Friday, March 7, 2014

Spotlight On...Luke Leonard

Name: Luke Leonard

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Education: MFA, The University of Texas at Austin

Favorite Credits: Bony & Poot (1999), L’indiano vuole il Bronx (2009), The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (2010), GRBL (2011), Here I Go (2012)

Why theater?: It’s my first love.  It is what I grew up doing.  I am an only child, so I had to find ways of entertaining myself, which involved using my imagination to create performances that would entertain others.  Before leaving high school, my theatre teacher warned me that a life in the arts would be very difficult, but there was nothing else that I was good at or that made me happy.  I could feel it in my bones. When I ask myself that question today, the answer is that theatre is how I learn about the world.  Each work requires a tremendous amount of research and development, and introduces new challenges and new collaborators.  I am always learning from productions and the people that I work with.  The work is interdisciplinary.  I really enjoy working with designers and people from other fields, and I thrive on the energy of a rehearsal room. I want to produce theatre that brings all types of people together.  Theatre has the power to leave lasting, visual/visceral imprints on the minds and hearts of audiences.  Art doesn’t change the world.  People change the world.  But art changes people.

Tell us about Bum Phillips All-American Opera?: Bum Phillips is an epic portrait of a small town Texan whose colorful character and homespun principles wound up on the sidelines of the NFL and in the hearts of thousands of adoring fans.  It is a story about faith and failure, the pursuit of excellence, and the importance of family.

What inspired you to create and direct Bum Phillips All-American Opera?: A combination of thoughts I was meditating on associated with happiness, healing, innocence, imperfections, the discipline and skills acquired from playing sports and performing in plays, and even Jesus.  Bum’s name popped into my head one day and the warmest smile crossed my face.  I grew up in Houston during the Luv Ya Blue days and those memories are very nostalgic.  After reading Bum’s autobiography, I felt he was the perfect anchor to hinge these themes.  I knew that I wanted my next work to be music-driven, but “Bum Phillips, The Musical” didn’t feel right.  Texas, football, and opera…those are generally associated with being grand-scale. I wanted to direct Bum Phillips for many reasons, but among the top were: the challenges of bridging opera and football, the opportunity to share Bum’s story and to present it at La MaMa in New York, and to work with Kirk Lynn and Peter Stopschinski.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like to see people really going for it.  You can’t hide on stage.  It doesn’t really matter the style, if it’s honest it’s good.  However, I am interested in ideas and process, “assembly plays”, and work that values movement and design just as much as text.  I appreciate work that leaves room for interpretation.  I am attracted to the strange and a sense of wonder.  And I like things that appear simple, but that are actually quite complex. I am really inspired by contemporary theatre right now because I think there are artists with shared objectives, which is interesting in a time that is, perhaps, considered to have no movements, or no one direction in theatre.  The groups that I admire most have certainly paid their dues and have paved the way for emerging artists and collectives.  I feel there are commonalities that have developed over the past 15-20 years.  Groups like Rude Mechs, Elevator Repair Service, Radiohole, National Theatre of the United States of America, NYC Players, Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, to name only a few, and I believe Monk Parrots et al. are a part of this conversation.  There is an exchange in one of my early plays from 1999: “I have nothing to say…Say it anyway.”  I think that sums up the frustration and, eventually, the direction that play-making went for some theatre artists during the 90s.  Beckett, of course, is credited for shaking things up structurally, and Mac Wellman inspired everyone working today to think of story in terms of: and then...and then...and then.  Plays became more about ideas and questions, less narrative-driven, and folks delved more into how a play is made, e.g., tracking mundane, daily rituals and creating a performance out of that (I did this with Performance Record #1 in 2002), or using interviews and ‘borrowed’ texts to construct a script, etc.  Like artist Cory Arcangel said about pop culture, “it is no longer ‘source material’, [but] is the only material.”  I’m excited now because there is a bigger audience for what was once considered marginalized, “downtown” theatre.  Festivals like Under the Radar help put people on the map.  Now, bigger institutions are creating programming that brings downtown to uptown.  YJL and Rude Mechs at Lincoln Center?!  This is very inspiring for hungry artists that are committed to a career in theatre.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Daniel Johnston, Morrissey, Matthew Barney, Suzan Lori-Parks...I am very ambitious.  ;)  I have directed Mac Wellman’s plays and always look for opportunities to do so again.  I want to work with David Lang.  He introduced me to composer Ted Hearne who I am very interested in now.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The shows that I have recommended over the past couple of years have been Rude Mechs Stop Hitting Yourself, Thomas Bradshaw’s Burning, NTUSA’s The Golden Veil, and Robert Wilson’s Zinnias.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:
I don’t know.  How about we age Willem Dafoe by 30 years to portray me near the end of my life and title it, “Nothing Without Great Effort,” after the Brooklyn College motto.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Isn’t everyone’s binge watching Netflix?

What’s the most played song on your iPod?:
Maybe Diamond Rugs “Blue Mountains”.  I just love that “duh. duh-duh-duh. duh-duh. duh-duh-duh-duh-duh”.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be ________?: Bruce Nauman

What’s up next?: Monk Parrots’ Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Peter Stopschinski and Katie Pearl, premiering 2015 at 59E59 Theaters.

For more on Luke, visit For more on Bum Phillips All-American Opera, visit and