling pulled by other mediums or directions?

Lee

I’ve been falling in and out of love with experimental theater. I’m definitely back in love with it, but I need a break. With my screenplay, I’m at a point where—as soon as Untitled Feminist Show is done—I need to write my second draft.

Leaneagh

Can you give any details about the film or the company you’re working with?

Lee

Well, it’s Brad Pitt’s production company. It’s called Plan B Entertainment. But I haven’t found a way yet to talk about the movie interestingly. Paramount commissioned it.  

Leaneagh

Is it often that in one year you have two shows debut, like with We’re Gonna Die and Untitled Feminist Show?

Lee

No. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that…and I will never do it again. Ever. It’s not healthy. I don’t even want to do one show a year anymore. I want to do one show every two years. It was so bad that I feel like I’m going to die young if I keep up this pace.

Leaneagh

Would you ever direct an adaptation of someone else’s play?

Lee

Yes, I have so many favorite plays. I would love to direct a Shakespeare play. I’m dying to direct King Lear. That would be so fun for me. Weirdly though, I don’t think I would want to direct a new play. I would want to direct one of the old stuffy plays.

Leaneagh

So, even with your production of Lear you would still love to direct a more from-the-script traditional Shakespeare play?

Lee

Absolutely.

Leaneagh

I know you are really busy with work and running your company, but do you ever have time to see new work yourself in the downtown scene?

Lee

Barely, but I do. I do get out and I definitely see all my friends’ work.

Leaneagh

Can you talk at all about experimental work you were really excited about this past year?

Lee

Thomas Bradshaw had a show called Burning that was at the New Group that was really good. And Alec Duffy did this version of Cassavetes’s Shadows at the Collapsable Hole and it was amazing. It was seriously one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time.

Leaneagh

That’s one of my favorite movies.

Lee

You would have died. It was unbelievable. And it was kind of the biggest surprise for me this year, in terms of theater-going, how successful that production was.

Leaneagh

So the play was an adaptation of Shadows?

Lee

I think they just used the original script from the movie. It was in a garage, and they would open the garage doors and do scenes out on the street.  There was a big fight scene out on the street and cars were driving by and staring at them. It was wonderful.