Lynn Rosen just completed her “virtual” play The Catastrophe Committee, commissioned for UC Santa Barbara’s nine graduating BFAs, directed by Annie Torsiglieri. The play will be shared online on June 13th, and the script is available for future productions.
In addition to two TV pilots she has in development, Lynn is creating online content with her favorite collaborators to stay connected and creative while the world is on pause. Lynn has an upcoming Zoom reading of her play The Claudias, commissioned by Red Bull Theater, which ecstatically exhumes the stories of historical women named Claudia, and whose tales were buried by the powerful men who dominated their lives and the world. Lynn also has an upcoming reading of her musical Gurley!, commissioned byTheatreWorks Silicon Valley, which is about the kinship and the battles between Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown, music/lyrics by The Kilbanes.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
When I was 6ish, my mom took me to see Dracula and I got to meet Dracula after the show – with fake blood still on his face – and it was dangerous and exciting. This might have been when I decided I wanted to entertain people with dangerous and exciting stories. Also, after I saw the brilliant Noises Off by Michael Frayn a few years later, I said to myself, “I want to try to do that.” That half the audience was laughing hysterically and half sat there stone-faced made me even more intrigued!
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
Well, it wasn’t the paycheck. But all the jobs I’ve had are great fodder.
Like most writers, I have an active imagination and my writing allows me to liberate and employ all the stuff going on in my head. Also, theatre and TV are extremely collaborative, and collaborating has made me a more enlightened writer and human. I never look back on a show and think “Man, what great reviews we got.” It’s the relationships I’ve formed while creating a show that I most relish.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I’ve written stories and short plays ever since I was little. I went to theatre camp as a kid where I learned a lot. And, as my mom and dad could tell you, I watched way too much TV and would sort of break down shows in my head to figure out why they were funny or moving. I made a conscious effort to hunker down and train as a writer when I decided to major in theatre at Brandeis University. When I arrived in NYC a few years after I got my B.A., and was among so many talented writers, I doubled down on that by joining any writing groups that would have me.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I’m lucky to have very encouraging parents. My mom, Kay Rosen, is an esteemed visual artist, but it took her many many years of working from her basement studio in our home in Gary, Indiana, to become successful. Her struggles and her journey as a female artist (who was raising two kids like I am now) has always been my inspiration.
I had mostly encouraging teachers. And since I didn’t go to grad school, it’s really my peers that have been most encouraging. But a defining moment was my senior year in college when I decided to write my final play for my playwrighting class in the style of the great Sam Shepard. (My writing is nothing like Sam Shepard.) When we finished reading it, my class was visibly disturbed by how bad it was, as was I. My teacher, a grad student, said, “What happened?” She then told me to write like me, not like anyone else (as wonderful as Sam Shepard is), to trust my voice, my instincts, my worldview. As humiliated as I was, I knew even then that this was a helpful lesson to learn so early on. And my grade went from an A- to a B+. Fair.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Considering the times we live in – and considering how tough this business can be – I often wonder if I’d do more good as a journalist or a social worker. But I do believe the arts can change minds and connect people. When I’m frustrated, outraged, or mystified, the way I combat and employ those feelings is to write. I also protest, I call legislators, and try to be an informed citizen, neighbor, ally. But I think my writing is the most potent way for me to possibly affect change. It’s ultimately the way I cope with the world.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
When I was a wide-eyed Hoosier, and a newbie New Yorker, the brilliant playwright Tina Howe nominated me for the Playwrights’ Workshop at The Lark, a play development organization. That’s where I first started finding my community. The second tipping point was five-ish years ago when I was accepted into New Dramatists, a nationally-recognized new play laboratory, and started taking more risks as a writer. It’s also where I realized I can be an effective leader. As for a “my career is blowing up” tipping point, that should be, yeah, any day now. I don’t think there’s only one tipping point.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I’m still trying to overcome what I think is an inherent bias against female writers who write aggressive comedies. In general, people don’t appreciate how much skill it takes to succeed at comedy. Many people also don’t realize that comedy is a sneaky conduit to people’s hearts, minds, and souls. My plays are funny, but they’re also dead serious, and it’s a challenge for some people to synthesize those ingredients. Everyone wants to put you in a box – i.e., the issue writer, the political writer, etc. – especially female writers. And especially female writers over the age of 40.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’ve had productions and scripts I’m so proud of, but my most recent “proudest accomplishment” is The Pool, a playwright-driven pop-up theatre company I formed with fellow writers Susan Bernfield (AD of New Georges) and Peter Gil-Sheridan. The Pool was formed to subvert the traditional power structures in theatre. We produced each other’s ready-to-go plays in rep immediately, rather than waiting, say, 10 years to get a “yes” from an industry gatekeeper. The Pool was a success, and we recently passed it on to three talented female playwrights with similar agency. Then they will pass it on to three other writers. I’m very excited about how this independent, yet communal, model of theatre-making might enrich and transform the landscape of theatre. Maybe it can happen for TV, too. Independent theatre-makers are everywhere. Post-Covid, this more nimble and less bureaucratic model of getting plays on their feet may be the way to go.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Work hard, rewrite fearlessly, find your allies, know that rejections are normal, and when opportunities come your way – big or small – shove fear aside and say YES.
Check out UCSB’s SPOTLIGHT PROJECT on Saturday, June 13, featuring Lynn Rosen’s THE CATASTROPHE COMMITTEE at 7 p.m. PST, along with Nancy Hower’s STANDING ON MY HEAD at 6 p.m. PST. To watch, click this link. Viewing is free.