Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Libby Emmons.
Kicking off the first interview of 2016 is Libby Emmons who starts us off right by talking about indie theater and the importance of creating your own opportunities. Libby is a playwright as well as a producer and has a similar theater in pubs type of play series going with others in NYC.
We talked a bit about the current state of theater and what are some things people could do that would make a significant difference in changing it for the better. And we talked about Morrissey. Because Morrissey.
So, here it is! The interview for you to enjoy!
Barbara: Could you tell me about your background– what kind of position(s) do you inhabit in the theater world?
Libby: I make theatre because whenever I try to switch and do something else I find myself writing a new play or planning a new show, and I think “alright, let’s give this thing another go.” I studied playwriting and producing in undergrad (Sarah Lawrence) and grad (Columbia), and that’s mostly what I do now, write and produce.
Barbara: How did you get your theater company started? Was there an opportunity you saw?
Libby: I started a theatre company (Blue Box World) not because I saw an opportunity but because I saw a lack of them. I got a lot of rejections from existing theatre production companies and organizations, so I was like “fuck it, I’ll just do it myself.”
Barbara: Do you have a website for your theater company? Would love to check it out!
Barbara: What was the first show you produced through them?
Libby: Our first show was two one acts of mine on one bill, Firetop and Overnight, and we produced them at Second Stage at The Adrienne on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. As luck would have it, I also had a short piece going up at InterAct Theater Co. on the mainstage in the same theater building, running at the same time, so that was fun.
During this process we met loads of great artists, and wanted to keep working with them. But we’d blown all our cash on that big show. Our next show was Sticky, 10-minute plays set in Bar Noir, where we were regulars anyway. Sticky has been our main show now for years, even though we do other stuff here and there.
Barbara: How do you get people to come out for shows?
Libby: Every time we do a show I think “how the hell are we gonna get people to come out for this thing?” Our first show was before everyone had communicators in their hands at all times, so what we did was actually call everyone we know on the actual telephone and ask them to come, in addition to postcards, flyers, etc. I think the best approach is personal, but honestly marketing and how to keeps me up at night. Audiences always come, but I don’t know where they come from or why.
Barbara: Do you do theater around the country or mainly in NYC? I was curious if you thought there were differences in the way theater is engaged in within the different regions/places, if so.
Libby: We worked in Philly when we lived there, but have been in NYC since 2002. I always want to do theatre around the country, but short of getting an RV and winning the lotto, that plan has not been manifest. If I were to tour a show, my top choice would be How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby for Parts, which is a two-hander that I wrote for my friend Ali and I, where we play office workers who plan to sell the intern’s gang rape baby at a steep profit, and when that plan goes awry, come up with even crazier ideas. It runs 40 minutes; big laughs.
Barbara: What is one thing you’d like to change about theater currently?
Libby: I would like to change the funding and producing models for theatre. What we’ve got going now are these models:
- commercial producer who has or gets the funding, the most traditional model
- not-for-profit producer who gets donations and grants then operates at a loss
- indie producer who has to get money from friends/family/credit cards
- festival producer who charges the participating artists for every small detail
I hate all of these, and the kind of theatre they create is the kind of theatre where the audience is in their chairs and the lights go down and the actors step onto the stage and it’s this ‘sacred’ experience. I prefer the profane. I want the audience onstage with me; I want them to sit on my lap while I whisper my stories in their ears. I want them to support the show by buying a cheap ticket to that show. I want us all to experience these moments together, and not in our own separate spaces. I want them to let me love them.
Barbara: Do you see any low-hanging fruit opportunities that would make a difference?
Libby: Yes. The shows I make create budgets entirely from projected ticket sales. Then we try to surpass that, in order to pay artists more than the initial offer. I believe fully that the only low-hanging fruit opportunities are the ones we make for ourselves. There’s no waiting around to ask permission, there’s just making art.
Barbara: What advice would you give to people who want to do what you do?
Libby: Do it. There’s no trick but to get your friends together and ask them to make brand new art with you. The ones who feel as much ownership over the work as you do will stick around, and it will be awesome. I’ve had a day job this whole time, and I’ve been producing my own work, and I stay up real late and wake up too early. I once got the advice from Suzan-Lori Parks that I should quit my day job and focus on making work full time. I was too freaked by finances to do that, and still am. Maybe it was advice I should have taken, or maybe it wasn’t, but it’s the advice I wish I’d tried out.
Barbara: And I hear you are in the Morrissey play fest! How cool is that? Want to give any hint about what to expect from your play or what your inspiration was?
Libby: Interestingly I was asked by Stuart Bousel to write a Morrissey monologue for a man. The initial submission guidelines talked about extra points for plays that could justify any song on Kill Uncle, and I love that album! So I went with “Sing Your Life,” which is what my man does, without singing.
Barbara: Anything to say about Morrissey and a play festival inspired by him?
Libby: I was so turned on by this idea. First off: bar plays, which come on, I’ve been making and loving the bar play for over a decade. And Morrissey, please. The man got me through my teenage years as unscathed as possible, although still with enough sublime contusions for me to have a true understanding of the word. When I listen to Morrissey it’s like the air outside my body suddenly matches the emotions and whimsies on the inside. It’s like listening to Morrissey makes me feel big enough to inhabit the air that I breathe.
Barbara: Plugs for shows in (or out of) the area or other art we should take a look at?
Libby: First off: The Morrissey Plays. If I were anywhere near I would be there every night.
After that I have two projects coming up that I am jumping out of my chair about I’m so excited. I Am Not an Allegory (these are people i know) is a full length coming up at Under Saint Marks in NYC, running from March 10-26.
The Sticky series is coming to Lovecraft Bar in NYC from with 4 new shows from April 7-May 26, www.stickyseries.live, and our Normal, IL offshoot, under impresario J. Michael Grey, runs at the Firehouse Brew Pub.
Barbara: And a Morrissey song to leave us with?
Libby: Sing Your Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6BOZ8gcT6c
You can catch Libby Emmons’ short play in The Morrissey Plays on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 25-26. And as always, tweet @bjwany or email us for interview suggestions!