BWW Interview: Francesca Montanile Lyons and DEAR DIARY LOL at New Ohio Theatre

BWW Interview: Francesca Montanile Lyons and DEAR DIARY LOL at New Ohio Theatre

New Ohio Theatre is presenting an encore run of Francesca Montanile Lyons' hit show, DEAR DIARY LOL that was performed at the 2018 Ice Factory Festival. The show will be on stage from 9/26 to 9/29.

DEAR DIARY LOL is an ensemble-driven comedic theatre work born verbatim from the real-life tween-teen diaries of the show's creators. Antigravity's devising ensemble of high-octane women invite you to cringe, laugh and cry at their most earnest desires, deepest fears, secret shames, and terrible poetry written as coming-of-age girls in the late 90s/early 2000s.

Francesca Montanile Lyons is a Philly-based director, performer, and educator born and raised in Puerto Rico. She is Co-Artistic Director of Antigravity Performance Project. Her theatrical work centers women's experiences and perspectives while investigating a wide range of themes - mental illness, reality tv, adolescence, sexuality and climate change. Her credits include Lillian Ransijn's Rough & Tumble (Director), The Hopefuls (Creator/Performer), Butter & Serve's Slaughter/ette (Creator/Performer), and Antigravity's Nellie/Nellie (Creator/Performer). Look out for Fourth Quarter, a new work premiering in the First Person Arts Festival in Philadelphia November 5 - 7. had the pleasure of interviewing Francesca Montanile Lyons about her career and the upcoming show.

BWW Interview: Francesca Montanile Lyons and DEAR DIARY LOL at New Ohio Theatre

What was your earliest interest in theatre and the performing arts?

I was a really shy kid, but I found freedom and boldness in performing. (To be honest, that statement is probably still true of me as an adult.) When I was young, I used to choreograph dances that I would boss around my younger sister and her friend into performing every Christmas for our parents. I also forced my friends to put on American Girl doll plays. Eventually, I was in an actual school play in 2nd grade and that's when I really got the bug. I remember being a tiny non-speaking part in this original musical called "Questionable Quest." In it, I played a serf. (One song lyric that sticks in my head is "Toil, toil, toil, so we don't get boiled in oil!") We ate bread at some point in the background of a scene and a fellow serf found a hair in her bread. For some reason, it made me laugh disproportionately hard, and that girl and I became close friends. Building friendships through theatre-making and collaboration has been hugely important in my life.

Who has been a major inspiration to your career?

There are lots of artists I admire and who inspire me artistically, but career-wise, I don't know. I often feel like there aren't people I'm able to look to and say- that's the career I want! I'm pretty sure the type of arts career I want isn't sustainable, so I try to make work without the expectation that it will lead to a livable income. For that, I teach and hustle at other side jobs.

What are some of the challenges of being both artist and director of a production?

Being in rehearsals hopping on and off the stage and remembering to press the space bar in Qlab while also watching a scene and then getting up to move that chair I have to move and making a note about something we need to fix and emails I need to send - It requires some mental gymnastics. But I like that the stakes are as high for me as for the performers. We are all up there together when the audience arrives. I get a lot of information from receiving the audience's energy that helps me know what the piece needs as a director. And luckily I have a co-director, Michael Williams, that I can count on- which makes it all possible.

What inspired Dear Diary LOL?

The piece was inspired by the deep shame and embarrassment I felt reading my eighth grade diary. It was so intense, I figured there was something that needed exploring within it. When I realized other women felt similarly, I got even more inspired and decided we needed to actually try to put these words on the stage.

How did you feel when the show received such a great reception at the Ice Factory Festival?

Relieved! It is so scary to share art, especially when I am so closely embedded in it. My favorite audience reaction is, "Oh my god I need to go find my diary and read it as soon as possible!!" Knowing how much I hated the version of me I found in that diary at first, I hope that the show helps people have compassion for themselves. It has helped me accept and love 13-year-old Francesca. And for those who weren't ever thirteen year old girls, I hope it's illuminating.

Tell us a little about cast/creative.

I have the best team!! Does everybody say that?

