They say fortune favors the brave, and they also say that fortune favors the prepared mind (although that doesn’t sound as poetic…). As I think about writer/director Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play Fortune, running on Geva’s Fielding Stage from Oct. 4-21, both phrases feel somehow appropriate. It takes courage to reinvent yourself artistically, and artists are continually preparing and rehearsing the art of collaboration. I asked Deborah to share some insights about this process, as we prepare to present this production from the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca.
JW: Geva audiences are familiar with your work as the playwright of Informed Consent, but Fortune is quite a different piece, from an early point in your writing career. Can you share a little bit about what it’s like to revisit one of your early plays?
DZL: I wrote those first few plays while I was still acting — essentially writing roles for myself. So they’re stories created around character, characters I would have enjoyed playing. Now, my plays usually spring from an idea I want to explore. A question. And then I populate it with people who will help me tear at that idea from every angle. (And then, of course, I fall in love with those characters, and I have to let them do what they want to do.) Going back to a play I wrote twenty years ago is a little like reading an old diary. I was such a different person. I might have the impulse to change the play to reflect who I am now, but you wouldn’t rewrite your diary. And there’s a sweetness to this play that I just love.
JW: You’ve been directing your own plays now for a few years – how did that come about? Do you prefer directing your plays?
DZL: I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful directors, great collaborators who taught me so much. When it’s a first production, it’s enormously helpful to work with a smart director who asks the deep questions that help me get the play to the next level. The first play I directed was the premiere of The Three Sisters of Weehawken, at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. It was very challenging to be learning how to direct and madly rewriting the play at the same time. It was also Theatre Lab’s first production, they were building the theatre as we rehearsed, and a hurricane knocked out a few days of rehearsal. Initiation by fire. But it was the thrill of my life, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. (Well, I could have lost the hurricane…) Since then I’ve directed Informed Consent, Be Here Now, and now, Fortune And it’s so joyful to be able to collaborate. I don’t have to sit by quietly (often the role of the playwright) as everyone else in the room plays. We all get to make something, together. And, the luxury of also being the playwright is that I can say, “This is just the blueprint. Let’s find this thing together. Best idea in the room wins!” And then I can really suit the script to the actors in the room.
JW: How does your approach to the plays differ, as a director? Has directing changed the way you think about writing?
DZL: I wish I could have directed each of my plays before I published them. Playing with great actors and designers, as a director, I can find out what’s in the script, what doesn’t need to be, and what I need to add to ensure that future productions have a better blueprint. And, yes, I’m learning how many problems I’ve created for directors! The play I’m writing now has one set and no quick changes! Though, I’m sure when it’s done I’ll learn about a whole new batch of issues I’ve created.
JW: You directed Fortune over the summer in Ithaca, at the Hangar Theatre. What can you share with us about that experience?
Fortune at the Hangar Theatre. Photo by Rachel Philipson.
DZL: I really had a fantastic time working there. But the space was challenging for this intimate play – it got its name because it was an airplane hangar – massive. The Fielding seems much more suited for a two-hander. And, we’ve had a cast change! Amelia Pedlow is a fantastic actress (and is now working on a play at The Guthrie), and I was sad to lose her, but it’s a real thrill to get to work with two very different actresses in the same role in such a short time. I’m excited to see how it transforms with Lena Kaminsky, whom I adore.
JW: Finally, a couple of very serious questions about fortune telling: if you were a fortune teller, what would you call yourself? Would you use a crystal ball, or another method? Can you make any predictions for your time in Rochester?
DZL:If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s not to make any predictions. But I can say with certainty that I’m so excited to return to Geva, to see the friends I made when I was here with Informed Consent, and I can’t wait to share my play with your audience!