Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.
Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)
Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.
Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.
Jeffrey Lo is a Filipino-American playwright and director based in the Bay Area. He is the recipient of the 2014 Leigh Weimers Emerging Arist award, the 2012 Emerging Artist Laureate by Arts Council Silicon Valley and Theatre Bay Area Director’s TITAN Award.
Selected directing credits include The Language Archive and The Santaland Diaries at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Vietgone at Capital Stage, A Doll’s House, Part 2 and Eurydice at Palo Alto Players (TBA Awards finalist for Best Direction), Peter and the Starcatcher and Noises Off at Hillbarn Theatre, The Grapes of Wrath, The Crucible and Yellow Face at Los Altos Stage Company and Uncle Vanya at the Pear Theatre (BATCC award for Best Production).
As a playwright, his plays have been produced and workshopped at The BindleStiff Studio, City Lights Theatre Company and Custom Made Theatre Company. His play Writing Fragments Home was a finalist for the Bay Area Playwright’s Conference and a semi-finalist for the O’Neill Playwright’s Conference.
Jeffrey has also worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, San Jose Repertory, Aurora Theater, and is a company member of Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company and SF Playground.
In addition to his work in theatre he works as an educator and advocate for issues of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and has served as a grant panelist for the Zellerbach Family Foundation, Silicon Valley Creates and Theatre Bay Area. He is the Casting Director at the Tony Award Winning TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, a graduate of the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute, and a proud alumnus of the UC Irvine Drama Department.
Amidst all that activity he sat down with ASR’s Publisher Kris Neely for a chat.
ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?
JL – In high school I acted in this production of a play called Addict which was a series of pseudo-monologues about what could happen if one falls into drug abuse. First play I directed for a paying artist was later that year. It was a play I wrote and directed called “With Love, Jaysson.”
ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?
JL– I wouldn’t say this is the weirdest but it sticks out in my mind. I was house managing a production of Theresa Rebeck’s play Bad Dates at the Dragon Theatre and they were having a “ladies night” special where every audience member received free champagne or wine at the beginning of the performance.
There was a bachelorette party that showed up and this very excited bride to be came up to me asking how much to buy a bottle for her bridesmaids. I let her know that because of the ladies night special they all got champagne for free. She told me it was a special night and she wanted to buy a bottle for her ladies. I repeated that it was all free. After going in circles for a bit, I just made up a price and handed the group a bottle of champagne.
ASR: Which person has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?
JL – I think we all stand on the shoulders of giants so it’s hard to pick one. I’ll go with Julia Cho because through her work and our limited interactions she has reminded me how an artist can lead with heart, kindness and immense talent.
ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance of a play?
JL – When I was an apprentice at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I worked on their production of Julia Cho’s The Language Archive and towards the end of the play, a letter is supposed to fall magically from the sky and the character of Emma is supposed to exclaim, “A letter!’
On our final preview, the letter fell from the sky alright … but immediately slipped through one of the scenic tracks and fell beneath the stage.
The actress stared at the empty spot where the letter should have been and had no choice but to go on with exclaiming, “A letter!”
The whole audience erupted with laughter because they saw the letter slip under the stage. Little did we know, there was a crew member beneath the stage and after Emma said her line, we slowly saw the letter rise up from the crevice which got even more laughter and more applause from the audience. It was a magical moment and our playwright asked, “could it happen that way every night?”
ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what are three things you would tell them are essential to know?
JL – Let me break this down a bit for you:
– For playwrights – remember that your first draft is not your final draft. Your first draft isn’t even the second draft. No one has to read the first draft. Don’t edit yourself before you have to. Don’t get in your own way of finishing your draft. Finish the first draft and take it from there.
– For directors – the lighting designer will know more about lighting design that you. The actor will know more about acting than you. Your job as director is not to know more than everyone else in the room. Your job as director is to know enough to be able to identify when your talented collaborators have better ideas than you.
– For humans – ask yourself how you can help people. I know it’s impossible to spend every second and every choice of your life towards helping people, but if you make it a practice in your life to take the time to think it through whenever you can – I think it will lead you towards a good path.
ASR: What would be the worst “buy one get one free” sale of all time?
JL – Buy one gun get one free. We don’t need guns.
ASR: You discover a beautiful island on which you may build your own society. You make The Rules. What are the first three rules you put into place?
JL – Hmmm….OK, here goes…
1 – Be kind.
2 – Be chill.
3 – Have fun.
(In order of importance and in order of which rule overtakes the others.)
ASR: How do you relax before a performance?
JL – If it’s an opening night, I tend to spend my mornings of openings drinking coffee, listening to music and writing thank you cards.
ASR: You have been given the opportunity to create the 30-minute TV show of your own design. What is it called and what’s the premise?
JL – Some sort of variety show with amazing under-represented and under-appreciated artists doing what they do best. I’d call it HIRE THESE PEOPLE.
…The actress stared at the empty spot where the letter should have been and had no choice but to go on with exclaiming, “A letter!”
ASR: If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?
JL – I think they’d assume I was wrongfully arrested.
ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?
JL – Easily Leslie Martinson. To be fair, she started as a theater-related friendship, evolved into a mentor-ship and evolved further into just full everyday friendship. When I was right out of undergrad, Leslie and I had an informational interview of sorts over a coffee and she hired me to be her assistant director for her production of Superior Donuts at TheatreWorks.
She’s given me so many opportunities, provided advice at every turn and was really the first person to see me as an artist and essentially say, “You are someone special. You can do this.”
ASR: What three songs are Included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?
JL – Just My Imagination by The Temptations for the way they are able to perfectly encapsulate and blur the lines of happiness and melancholy in such a smooth and beautiful tune.
– Dahil Sa lyo – it’s the quintessential Filipino love song. If you know, you know. I recommend the cover by Bay Area singing quintet Pinay. There’s also an excellent version that Nat King Cole sang live at his concert in the Philippines.
– Kendrick Lamar – Alright. It’s a song of protest. A song of celebration. A song of anger. A song of hope. It’s pretty perfect.
ASR: Which one fashion accessory do you like better than others?
JL – The right tie can do a lot for your day.
ASR: Which play would you like to see put into deep freeze for 20 years?
JL – Easy, Miss Saigon.
ASR: Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?
JL – I think the history plays are almost all underrated. My favorite is Henry V.
ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing one of the following technical theater roles: Light, Props or Costumes which would it be and why?
JL – Assuming I knew how to do it well, lighting. I’m always astounded by the ways lights can enhance, shift and inform everything that we do in theatre.
ASR: What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?
JL – I’d prefer to scale down animals to the size of a baby corgi. A horse the size of a baby corgi? Adorable. But if I HAD to scale an animal up. Probably a sea turtle.
ASR: Shark diving, bungee jumping, or skydiving?
JL – None. I’m good feeling safe on land.
ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?
JL – “We’re all freaks, depending on the backdrop.” – Passing Strange
Publisher’s Note: ASR Publisher Kris Neely wants it firmly on the record that he first predicted we’d all one day pay Big Money to see Mr. Lo’s directorial finesse on Broadway. So let’s keep the record straight on that one, because it’s going to happen. — KN
Kris Neely launched Aisle Seat Review in 2015. He is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of ASR. Mr. Neely is an SFBATCC Best Director Award Winner (2013). He is also the founder and publisher of Cresting Wave Publishing, LLC at www.gocwpub.com