Meet the Artist: Lisa Schlesinger

Meet the Artist is a series of interviews with the Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellows.

DEFT, 2015.

Lisa Schlesinger is a playwright, writer, and theatre activist. Her plays include the Celestial Bodies trilogy, The Bones of Danny Winston, and Rock Ends Ahead. She is writing Endangered States of America, a series of plays about climate change including In the Wake of the Graybow Riots and I Dreamed the Last Diamond Darter. She is also currently adapting the Iphigenia plays to speak to the global refugee crises. A recipient of the NEA/TCG Playwrights Residency Award, the BBC International Play-writing Award, and a nominee for a USArtists Fellowship, her work is produced in the U.S. and internationally and published in American Theatre Magazine, Performing Arts Journal, Theatre Communications Group and the New York Times. Her plays are forthcoming from Broadway Plays and NoPassport. She is an affiliated artist with Sleeping Weazel in Boston and In Parenthesis in New York City. She teaches playwriting at the University of Iowa.

Where are you from?

I am originally from New York City. I have lived in Greece, Ireland, Holland, and various places in the U.S.

Where do you currently live?

I live in Iowa City.

Where do you make your work?

I am a kitchen table writer. Like many women, I write between, around, and in tune with domestic works: children’s naps and baking bread and doing laundry. I always have. The writing practice is intertwined with these other quotidian practices. I have a small studio where I keep my books and drafts of manuscripts and materials but I have always worked at the kitchen table.

What is your artistic medium of choice and why?

I write. I have written since I was a child. I work across three forms. Professionally, I am primarily a playwright. My plays are poems for the stage.I am also a theatre activist and create big performances in public spaces that seek to create visibility and spark change. I also write essays that stretch that form. Sometimes they look like poems on the page or sometimes I perform them. At the center of all my work is a poetic spirit.

What themes does your work deal with?

I write about people and characters and social justice, currently, the connections and crossroads between global militarization and climate change. I am particular interested in giving voice/language to people and animals and issues that aren’t heard in this manner so that they may be heard. I am currently concerned with the number of people in exile from their homes and the species going extinct and what this says about the world.

Schlesinger discussing Seven Songs for Iphigenia with Antonis Kavounakis, Crete, Greece. Photo: Gus Ford Photography.

What are you currently working on?

I often have several projects going at once. I am currently in rewrites of a new play, I Dreamed the Last Diamond Darter about the 2014 West Virginia chemical spill at the Freedom Industries coal cleaning plant, commissioned by Coe College: It’s about the many unseen toxins in the environment and on the internet and what we do when they leak into our lives.

I am working on and rewriting a collaborative film/theatre project called Seven Songs for Iphigenia about women and the refugee crisis. I am conceptualizing an environmental performance piece for the Ralston Creek that runs through Iowa City.

I have a draft of a work Unearthed — in rewrites.

What do you enjoy about being an artist in Iowa?

I came to Iowa for the Iowa Writers Workshop and fell in love with the Iowa landscape and people. I live in an amazing and unique neighborhood in Iowa City. I can walk or bike to cultural events or take a walk in my neighborhood and listen to my neighborhood owls. There is a free library on every corner and one of the best bookstores and public libraries down town. I love our public parks. CSPS in Cedar Rapids is a gem.

What is one thing you would like to see change about the artistic field in Iowa?

I would love to see art and artists nurtured in and through the educational system. It is a shame that the education budgets have been cut in a way that has affected arts and cultural education. What’s up with that? Art teaches a process and practice of observation, critical thinking, and experiential living and being that is essential to the problem solving process. This is not a luxury- this is essential to our cultural health as a nation.

We need artists and we need civilians who make and experience art.