Interview with Whales, Save Us! playwright, Elizabeth Leavitt

One of my favorite parts of my job as Literary Manager for RTC is the chance to get to converse with and get to know lesser-known playwrights. I recently had the chance to chat with Elizabeth Leavitt about Whales, Save Us! which opens later this week.

RTC: Name? 
EL: Elizabeth Leavitt

RTC: Hometown?
EL: Sacramento

RTC: Current Town?
EL:  Salt Lake City  

RTC: Tell us about Whales, Save Us!
EL: This is a play I wrote as my thesis for grad school. I worked on it with a lot of great help and support. 

RTC: What made you write Whales?
EL: There were two initial germs. #1 is a little watercolor I did. My aim was to develop a play visually. So painting a bit helped get me going. 

RTC: Tell me about that second "germ".
EL: It was based upon an experience I had hearing a speaker through a Western Fairs Association. 

RTC: Why the greek tragic form? Did you start out to write Whales this way, or did it evolve into this form?
EL:I knew I wanted a chorus. The three nuns from John Guare's, The House of Blue Leaves were a big inspiration. There's a company out of Cornwall called KneeHigh and they do these great choruses. If you notice - the Girl Scouts really act as one. #1 only asks questions. #2 only says statements, and #3 eats. I thought it was a worthwhile challenge. And I wanted big stakes - life or death. And no one does over dramatic like the Greeks.

RTC: In your mind, what is “The Big One”?
EL: Oh who knows...I'll leave the why up to audiences and actors.

RTC: What do the girl scouts represent to you?
EL: Odd morality and self-sufficiency. 

RTC: Why did you choose to use girl scouts, but put them in the 1970’s brownie uniforms?
EL: My goal was to have a very visual play. It was between three girl scouts or three ballerinas. I wanted young girls with a very unsentimental world view - and I wanted that communicated loud and clear. Rather than having them explain their bottom-line sensibility I felt the uniforms would say it all. The new Girl Scouts of America are so damned watered down I could just weep - so I looked to the past.

RTC: You managed to write a fair amount of swearing without using the actual swear words – what spurred this choice?
EL: I think half-swearing is very funny. 

RTC: What (to you) was the most exciting part of the original production?
EL: Well, I just die when an audience laughs. So that was exciting.

RTC: What would you like the Columbus audience to know about Whales?
EL: Guys, this is a great show.

RTC: Tell us a story from your childhood which explains who you are.
EL: When I was three, in preschool, we sang The 12 Days of Christmas and each kid was chosen to depict one of the days. I was desperate to be 7 Swans, 6 Geese, 11 Pipers -- anyway, long story short, I got stuck with 3 French Hens and I thought, "this is how the rest of my effing life is gonna be."

RTC: Who are your favorite playwrights?
EL: John Patrick Shanley and John Guare 

RTC: What kind of theatre really stimulates you?
EL: I love when someone says the truth and it costs them a whole hell of a lot.

RTC:Tell us about a play which deeply impacted you.
EL: Savage in Limbo. It really guts me in the best way. Let me include an excerpt to persuade you to it (please read the whole play some time): "As I have told you, this is the very drink that killed my mother. My father died of nothin at all, which is maybe the saddest thing a person can pass on from. But my mother, who was the only one ever stupid enough to love me, my mother died from this drink that Murk is making me now. I have always taken consolation where I could find it, even when it caused me grief." (April, Savage in Limbo - by John Patrick Shanley)

RTC: What made you want to be involved with the theatre?
EL: Quite truthfully, I don't always want to be in it. It can really get me down. I like it a lot though. There's no better feeling than watching your play and seeing it done well. It's pretty great, and I think you should try it some time. Just take care of your heart, if you can.

RTC: What else have you written?
EL: I wrote a play about The Creature from the Black Lagoon writing for Oprah's Book Club, a monologue play about a Romanian gymnast discovering Diet Dr. Pepper and a play that sounds very boring but is a crowd favorite (4 friends - coming of age [Sounds riveting, I know]).

RTC: What are you currently working on?
EL: At the moment I'm working on some narratives without words (animations, of all things). I'm taking a short break from plays because words are failing me. Or I'm failing words.

Raconteur likes to ask people the Inside the Actor’s Studio 10 questions, so here goes..
RTC:What is your favorite word?
EL: Hi

RTC: What is your least favorite word? 
EL: Actually
RTC: What turns you on? 
EL: Cleverness
RTC: What turns you off? 
EL: Self importance

RTC: What sound or noise do you love? 
EL: Syncopated clapping in 1960s girl group songs

RTC: What sound or noise do you hate? 
EL: That 'ping' before a flight attendant speaks.
RTC: What is your favorite curse word? 
EL: Fuck
RTC: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 
EL: Graphic novelist

RTC: What profession would you not like to do? 
EL: Doctor

RTC: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? 
EL: I suppose I hope we wouldn't have to say anything, me and God.



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