BWW interviews: Director LEE SANKOWICH Discusses LOW HANGING FRUIT
by guest writer Steve Peterson
After serving sixteen years as Artistic Director of the Marin Theatre Company, Lee Sankowich resigned in 2006 to return to producing and directing independently. Among the forty five plays he directed at Marin, there were two Estate sanctioned world premieres of previously unproduced Tennessee Williams' plays. His career began with a jump start with his successful productions of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS' NEST which ran for two and a half years in New York, five and a half years in San Francisco, a year and a half in Boston, and in Israel. Since then he has worked in Regional Theatres across the country including Baltimore Center Stage, The Mark Taper Forum, South Coast Rep, Florida Stage, Geva, Jewish Repertory Theatre, City Theatre, Center Rep, San Jose Stage, Theatreworks, Pittsburgh Public Theatre where he was a Resident Director, and was an Associate Professor of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. Among his several awards, he has been the recipient of four San Francisco Bay Area Drama Critics Awards for Direction. Lee currently owns and operates the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles, where he directed and produced "The Last Schwartz" which was a huge hit for Sankowich and the Zephyr and ultimately ran from October 2007 to April 2008. Next Lee tackled the well-received "Moses Supposes" starring Karen Black which was well-received during its limited run in 2011
You have had quite a career in the theatre, how did you get started directing? Do you remember the first play you directed?
I was the only student of the theatre in a singles-group when I was in my early 20's and the group asked me to direct a play. At the time I was acting and hadn't thought about directing but I said, "Oh sure, let's do Fiddler on the Roof." While it was my inexperience and naiveté that caused me to commit to such a large endeavor, it ended up being an exhilarating experience. Since then I've never looked back.
The first play I directed professionally was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which ran for five and a half years in San Francisco, two and a half in New York. I did eleven productions of the piece, including internationally, and I owe much of my success to it.
It's been a while since you produced and directed a main stage play at the Zephyr. "The Last Schwartz," the first play back for you upon your return to Los Angeles in 2007, was well received as was the world premiere of "Moses Supposes" in 2011. What brings you back to the stage?
For the past two and a half years I'd been taking care of a sick daughter and have wanted to return to directing. After reading this script, I knew this was the one I wanted to return with.
What brought this play to your attention? Was the playwright known to you? Or was it just a blind submission?
Robin Bradford was very familiar with my work in Northern California, and she reached out to me asking if I'd read this script and give her my opinion. I was very impressed with the story and writing so we had discussions about me directing the play at The Zephyr.
What is it that made you want to put this play on stage at the Zephyr?
I have a lot of plays submitted to me as I have my own theatre. This one attracted me immediately as it deals with an important, largely unknown issue (the plight of homeless female vets). In addition, it is very well written, character driven, and has a good balance of drama and humor. Robin Bradford, the playwright, has written a play that entertains and works.
Is this play a call to action? If so, what would like to see as a result of someone seeing this play?
Women veterans are an under-appreciated and largely invisible segment of our society. I would hope that people leaving this play would become more aware of the service they have rendered and some of the problems they face in returning home, and support the efforts to make the military and our lawmakers more sensitive to those issues military women encounter.
I know this play has yet to open, but is there something else coming up for you---something you're preparing or something else someone wants you to direct?
We are currently considering a San Francisco production of Low Hanging Fruit and I'm also talking with Nicholas Guest about directing his one-man show. I'm also writing a play about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which will have a staged reading in the next couple of months.
After a two and a half year absence from the stage, Lee Sankowich returns to direct the world premiere of "Low Hanging Fruit" written by Robin Bradford. The play centers around four homeless women, all combat vets of Iraq/Afghanistan. Without support from society, the women face their toughest battles trying to make their way on the mean streets of LA's Skid Row. The play opens Saturday, September 20th and runs through October 26th - Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 2:00PM at the Zephyr Theatre at 7456 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood 90046. Admission: $25. For tickets and information please visit www.plays411.com/low or 323-960-7788.