Barbara Lindsay on her career and her craft

July 24, 2017

Playwright Barbara Lindsay, author of An Actual Baby Person and An Old-Fashioned Christmasanswers questions about her career, playwriting and the theatre.

Q: What was the play you saw or read that made you think: “this theatre thing is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
A: I still remember very clearly watching Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and thinking “I want to do that!” I was so knocked out by the way he dealt with fate, chance, destiny and the wonderful idea of reworking one of the world’s most famous plays from the point of view of its most minor characters.


Q: What was your first job in the theatre?
A: When I was in grade school, I played Wendy in a community theatre production of Peter Pan in Bakersfield, CA.


Q: I think we find inspiration in the work of others. I often find myself wishing I had written a particular play/moment/character, and that’s when I realize I have developed a playwriting crush (these are ever changing and different from your playwright loves). Who is your playwriting crush and why?
A: Tom Stoppard, of course, and Sarah Ruhl and Caryl Churchill. Anytime I see any of their plays, I can’t help but think “I wish I’d written that. I wish I could write that.” And Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, which becomes richer for me every time I see it or reread it. And of course Mr. Bill Shakespeare, who remains peerless.


Q: What’s your favorite line of dialogue/moment/character you’ve ever written? You can share why, but you don’t have to.
A: In my short play Canyon’s Edge, there is a moment when the audience realizes one of the characters is dead and is only another character’s memory of her. I don’t mind saying, that’s a moment that always works, at least when it’s acted well. I love to watch the hankies and tissues come out.


Q: How do you define success? What have you sacrificed for your career?
A: Success for me would—will?—be when I’m actually making a living as a playwright and am in demand as a teacher and speaker. And what I sacrificed for my career was security and goodies like owning a home, being able to travel, being able to afford health insurance. Imagine my gratitude when I married a man who supports me in every possible way, including buying us a home. So now I could say I haven’t sacrificed anything at all because I’ve got it all. Well, except for the success part. My plays get lots and lots of productions all over the world, but still I barely make a dime. I still have that to look forward to.


Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Give one piece of advice you wish you were given when you started.
A: I’ve made lots of mistakes in every area of my life, but I assume you want to know about mistakes I’ve made as a writer. Honestly, I can’t think of any. I sometimes regret that I’m not skilled enough to write the gorgeous, perfect plays I have in my head, but that’s a lacking more than a mistake. The only piece of advice I have for emerging writers is to be willing to stay with a play for as long as you need to in order for it to fulfill its promise.


Q: How has your writing changed over time?
A: Gosh, I sure hope it’s gotten better. Richer, more textured, more interesting. But I’m too close to it to be able to determine that. I do know that I’ve gotten to a point where I love writing from a prompt of some kind, a theme or character or prop or whatever, that has been proposed by a theatre or contest.


Q: If, for some reason, you were suddenly forbidden to write, what would you do to fill that void?
A: Defy the edict and keep writing.


Q: Please take a minute to describe the journey of creating one of your plays published by YouthPLAYS in your own words (take into account impulse, writing complications, production history, discovery, what it’s about versus what it is trying to say, etc.).
A: I wrote my bittersweet Christmas play An Old Fashioned Christmas a long time ago, first just as a monologue for the girl Kitty, and then I began to see and hear her brother. It’s not the usual sort of holiday play because it’s sort of dark and sad, with a nice, poignant ending. It has only been produced a couple of times, which is too bad, but I do understand that most theatres/drama departments are looking for jolly, fun plays for the holidays. But still, I love this play, love the characters, who are doing their best to create Christmas inside a hard, cold world. Whenever I write a play to my own satisfaction, I don’t mind so much if other people don’t like it, because I know it will always have at least one fan (me), and might eventually find others. That’s why I was so happy when YouthPLAYS chose to publish it. It might still not find much of an audience, but you never know…

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