Backstage at Detroit With Lisa D’Amour: “Even Playwrights Get Stage Fright”

09/19/2012 1:07 PM |


Even though D’Amour is acting only as the playwright with Detroit, her typical day-in-the-life during this New York premiere makes it clear that even in its third production there’s still plenty to keep her busy, not to mention all the other projects that she’s juggling. (Including upcoming work in Boston, Austin, the Philadelphia area, and North Carolina.)

On a typical day during this production, D’Amour wakes up at the apartment that she shares with her husband, composer and sound designer Brendan Connelly in Bed-Stuy. The couple split their time between New York and New Orleans (where D’Amour is from), and though she’d love to be able to be in New Orleans full-time she told me that, given everything she has going on, “in the next decade it’s hard for me to see that happening.”

Before starting work, she mentioned an important new ritual in her schedule: “The first part in the day-in-the-life of a playwright—a 42-year-old playwright—is back exercises. You’re just sitting all the time. My back problems were terrible in London, so this trip I started spending a half hour in the morning stretching and doing yoga.”

The rest of the morning she spends collecting her thoughts and reading through her notes from the previous night’s rehearsal and performance. When I asked her if she attends all of the performances once a show goes into previews (the performances that precede the official opening of a show, when changes and tweaks are still being made to the script and production), she said she attends about three-quarters of them. She likes to take time off to get a little perspective. “Playwrights tend to obsess, and you’re not always obsessing in the right direction,” she said. This is also the time of day when she makes changes to the script, if needed—looking for places to tweak the tempo or tone of the work, or make adjustments that might help the actors or the crew to get their emotions or props into the right positions.

Then she’s inevitably rushing into Manhattan for rehearsals and meetings with the press. She said that particularly during previews it’s hard to predict how the rehearsals are going to go because actors are bringing up new things now that they’ve had a chance to do full runs of the show, but they also need to keep some of their energy for that night’s performance. “So, you have to be very flexible,” she said. During our backstage tour I also gathered that these rehearsals offer the crew crucial opportunities to make changes to the set and props where needed.

The set for this production is deftly tucked into Playwrights Horizons’ small stage. There’s a large turntable on the stage that spins a double-sided set between the front and back yards of the two couples who are the main characters: Ben (David Schwimmer) and Mary (Amy Ryan), and Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic) and Kenny (Darren Pettie). Special effects are tucked away behind the set and inside of props, and different dressings for the set are carefully piled into the one or two spare areas of backstage. Unlike the Chicago and London productions, where D’Amour said that the sets basically stayed the same throughout, this set changes regularly. D’Amour described why director Anne Kauffman made that decision for the show. “[Anne] was just really interested in what moving from the front yard to the backyard does to the tone and the energy of the play, and how you get kind of disoriented because you keep switching spaces,” she said. “Anne’s personality is such that she loves thinking about style and visual language and how that connects to acting style.”