BWW Interview: Leslie Ayvazian and OUT OF THE CITY at Passage Theatre Company 10/27 to 11/13
Passage Theatre Company, Trenton's Barrymore Award-winning theatre company, under the leadership of Artistic Director June Ballinger and Managing Director Damion Parran opens its 2016-2017 season with Leslie Ayvazian's comedy, Out of the City.
Directed by Murphy Davis, Out of the City features Leslie Ayvazian (Nine Armenians), June Ballinger (Pack of Lies), Ken Land (Promises, Promises), and Grant Shaud (TV's Murphy Brown).
Can one kiss change the whole picture? When two married couples in their 60s take a trip to celebrate a milestone birthday, they start pondering elusive romance and what comes next. This unorthodox romantic comedy, proving that rejuvenation can be found at any age, will run from October 27-November 13, 2016. Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Ayvazian about her career. She also told us about writing Out of the City her role as Carol in the show.
Leslie Ayvazian is the author of 8 full-length plays and seven one-act plays, published variously by Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service. Nine Armenians won the John Gassner/Outer Critics Circle Award for best new American play and The Roger L. Stevens Award. Leslie has received commissions from the Manhattan Theatre Club, Windancer Productions and South Coast Repertory Theatre. Make Me, directed by Christian Parker, was produced in New York by the Atlantic Theatre Company. High Dive was produced at the Long Wharf Theatre and the Manhattan Class Company, directed by David Warren, and went on to be produced in Poland and Slovakia. Her short film Every Three Minutes starring Olympia Dukakis was produced by Showtime and won a Telly Award. Her play Deaf Day was produced as a short film in Syria by Rana Kaz Kaz, and was included in the 2012 Palm Springs International Short Film Festival. Her latest short film, The Favor, stars Olympia Dukakis, Margaret Colin, and John Pankow. Recently, she appeared in All the Days at the McCarter Theatre, directed by Emily Mann. Leslie is an Adjunct Associate Professor of dramaturgy at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts. Other credits as an actress include a recurring role on Law & Order: SVU and roles on Broadway in Lost in Yonkers and Naked Girl on the Appian Way.
When did you first become interested in theatre?
The Fifth Grade Talent Contest. Elementary School in Leonia, New Jersey. I did the Charleston. I made my own costume. I did a good job. That was my first time on stage and the joy was overwhelming.
Tell us a little about your education.
In 1962, when I was 13, my family moved to a small town in the Adirondack Mountains. The local school held all the grades from Kindergarten through High School. There was very little theatre in the area at that time. The class plays happened intermittently and were directed by the overworked Math teacher. The English teacher was more engaged and encouraged students to enter literary competitions. I wrote a piece about Betsy Ross creating the flag, which I performed on the stage of the Town Hall - me sitting and talking and sewing. I won. I think that essay got me into the University of Vermont, which was my first choice. It was there in my Junior year that I wandered into the Theatre Department and auditioned for Antigone. (Ahouilh). Maybe because I was the new girl, I was cast as Antigone. Although the campus press said I was more like a witch from Macbeth, I graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts and then joined VISTA. (Volunteers in Service to America). I was sent to a Settlement House in the South end of Columbus, Ohio, where I created a theatre program for the local teenagers. We did two plays in two years. (The Good Woman of Szechuan and Tambourines to Glory).
I continued to write once I arrived in New York in 1976, creating my first one person show, Footlights, which had a production at The Vineyard Theatre, directed by Jay Binder.
Who have been some of the people who have inspired your career?
I have been inspired by many people I've had the good fortune to work with: I'd call The Ensemble Studio Theatre my home base. Curt Dempster was supportive of my early work and produced several of my one-act plays in the Spring Marathon Festival of one act plays. To this day, EST remains the place I return to as I develop new work. This past Autumn, under the leadership of William Cardin and Graeme Gillis, EST produced 10 performances of my new piece - Mention My Beauty.
As an actress, my greatest "teacher" was my time on stage with Rosemarie Harris. While standing by for Mercedes Reuhl and Jane Kaczmarek in Lost and Yonkers, I was lucky enough to perform with Rosemarie several times. She was a generous, extraordinarily insightful teacher of theatre.
Over the course of the last 20 years, I've have worked with many exceptional individuals who continued to inspire me: Lynne Meadow, Chris Durang, Rich Greenberg, Nicky Silver, Patricia Clarkson, Oskar Eustis, Christian Parker, Gordon Davidson, Olympia Dukakis, Joan MacIntosh, Peter Hedges, Joan Rosenfels.
What was your motivation for Out of the City?
The idea started with my interest in sturdy relationships, marriages, long term friendships - how over time, the paradigm (even in solid relationships) can shift into something "ho hum." A partnership can become more habit than discovery. People can become casual, even distant, despite their agreed upon bond. I wanted to write a piece about couples who certainly care for each other, but who nonetheless have lost track of one another.
This play takes place over one weekend. Carol is turning 60. Carol's best friend has arranged for the two couples to visit a Bed and Breakfast. Carol isn't feeling particularly secure at this point in life: her accomplishments, maybe her direction, now that the kids have left the house. She is looking to this weekend to feel festive, even though she's not a country girl. The weekend has been casually organized. It falls apart in one sudden and surprising moment between Carol and her best friend Jill.
The play is about people reaching for each other, trying to connect and re-connect. And, by the way, it's a comedy.
Tell us a little about the cast/creative for the play and your dual role as playwright and actor.
Being both an actor and writer can be a volatile condition. Luckily this time, I have a director (Murphy Davis) and a cast (Grant Shaud, Ken Land, June Ballinger) who are open to a very different rehearsal process. We figure out on a daily basis how to address the very different questions they have of the writer and of the actress. Sometimes I talk too much and then Murphy straightens things out. So far, it seems things are going well. We laugh a lot.
Broadwayworld.com also has some information about Leslie Ayvazian's one woman show, Mention My Beauty.
MENTION MY BEAUTY is a one-woman performance piece of Leslie Ayvazian reading from her memoirs. She speaks candidly about navigating the anti-war movement, the women's movement, and the sexual revolution on good hair and scoop-neck tee shirts. There's also the heartbreak of the expectations of Armenian parents still reeling from the Genocide of 1915. Leslie tells decidedly unsentimental, often hilarious stories of her life as a young woman surviving the cultural revolution without a plan.
Performances at Passage Theatre are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm during the first weekend of a run, and Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 3pm and 7:30pm, and Sunday at 3pm during the second and third weekends. Tickets are $20 - $33 ($38 Saturday night). Student, group and senior discounts available. To purchase tickets call (609) 392-0766, or visit www.passagetheatre.org. The Mill Hill Playhouse is located at 205 E. Front Street, at the corner of Montgomery Street in Trenton, NJ. Free guarded on-street parking.
Photo courtesy of Leslie Ayvazian