Ready to Write? Tessa LaNeve on ESPA, Fordham and Everything in Between

How did you get involved with ESPA/Primary Stages?  

While in grad school at Columbia, I was still working at Second Stage. My boss called me as I was walking into a seminar to say that Andrew Leynse from Primary Stages was going to contact me about a literary management job. I had no idea who this Andrew Leynse was. Or what Primary Stages was, for that matter. Within two weeks, I was working there.

In 2007, Primary Stages Executive Producer Casey Childs suggested we create a school. I volunteered to take a stab at it. Little did I know it would grow to having over 1700 students and 90 faculty members in just five years.

ESPA is now also affiliated with Fordham?  How did that come about?

We began working with Fordham several years ago when Cusi Cram’s play The Wild Inside was produced there. We collaborated on the production and became fast friends. Primary Stages Managing Director Elliot Fox and Director of the Theatre Program at Fordham, Matthew Maguire, began cooking up this partnership during that production. Once the curriculum was nailed down and the State accreditation was set, I was asked to suggest who should teach – and was, in return, given a class. Crazy. The launch of this MFA partnership marks an important turning point for both institutions – the degree is Fordham’s first MFA Playwriting program and our first venture into the world academia. What’s more, a small handful of our strongest ESPA artists may be joining us in the classrooms through special recommendation and invitation. ‘tis a beautiful symbiotic relationship for everyone.

What have you learned in the process of producing ESPA Drills?

Writers are our country’s heroes. The theater community really ponies up when asked. Copy machines are magic… and I really love being in the room. On more hands than I can count, I’ve thought to myself, “Damn, I love my job. This is such a privilege. And far too much fun to be considered work. Make sure my boss doesn’t find out.”

How has the process/experience varied for different playwrights?

Every play has different needs. Some are farther along in the process and just need cosmetic surgery. Others undergo full liposuction and body lifts. Either way, all of the energy in the world is given to these writers to make their plays gorgeous by their fateful days at 59E59.

What do you think the main benefit has been for playwrights?

Beyond being able to focus on one play all summer, receive as many table reads as need be, have the Primary Stages artistic staff on hand for feedback as well as gorgeous actors and talented directors… Beyond all that, what MORE could a writer want? Ah yes, ADVOCACY. That’s my favorite part. We contact every agent, every theater, every everyone to introduce these writers to the world. We invite them to the readings, we send them scripts, we push the writers to submit to festivals… Major relationships have been made with our advocacy program with a bunch of the plays having second and third lives.

What else new is happening at ESPA this year?

We’ve got several new faculty members joining the ranks as well as new curriculum. We’ve got Fordham, of course… and we’re hard at work coming up with a theme for our Fall kick-off party. Ideas are welcomed.

What are the intensives?  How are they different from Workshops?

The writing intensives are 4-5 days of non-stop writing. We’re talking like 20 hours of exercises and scribbling. Hands have been broken in the process. Dozens of pens have run out of ink. Computers have been fried… But most importantly, huge chunks of new plays have been developed.

If you were reincarnated as a playwright/theater artist, which one would it be and why?  :-)

As a playwright – I’d want to be Oscar Wilde. Controversial and terribly witty. And I’d totally go to jail for someone I love.

As a theater artist – oh gee.. You know, I’m pretty happy being me. I’ve got a lot of autonomy over here, which gives freedom to play and explore on a daily basis with my family of artist-friends. Can’t imagine wanting much else. I’m a very lucky girl.

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