Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Spotlight On...Victor Lesniewski

Name: Victor Lesniewski

Hometown: I live in Los Angeles now, but I go back and forth to NYC so much, and lived there for so long, that I still can't think of anywhere else as home.

Education: BS, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University ; MFA, Playwriting, The New School for Drama ... Somehow, I'm still using both everyday.

Favorite Credits: I know plenty of writers say this, but I'm partial to whatever I happen to be currently working on.

Why theater?: Experiencing the connection between live actors and an audience is really special.  I also really love the collaborative process.  Being in a workshop atmosphere, or in a rehearsal room, and getting to explore, getting to discuss deep issues and work out complex problems with a group of open, talented artists, that's really gratifying.

What inspired you to write Couriers and Contrabands: Couriers and Contrabands was launched when director Kareem Fahmy asked me to collaborate on a play about the beginnings of institutional espionage in the U.S.  We did tons of research, which we took with us into exploratory workshops with actors.  From our research about the Pinkterton Detective Agency, we easily slid into research about Allan Pinkerton's involvement as a spymaster for the Union during the Civil War. I never had any interest in writing a play about the Civil War.  I thought there are already so many stories about that period in our history.  What could I possibly add?  But the reading we did about Civil War spies, especially women and slaves, was fascinating and they were stories I had never seen before on stage or screen.  Furthermore, they were stories of empowerment and represented diverse perspectives in a really unique way.  We felt these were stories we really had to explore.

Tell us about Couriers and Contrabands: As you can probably tell from the above, Couriers and Contrabands is a spy thriller set during the Civil War.  Although the characters are fictional, they are all based on real spies of the time period and the action of the play utilizes the real historical backdrop of the lead up to the Siege of Petersburg in 1864.  We often forget how much occurred post-Gettysburg, but Petersburg was incredibly important to the Union's ability to bring the War to a close, as Grant's siege of the city effectively cut off important Confederate supply lines from Richmond. The play is a true ensemble piece.  It takes an interesting look at how women and slaves influenced the War as effective spies for the Union, while also looking at Confederate spies and information movers, both men and women alike.  Although there are three white male characters (all working for the Confederacy) who appear to control the action of the play, the fun of the show is that we get to watch the Union spies upend everything that they are so vigilantly working toward.  Since the play is set in a Confederate courier house in Virginia, it really forces us to look at what was going on on both sides of battle and how personal relationships across enemy lines were formed and, often tragically, broken.  I think the piece is subtly subversive in its own way, but we'll see what our audiences think in September! Everyone can get an awesome sneak peak at www.CouriersPlay.com and by liking our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/couriersplay where we're highlighting cast members as well as incredibly cool spy techniques used by the characters in our play!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater that tackles larger issues in a profoundly personal way. So many sources of inspiration. A few: Gorky, Chekhov, Havel, Pirandello. Rabe, Shinn, Baitz, Wright, Son, Nottage. Beckett, Artaud, the Italian Futurists. Belarus Free Theatre.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: This list is very long and many of them are friends of mine.  So as not to leave anyone out, I'll just name a name that no one will take issue with.  So...  Cate Blanchett?

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I just saw the fantastic revival of Bent at CTG in Los Angeles.  The whole cast is tremendous, but especially true bro Patrick Heusinger in the lead role.  I've been telling everyone I see to go check it out.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: This question is ridiculous in the very best way.  I can only assume that a movie about me would have a pretty small budget, so I'd probably try to call in a favor from my pal Babak Tafti.  He's uber talented and I've been told we bear more than a passing resemblance. For lack of a better title, I'll steal the phrase I used above and call it "Subtly Subversive".

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Definitely that world premiere of Six Characters in Search of an Author where the audience rioted and Pirandello got pelted with pocket change.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Chocolate.  Though I almost never feel guilty about it.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: An engineer.  Though I actually still have a foot in that world, so it's not quite a fair answer.  If I could go back to when I was young I would have forced myself to mature faster as an athlete.  Being a professional athlete seems like it must really be the life.

What’s up next?: I have a new play going out into the world this fall to be considered for productions that I'm extremely excited about.  It deals with the parents of a teenager who has been sexually abused and explores the ramifications of that abuse on the families involved. I'm still looking for a home for my play Khardal, about the civil war in Syria, which I also developed with Couriers director Kareem Fahmy.  We initially developed the play at The Ground Floor program at Berkeley Rep and it hasn't had a public reading in NYC yet, so at the very least perhaps we can make that happen. In March 2016, I'll be visiting Atlanta to see the world premiere production of Janine Nabers's brilliant play Serial Black Face.  I'm not just a fan, but also her husband. And, as always, I have a couple new plays pushing their way out of me, so I'm going to have to make time for those very soon!