As promised, we're going to spend the week getting to know the geniuses behind National New Play Network. Where better to begin than with the brilliant and fabulous Executive Director, Jason Loewith. With all he's had to do in the weeks ahead of the National Showcase, he made time for this terrific interview. Please enjoy!
Jacqueline Lawton: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
Jason Loewith: No one else would have me, right? It was the place I could just be me. At least at first… I’ve now spent 40 years trying to get that feeling back! There were many shows and people along the way that kept me on the path, but it would be really hard to pinpoint any particular one. Was it the Winnie-the-Pooh adaptation I wrote for my sixth grade class? Going to Gower Champion’s production of 42ND STREET with my new step-family when I was 14? Spinning my head around with Robert Woodruff’s BAAL when I was 20 at Trinity? Seeing Julie Taymor’s work at 30? A random word from a graduate school mentor? Advice from my first, second and third bosses in the field? My theater jobs in LA, Chicago, New York or DC? I’m an assembly of voices and proudly stand on the shoulders of the many, many beautiful people who have inspired me to make theater, and make it important.
JL: From 2002-2008, you served as Artistic Director of Chicago’s Next Theatre Company. During which, you led the organization through tremendous financial growth and tripled the subscriber base. What is the most valuable lesson did you learned during your tenure? Also, what skills and traits do you feel a successful artistic director should have to support the health and growth of an organization?
Jason Loewith: I learned that, to build a theater, you need to build a community. One of my mentors in Chicago, Michael Halberstam, told me he built HIS theater by standing in the lobby every night for the first three years, at every show, talking with his patrons. That’s what I did, and it worked – folks don’t come to theater the way they go to a movie. They go to a theater to be part of a community. And if you don’t provide that, if you don’t make them feel welcome and valued in the conversation, you can’t be successful.
JL: Since 2009, you’ve served as the Executive Director of National New Play Network (NNPN). Tell us:
JL: Why does the American Theatre need National New Play Network (NNPN)?
Jason Loewith: I do think the recent article in AMERICAN THEATRE, and my answer above, encapsulates it – we’re providing a new way of thinking about solving the challenges around new plays. It’s not magic, it’s not rocket science: it’s simply the energy created by a group of similarly-committed and similarly-passionate theaters around the country trying to get their hands on exciting new work. It works, in part, because these theaters are more ambitious about playing an important role in their communities than they are about making it on Broadway.
JL: Tell us about the NNPN National Showcase. What excites most about the days ahead?
Jason Loewith: I love the energy that comes with all these NNPNers in one place – you’re about to experience it first-hand! It’s just so energizing and exciting, watching connections happen and collaborations spring up… last year, the Showcase resulted in two Rolling World Premieres, and sometimes that happens right in the room!
But I’m also really excited that, for the first time, we’re digging down locally (with your podcast plays) and expanding internationally (with the exchange with PlayWriting Australia). These are both initiatives I pushed, and I’m really excited to see how they expand the meaning and impact of the Showcase.
JL: We first met on Inkwell’s The Actor and the New Play panel discussion and have since served on many panels together! At that time, I knew you as an extraordinary playwright and had just seen your critically acclaimed and award winning play, Adding Machine at Studio Theatre. Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write in the same place or in different places?
Jason Loewith: I’m heading off to an artistic retreat this weekend, so maybe when I come back I’ll be able to tell you! Sadly, my ritual involves waiting until just before the deadline and then cranking it out – nothing mysterious. I find that I do my best initial work – sketching, thinking, imagining – when I’m out of town, away from home. And I have a long germination process – the idea needs to marinate for months (or sometimes years) before I’m really ready to put pen to paper. And then it’s a marathon, it’s like binging – if I need to do it for 48 hours straight until I have a draft of an act, that’s what I’ll do. However long it takes. I need to leave my other life behind completely in order to live in the world I’m writing.
JL: Also, with so much going on, what inspires you to write? What do you hope to convey in the plays that you create--what are they about? What sorts of people, situation, circumstances, do you like to write about?
Jason Loewith: It’s hard to really answer that… I’m almost afraid to answer that because once you name inspiration you’re afraid it won’t come again! I’ve lately thought much of what inspires me is being playful with language, and how language shapes identity in small and large ways. I can’t put my finger on it too precisely, but I think about the counting scene in ADDING MACHINE, the prologue of the new piece I’m writing, the overarching theme of the next project I want to write… they all seem consumed by language, identity, expression, expressionism… I don’t want to put my finger on it any more than that!
JL: In addition to your work at NNPN, you are a brilliant and innovative freelance director. Recent credits include: DC’s Studio Theatre, Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE and Everyman Theatre, and Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today and impacts your work?
Jason Loewith: I’m getting a big head answering these questions J The first play I ever directed was Tom Stoppard’s DOGG’S HAMLET, CAHOOT’S MACBETH in college. I can’t remember any lessons I learned from that, which is probably why I’m continually reinventing the wheel. Oh – wait – I learned that I shouldn’t both direct AND design the set AND build it.
JL: As a freelance director and quite man about town (I’ve seen you at many an opening!), you must have a good feel for DC theatre artists. So, tell me:
JL: How do you balance everything and find time to stay healthy, sane and rejuvenate?
Jason Loewith: Wait. I’ve stayed healthy and sane?
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming theatre artists and practitioners?
Jason Loewith: See theater all the time, even work you’re not sure you’ll like, figure out who your local role models are and volunteer to help them. Oh, and get my new book, out last week: The Director’s Voice, Volume 2.
JL: What's next for you? Where can we keep up with your great and inspiring work
Jason Loewith: I don’t know where you can keep up with my great and inspiring work, but the next thing I’m doing :0 is BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL at Adventure Theatre in May – it’s my first kids’ musical, I’m writing it with Chris Youstra; Michael Baron is directing, my favorite set designer in DC, Misha Kachman, is designing it; Michael Bobbit is the sweetest man on the planet… I’m having a blast and Michael says I’m gonna make a ton of money, so I may never turn back!
Here's our wonderful Jason with his newly released book, The Director's Voice, Volume 2, which was published by the lovely folks at Theatre Communications Group. I took this photo last Tuesday when I stopped in to say hello before spending a good six hours researching my NNPN podcast play (more on that anon). I've almost convinced him to let me host the book release party here in D.C.! I've ordered my copy and here's why you should as well:
“Directors today are equipped with a larger toolbox than their forerunners, standing on their shoulders as well as those of pioneers in non-Western theater, experimental visual art, community-based theater, and the ever-evolving commercial theater scene.”— Jason Loewith
This second volume presents a cross-section of the most diverse and dynamic stage directors defining today’s American theater, in conversation with director/producer Jason Loewith. A follow-up to the immensely popular first volume, which has sold over eighteen thousand copies, much has changed in the twenty years since The Director’s Voice debuted. “The nonprofit model has been turned on its head,” Loewith notes. “Institution-building is out for these directors; creating a distinctive voice from a multiplicity of influences is in.” Together, these directors sketch a compelling portrait of the art form in the new century.
Interviews include: Anne Bogart, Mark Brokaw, Peter Brosius, Ping Chong, David Esbjornson, Oskar Eustis, Frank Galati, Michael Kahn, Moisés Kaufman, James Lapine, Elizabeth LeCompte, Emily Mann, Michael Mayer, Marion McClinton, Bill Rauch, Bartlett Sher, Julie Taymor, Theatre de la Jeune Lune (Barbra Berlovitz, Steven Epps, Vincent Gracieux, Robert Rosen, and Dominique Serrand), George C. Wolfe, and Mary Zimmerman.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!