Young Jean Lee on Her Lear

01/20/2010 5:45 AM |

The L: With the theater company, are you able to make your living from theater at this point?
YJL: Yeah. I have since maybe 2006. But actually, at this moment, I have donated my salary back to the theater company and I'm making my money from Hollywood.

The L: That's a choice that a lot of writers seem to end up making. Do you mind saying anything about what the project is that you're working on?
YJL: I'm writing a movie for Paramount and Plan B.

The L: I know you have a number of theater commissions that I'm assuming you'll be working on for the next couple of years. Do you feel like you're able to keep up with the work? How much time does it take you to comfortably get a project to the place where you want to put it in front of an audience?
YJL: With Lear I only had a year and that wasn't really enough time—it nearly killed us all. So the next project is going to be two years.

The L: I remember reading a couple of years ago that you would write a play, throw that first draft away, and then rewrite the whole thing from scratch. You also spoke about resisting the urge to make your plays too pretty or neat. But then recently I read that you like to cast actors before you even begin writing. So obviously your process is constantly changing. I'd like to have you talk about that a little bit about the process you go through to create your work. Maybe the best way to start is by talking about your process for Lear.
YJL: I cast the actors and then I rehearsed for a month and then I did a workshop. So I was writing and rehearsing at the same time. And then I threw almost all of that away and started over from scratch.

The L: Was that part of that urge to resist the first impulse or to resist prettiness? Or was it simply an urge to start over?
YJL: I don't have any problem with prettiness, I just didn't like [what we'd created]. So we threw out the first workshop and then I lost two actors. I did a second workshop and then I threw out half of that. And then we were in the final production and I lost two more actors from that.

The L: When you're working with actors, as I understand it, you like to get a sense of what each of them brings to the table and then you try to use that in the production. Are you also adding their words to the script through improvisation or collaboration, or is it entirely your writing?
YJL: It's my writing. I bring in the text and occasionally they'll suggest an edit. With The Shipment the actors gave much more feedback to the text. They were much more influential to the changes because it was more about them than it was about me. With [Lear] it worked less that way.

The L: Going back to your longer-term relationship with King Lear, why did you decide to come back to it?
YJL: You know, I never really know. It seemed masochistic and that tends to be how I pick my shows. It seemed like a challenge. It's kind of a semi-egotistical thing—you pick a really hard thing to do and then you see if you can pull it off. And it's kind of a crazy way of working, because my reach does exceed my grasp and then it's really difficult to make it happen.

The L: What was your thesis about? Does it bear any relation to this production at all?
YJL: Not really. It was a comparison between Shakespeare's King Lear and the anonymous version that was written earlier. I was trying to look at why Shakespeare's Lear is considered a great work of art and nobody even knows about the other one.