Thursday, October 2, 2014

Spotlight On...Lisa Bruna

Name: Lisa Bruna

Hometown: Kesington, Maryland

Education: B.A. in Arts & Sciences, with a theatre major and an English minor, from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Favorite Credits: My favorite is a short play called Yellow. Until I experienced audience reaction to Yellow, I’d only known that I could move people to laughter. With Yellow, I moved them in a different direction. I moved them to tears. It’s a powerful feeling – and a massive responsibility – to know you can touch people’s hearts that way.

Why theatre?: With theatre, you get to “hold the mirror up to nature” and explore a spectrum of human qualities, from virtues to vices, in an environment rich with artistic expression. Nothing brings me greater joy than embarking on this kind of exploration, finding the hidden gems in human nature, and presenting them in a way that is entertaining, provocative, and honest.

Tell us about Invasion: Invasion was born of some of my late-night ponderings about how we, as humans, so quickly size each other up and decide, based solely on outward appearance, whether a person is worth our while. (The experts say this happens within seven seconds!) To some extent, this is easily forgiven because it stems from the fight-or-flight response mechanism that evolved out of the survival needs of our early ancestors. But, to another large extent, we know this sizing-up is fueled by our own personal predispositions and social biases, which we’ve consciously or unconsciously developed over time. My ponderings led me to create a situation in which two individuals – each with their own biases, one with an intense but unfounded dislike of the other – are forced to spend time in close contact with each other. Awkward! (I’ve been told “awkward” is a prevalent undercurrent in much of my writing. But you can see why, right? Awkward begets theatricality.) So with Invasion, we have two individuals from opposite sides of the personality spectrum trapped in an elevator, forced to confront the awkward “stuff’ that lingers between them.

What inspired you to write Invasion?: My inspiration for Invasion came from two life lessons that I’ve learned myself. They are: (1) The answers you seek can come from the unlikeliest of places and, therefore, you should be open to that which makes you uncomfortable or you might miss something. Or, as the character Blue in Invasion explains, be careful not keep yourself closed off to the “songbirds” for fear of attracting the “wolves” because “that’s a feeble approach to living.”’ (2) Sometimes those of us who have high standards in all other areas of life will let the bar to drop when it comes time to how we allow our romantic interests to treat us. Or, as Blue advises, “A man is supposed to be nice to you at the very least! Being nice? That’s a given, not a plus.” These were the two key messages around which I built the plot of Invasion. To make it interesting, I devised a way to deliver these messages in an unexpected way, in an uncomfortable space, and by way of an unlikely hero... then I sprinkled in a subtle homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the master of taking eccentric characters and backing them into prickly situations.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Anything that’s laughter-inducing, heart-tugging, or thought-provoking, and never trite or predictable. I like being caught off guard by the unexpected on stage. And I like having unanticipated reactions as an audience member. I consider it a theatrical triumph, for example, when the piece moves me to root for the bad guy. I’m most inspired by a quote from a movie called Impromptu, a farcical period piece about novelist Georges Sand’s romance with composer Frédéric Chopin. It’s doubtful that Chopin actually said it because the film is historical fiction, but the quote attributed to him comes to mind whenever I write: “A perfect impromptu should seem spontaneous and free. No one should be able to guess at the desperate calculation behind it.” This quote both inspires me and reminds me that I’m not alone in my pursuit of spontaneous brilliance by way of agonizingly intense toiling at the laptop, hour after hour of rewrites, cup after cup of coffee, second-guessing myself every step of the way.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: This one’s easy! I would love to work with my friend, B.T. McNicholl. Funny story – B.T. and I were classmates in the theatre department at Catholic University back in nineteen-eighty-forever-ago. Both of us were focused on writing/directing as our main discipline. After college, I followed the theatre/film path for about seven years before my life took a different turn. It wasn’t until many years after that that I unexpectedly bumped into B.T. (small world, theatre!) and learned that, while I was busy veering off the path, he had built an impressive résumé as a Broadway (and international) writer/director/producer, and is now Producing Artistic Director of The Palace Theatre in Stamford. Wow, was I impressed to learn of the accomplishments he’d garnered in those intervening years, though not surprised because, even in our university days, he was quite remarkable, showing early signs of “Broadway producer” by taking the initiative to produce his original works on stage while others of us were simply ticking off the assignments on our syllabi. In addition to being multitalented, B.T. is also one of the kindest and most decent people I know. And it was he – during our chance encounter in Florida in 2011 – who encouraged me to get back to my playwriting after my long hiatus. “Theatre needs you,” he said. And hearing those words coming from someone I admire so greatly was all the prompting I needed to get back to it! But he didn’t leave it at that. He has continued to support me (even coming to see one of my Estro shows!) and, whether he knows it or not, he continues to be that voice in my ear that keeps me on this creative path and, for that, I am forever grateful. My hope is that one day, time and geography and circumstance will allow my path to intersect with his, and we can work together on a project or two. There’s much I can contribute and, more importantly, much I can learn from working with B.T. McNicholl.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Peter and the Starcatcher – It’s about as creative, compelling, and innovative as a theatrical piece can be. It’s absolutely brilliant, and I will be moved by it for a long time.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: The movie would be called "Making a Scene", because that’s literally (not figuratively) what I do. To cast the role of Lisa Bruna, I decided to ask my friends for their ideas. I was flattered by the list of fabulous actresses they suggested –  everyone from Jennifer Garner to Phoebe Cates to Monica Bellucci  – but the one who came up most often was Tina Fey because, as one friend put it, she’s “witty and smart.” I’ll take that! Thanks, friends!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I’m a huge fan of Chris Lilley’s "Angry Boys", a brilliantly creative mockumentary series (made for Australian TV) about twin teenage boys in pursuit of their heroes. The series includes characters and storylines that are outrageously hilarious and, at times, surprisingly tender. But the overall tone is unquestionably irreverent and dangerously provocative (some say offensive). It certainly pushes the limits, but I personally think limits should be pushed. Isn’t that the point of the arts? So I suppose I only feel a little guilty for loving "Angry Boys".

What’s the most played song on your iPod?: “Lucky” by Kat Edmonson

If you weren’t working in theatre, what would you be doing?: If I were not working in theatre, I would be working in film, my other favorite art form, and one I worked in for years ... and just may go back to one day.

What’s up next?: I’ve written three new shorts, which will be presented in November as part of Palm Beach PlayMakers BOXer SHORTS series. My creative collaborator and fellow playwright, Todd Caster, and I have invented a new format called the “flip-side play.” To create a flip-side play, Todd and I work in independent collaboration, which means we jointly establish a shared setting, shared action, and shared plot points, then we go our separate ways, and one of us writes one side of the story told from the perspective of one cast of characters, while the other of us writes he flip-side of the story told from the perspective of a second cast of characters. When our first drafts are ready, we start lobbing our scripts back and forth to each other, interweaving the two stories, revising our drafts accordingly, until high drama – with a dash of hijinks – inevitably ensues, and a flip-side play is born. Our next one – Early Bird / Late Shift – will be included in the November production. Of all six pieces in the line-up, that’s the one I’m most excited to see.