In The Spotlight: Playwright, Aline Lathrop

By Aaron Arbiter, Festival Assistant

Aline Lathrop

Playwright Aline Lathrop

Aline Lathrop is busy these days as playwright in residence at 16th Street Theater.  Her peers know her to be a writer who is always challenging herself, but perhaps a better testament to her success as a playwright is her unflinching desire to not only ask important questions but to reach truths that are sometimes uncomfortable. As Aline puts it, “I think that provides the audience with release, especially when their own fear or shame is voiced.” This of course also means that her play …And Eat It Too ventures into territory that she knows well, balancing work and family. For this profile, Aline offers thoughts on her artistic influences and process as well as a peak at family life in Hyde Park.

AA: Where did you start out in theater?  How did you come to be a writer?

AL: I started as an actress. Actually, I first wanted to be a mime, which I took rather seriously for several years starting around the age of three. I realize now that mime just happened to be my first introduction to live dramatic performance. A few years later when I saw my first play, I wanted to be an actress, and I had the good fortune to work and train at Delaware Theatre Company, which is a LORT D regional theatre, as a child and through high school. By the time I arrived at Northwestern for Theatre, my craving for being under the lights was starting to fade. I took a playwriting class, and discovered the thrill of sitting in the back of a darkened theatre watching actors bring my words to life, and that is where I have remained.

AA: Mime is certainly a unique starting point, what other styles or artists have influenced you?

AL: Chekhov is a big influence for his stories of yearning and striving, and also for his character-driven humor. The first Mamet play I saw taught me how sparse and musical a play can be. My greatest influences are probably not playwrights, however. As a young actor, Michael Shurtleff’s “Audition,” was my bible, and I learned stakes and tactics from him. I think this is why most of my plays are ensemble-based. Georgia O’Keefe was also an early influence. When I was first writing plays, I fell in love with her paintings, and one day reading some biographical material, I came upon a description of a time when she made the decision to paint only in black until the painting demanded color. “I believe it was June before I needed blue,” she said, and I decided that I would write with that same discipline of economy.

AA: What about when you aren’t writing?

AL: I have a second career in new product development and management, which I think has honed my skills in building a story from the ground up. I’m also a mother, which means that I live with people who learn and grow so fast that they put me to shame, and inspire me to be more creative and productive. It also means that I spend a lot of time learning and creating beside them, as I facilitate the pursuit of their passions. I spent a large chunk of today, for instance, helping them troubleshoot the fretboard of a cigar box guitar they are building.

AA: What was the genesis of …And Eat It Too?

AL: I saw a BBC documentary on a jetlagged night in London about mothers who had decided to stay at home with their children, but whose husbands did not respect their choice. Their lives seemed to have turned into a 1950’s stereotype of gender roles that made both the husbands and wives unhappy. It made me think about how the choice to stay at home or go back to work, when one has that choice, is hard to predict, and hard to compromise on, and I wondered what happens in a relationship when a couple has a baby and discovers that their views are not aligned.

AA: Has writing this play changed you in any way?

AL: In most of my plays, I experiment with a theatrical device I haven’t played with before. With …And Eat It Too that device is a lot of overlapping scenes, and characters that share the same space while being in different scenes. I actually wrote the first draft of …And Eat It Too several years ago, so I’ve written more plays since then. This play freed me up to play with space and time in new ways, which I discovered I really enjoy, and I have taken this further in subsequent plays. I have also worked on this play longer, and rewritten it more times, than any other play. I hadn’t worked on it for several years until recently, but working on it again now I have the distance to be a script doctor for my own work. This has been a great learning experience, and it has helped me to create a similar distance for work that I have generated more recently.

AA: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given as a writer or artist?

AL: Write a lot of plays.

2015 marks the eighth time Polarity has produced a Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays. The Festival provides a six month development process for the selected playwrights and affords them a series of feedback encounters with a director and dramaturg selected for their experience with new plays, as well as with the play-going public.

This year’s festival includes …And Eat It Too by Aline Lathrop, directed by Hutch Pimentel, Josh Altman, Dramaturg; Leavings by Gail Parrish, directed by Helen Young, Maggie Carlin, Dramaturg; Girl Found by Barbara Lhota, directed by Dan Foss, Sarah Laeuchli, Dramaturg; andThe Charisma of Flying Saucers by Mary Beth Hoerner, directed by Rachel Ramirez, JD Caudill, Dramaturg.

The 2015 Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays runs July 9-19 at the Greenhouse Theater Center at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue. Tickets are $10 per performance or $15 for a full festival pass. Seating is general admission. For tickets and information visit www.petheatre.com or call the box office at 773-404-7336.

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