In this Q&A Laura Pedersen talks about her new play with music, This Will All Be Yours, which runs off-Broadway in New York City as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival July 17- August 7 at The Barrow Group Theatre.
Q&A With Laura Pedersen
My starting point is always a story, usually one that has meaning for me because it involves an issue that I care about. Next I decide if it's for children, teens or adults, or some crossover combo. Once the story has taken shape it tends to naturally lend itself to a specific format -- newspaper article, short story, novel, series of novels, stage play, etc. However, no rap songs, mime shows, or confessional poems have emerged thus far.
What was the inspiration for This Will All Be Yours?
I like to say that This Will All Be Yours is about the demise of the family farm, but in a fun way! This is something that was happening all around me when I was growing up in Western New York and across the country. We felt in our bones it was bad on so many levels, but there weren't many options for people. Government policies were making things worse, not better. I'm glad I was able to stick around long enough to see a renaissance in small farms, and that researchers have been able to provide so many reasons why community supported agriculture is beneficial all around -- information we didn't have in the 1970s.
Did you originally envision the show as a musical?
My dad was very musical. In fact, he was a folk singer, which was not the kind of thing you wanted the kids in the cafeteria to find out when I was in Middle School. So even though I'm not musical, I love it and was exposed to the American Songbook growing up. The minute I had the outline for this story in play format I knew it needed music.
What is the most rewarding part of having a play of yours performed?
It's just amazing to sit in the dark and watch the actors work their magic on the stage. And it is always magic to me. No matter how many rehearsals I attend I have no idea how the director, performers, and crew do what they do. Everyone always jokes about me having to understudy for certain parts since I know all the lines. Well, that's never going to happen so don't anyone catch flu or eat dodgy potato salad at a 4th of July picnic. My mother is a nurse and she says that if you can't see the ocean from where you're sitting in the restaurant then do not order the seafood.
Which is more challenging --- writing a play or writing a novel? Why?
It's most frustrating when I think I have a good story, put a lot of time into developing it, and then it turns out not to have legs. It's equally frustrating when I think I have a good idea but can't locate the best way to tell the story. On balance, if something is not working out then it's probably not a solid story with a beginning, middle (or "the muddle" as writers like to call it), and an end. Time to move on. Unless you're on a deadline for a newspaper, in which case you figure it out. Working for a newspaper is an excellent way to eliminate "writer's block."
Do you try to attend every performance?
I do try and attend every performance. To me a story is never completely finished and I'm always listening for what I might be able to make into a slightly better line or solve some problem that's been niggling at me. The final night of The Brightness of Heaven we sold out so I gave up my seat and listened to the play from a place where I couldn't see anything. Total epiphany -- the placement of one critical piece of information that had always bothered me finally resolved itself.
What is your prep ritual as performance time nears? Do you have any superstitions you adhere to before curtain?
Before the show I just hope all the performers are hale and hearty and ready to go on. I'm usually just goofing around at that point, giving out candy to my friends. I'm trying to find peach candy (since the family has a peach orchard) for This Will All Be Yours -- not an easy task. What I do is stay out of the actors way because they have some bizarre rituals -- a few disappear, some are lying on the floor, and one bellows in front of a wall. I don't even ask.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering a theatrical career, either on the creative side or acting side?
I can only speak to writing. See as many shows as possible. I often learn more from a bad show than a good one. Sit in the back so you can watch how the audience reacts to everything and not just how the story is being told. This is also a good way to run into famous tall people such as John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum and John Lithgow because they usually head to the back or upstairs in search of more legroom.
If you could be involved with ANY play, in any capacity, what would it be, and why?
I'd need a time machine and also a body swapping formula. With those details out of the way I'd be born Henrik Ibsen in 1828 and have written An Enemy of the People.
When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing?
What are your favorite books and authors?
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk
The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan
What are your favorite movies?
Harold and Maude
Dog Day Afternoon
The French Connection
A Streetcar Named Desire
Who are your favorite musicians/bands?
My background has left me stuck in the 1960s -- Carole King, James Taylor, Nina Simone, Etta James, the Drifters, Martha and the Vandellas, the Shirelles, the Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield. Whereas some people never made it back from Woodstock, I never made it to Woodstock.
What is your favorite food?
I eat at Chipotle every day. But if they open up a Moe's Southwest Grill around here then Chipotle stock is going to drop like a rock.
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