The Dear Diary LOL performing ensemble is made up of eight theatre artists, all of whom have their own specialties and careers. I think our varied backgrounds and areas of expertise combine to make a powerful and self-sufficient ensemble. My Co-Director Michael and I met while they were both working in the Education Department at Trinity Repertory Company and have been core collaborators with each other in both theatre education and in making new work for the stage for over six years. Together we took the plunge to move to Philadelphia to attend the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training, where we met Megan, Alicia, and Jenna.

Megan Thibodeaux is not only a master of character work as a performer, she is also a producer, production manager, master networker, and a trained scenic painter. She is the person you want on your team in a crisis. Alicia Crosby is a props designer, ceramicist, and performer. She brings her strong visual eye and attention to detail to our work. These two have been with the project since the beginning. It would not exist without them, their hard work, and dedication to creating joy from the hilariously turbulent versions of ourselves we found in our diaries. They are also the primary props and set artisans of the work, bringing playfulness, resourcefulness, and cohesion to our visual design.

Jenna Strusowski is a killer cabaret and solo performer, and a master of physical transformation. (She is also the best at leading rehearsal warm ups that will make your stomach hurt both from core workouts AND laughing way too hard to be exercising.) Kelly Conrad is a hilarious improviser and sketch comedian in Philly. She performs with Phily Improv Theater house teams Hooch, Not Yet Rated, The Decoy, and American Express. Jessica Johnson is an extremely talented and whip-smart actress and singer who performs constantly all over Philadelphia. (Catch her as Celie in the Color Purple at Theatre Horizon November 8th through December 9th!)

Nikki Hudgins is an improviser and sketch comedy performer who also contributed her diary to this piece. She is my pink construction worker partner- she helps me keep my head on straight when I forget all the things we've planned to do!

I also can't speak highly enough of our designers. Kate McGee (Lighting) is an actual genius, and I'm convinced she made our piece ten times better. Tom Carman (Sound) elevated the work with his strong sense of the music landscape we were trying to create, never settling and constantly fleshing out every moment. (Also if you ever need to laugh through a long tech through repeated and uninhibited use of an airhorn quick key, he's your guy.)

Shout out also to my best friend Naomi Inoshita, who contributed her diary to the piece! As did Sarah Knittel who, along with Gina Elizabeth Murdock, were hugely instrumental as devisor/performers in the 2017 version of the piece. We miss them dearly! Gina and Sarah are both talented performers and makers in Philadelphia, whose work I highly recommend you check out whenever possible.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

I love when audiences come in not quite knowing what to expect, so I don't want to say too much- but I like them to know that the piece is made with the verbatim text from the real-life diaries of girls ages 12-16 in the late 90's/early 2000's. Most of the diarists also perform in the work, but they don't speak their own diaries. For the most part, performers each speak the text from one source diary.

Can you share some of your plans for the future?

Haha. Hard question.

I plan to keep making work. At least- most days I plan to keep making work. I hope to find a way to make money in a way that also leaves space for art-making and community.

I'm directing a new devised piece that's coming up pretty soon in Philadelphia as part of the First Person Arts Festival called Fourth Quarter, running November 5th-7th. It uses performers' personal experiences of grief as a lens to explore the ways we live with and think, or don't think, about our changing climate.

Antigravity is also looking forward at what our next pieces will be. We're working on reviving Nellie/Nellie: a music-dance-theatre adaptation of sensationalist journalist Nellie Bly's '10 Days in a Madhouse.' We are also looking for ways to bring a new project to life in collaboration with poet-performer Kyle Dacuyan called LEGAL TENDER: colliding live poetry and devised performance.

To learn more about Francesca Montanile Lyons, visit her web site, and follow her on social media: @frenchyfrancesca and @fishtowndogtown

Performances of DEAR DIARY LOL are Wednesday - Saturday at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20. Purchase at or by calling 212-352-3101.The running time is 80 minutes.

Like New Ohio Theatre on Facebook at, and follow on Twitter ( and Instagram ( at @NewOhioTheatre.

Photo Credit: Garrett Allen and Courtesy of Francesca Montanile Lyons.

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