Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Sara Joy Lebowitz

By • Jun 28th, 2006 • Category: Interviews

Listen to our interview with Sara Joy Lebowitz [MP3 25:49 7.4MB].

Mike: Hi. This is Mike with the ShowBizRadio Spotlight. Today I am talking to Sara Joy Lebowitz. Good to have you with us.

Sara Joy: Thank you very much. It’s good to be here.

Mike: So tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sara Joy: I started doing theater when I was in the 7th grade. Mainly because when you get to the 7th grade you have to figure out what kind of electives you’re going to have to take. You have those random two periods and I had an older sister who said, “You know what? You should try theater. You should do drama.” It was love at first sight. I walked in the door and absolutely loved it. I haven’t stopped since.

Mike: What was your first show?

Sara Joy: The very first show I did in 7th grade was called The Courtyard Show. It was one of those shows where the 7th and 8th graders got to make up their own skits as a theme. It was performed outside at the end of the year. There was an award ceremony afterwards. The very first production I was in was Snoopy. It’s an entirely different show than You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. I was in the chorus for that. Musicals have never been my forte. As far as acting is concerned, I love to do the straight plays. That’s definitely where my strengths lie.

I’ve probably done more than 40 productions since high school. I’ve done a lot of directing and a lot of producing with the community theaters in the area. I didn’t major in theater in college. I majored in Management and minored in Theatre. My whole idea was that I was going to run my own theater one day. I got out of college without a job. Had no idea what to do. Came home. Was a temp. Going up to New York probably one a week to interview with theaters up there and about six months later became an intern with the Kennedy Center here in Washington DC, which was so much fun. I come from a family that goes to the theater all the time. I had been to the Kennedy Center so many times. It doesn’t even occur to you that there must be doors somewhere that lead to the offices. All you see are the theaters and the gift shop. You learn that there’s this whole maze that you don’t even see. That was a lot of fun.

I went from there to work with the Wolf Trap Foundation for a season with their production department. It was about the same time I was hired at the Kennedy Center was when I found community theatre in the area. I started to realize that I could be an actor and that I can do acting and still have a day job and still get paid enoughto have my own place. So when my Wolf Trap position ended I started to look more generally into Administrative Assistant positions because that’s what I was more qualified for as far as my job experience was concerned. I ended up getting a job with the Council for Basic Education. It is a policy education group here in Washington that is no longer around. I worked with them for a year. Now I work for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. You know, I always thought I was going to run my own theater one day. I still possibly could. I wold love to, but I really love my day job. It pays the bills and I can do as much theater as I want on nights and weekends. It’s a lot of fun.

Mike: Ok. So you say you have done over 40 productions.

Sara Joy: At least. Unfortunately I don’t have my resume in front of me, but it’s something like that. I’ve worked on, been in or had something to do with definitely 40 productions.

Mike: Do you prefer on stage or backstage?

Sara Joy: On stage. Definitely. there’s three things I feel like I do. I act, I write, and I direct. Those are my fortes in the area. I have done some producing in the area, but most of my producing has been with the one act festival that happens every summer with NVTA. Normally I’m producing the show that I’m directing. It’s just easier to have all the control. I’m a control freak which I’m sure is going to shock everybody when they hear it. I do acting, writing and directing and that’s kind of my order of my strengths, not necessarily the order of my preference, because I can’t say I love one more than the others. I’m strongest at acting mainly because I’ve had the most experience at it.

I didn’t start writing plays until after I got out of college. I directed a couple of times in college. I went to Penn State University. It’s call No Refund Theater. We had nothing to do with the university drama department. We were a group of students who wanted to do theater and we scheduled one of the lecture halls that had a nice “stage area.” It was a 350 seat lecture hall. We put on a show every weekend. We put out announcements inviting any one wanting to come out and audition, to come audition. We would have eight different shows for the semester, but it would be eight different casts. It wasn’t like people working on like now in community theater where you have a lot of people that stick to a theater and you only do about three shows a year because you don’t want people to get wiped out and have personnel issues. You don’t have that many people that come back every single time.

Mike: What is your favorite role you’ve performed?

Sara Joy: I thought that was going to be a really difficult question to answer when I was thinking about what kinds of questions are they going to ask. I don’t want to say that I love all of my roles. I just played Carol in Oleanna at Hard Bargain Players. It was the best role. It was the most challenging for me. It was so different from anything I’ve ever played before. It was so difficult and I absolutely loved every minute of it. I’m so sorry that it’s over. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would work with the director and my costar. It was a two person show. It was so difficult for me. That’s what I look for right now. I’ve been doing this for so long. I don’t want to say that I don’t want to do anything “easy” because it’s different for every person.

There are some plays that I look at and say that there’s not as much that I can learn from this particular role as me as a person than I would over there. Someone else can learn a lot from this particular play, but I’m going to learn more from this play over here. I’ve been doing this for so long that I’ve gotten to the point where I want to do what’s going to challenge me, what’s going to help me to grow. Every once in a while I want to do one that’s just going to be fun, that I don’t have to think too hard. But, I want to learn. I want to grow. I’m doing this because I love it. I’m not doing it because I’m getting paid. You don’t get paid in community theater. So Carol was absolutely amazing. The progress that I made during that particular show was incredible.

Mike: I had a question about Oleanna. What was it?

Sara Joy: What did it mean? I can’t answer that one. I watched the movie last night. I will say I was disappointed.

Mike: Because they answered the question what was it about?

Sara Joy: No, they didn’t. I have to say the trailer was awesome. I love to go back and look at trailers. I don’t remember when Oleanna as a movie came out. The trailer was incredible. It made it look like it was this fast paced high paced drama. It had scenes from the movie interspersed with, you know they’ll sometimes have phrases pop up? The phrases said, “One man, one woman, two truths.” Then at the end just before the trailer was over it said, ” Whatever side you choose, you’re wrong.” That’s so cool. Why didn’t we put that on all our posters. The movie itself was slow, it dragged. It didn’t live up to, for me, what I had hoped. Having studied it for three months. I knew everything. It stuck to the truth of the script very well, which is to be understood because the director of the movie was the same person who wrote the play. That doesn’t usually happen. A lot of time you make a movie of a play and people take their liberty.

Mike: So how did you study for Carol? Is she like you?

Sara Joy: Not at all, not at all.

Mike: So that’s the stretching you process.

Sara Joy: Very much of a stretch. Part of the stretch for Carol is the fact that she was almost three different characters. She went through such a change in that play because of what she went through, what the character went through. When she stared out she was innocent, she was meek, she was young. She didn’t know what to do. She was scared. She was very fearful and uncertain of herself and then she leaves the professor’s office and when she comes back the next time, she has met people who have filled her head with stories and ideas. She thinks that she knows everything. She is much stronger and much more forceful. I like to think that I’m a little more educated than Carol. I don’t feel that I get swayed as easily by what outside forces are telling me.

I think that there is a possibility that she manipulated the situation. We didn’t quite play it that way. We discussed the fact that you really could. That’s one of the reasons why Oleanna is such a fabulous play because there is more than one way you could play it. It’s not clear cut, it’s not cut and dry. You could have said she manipulated the whole thing. From the beginning she knew what she was doing. We didn’t play it that way. I don’t think that I’m a manipulator. My friends might say differently. At the end became a little more self righteous and a little more political. The whole thing about, “Don’t call your wife baby.” Those things don’t bother me. It’s a term of endearment for some people. If it didn’t bother the wife on the other end of the line, it’s not going to bother me.

Mike: We liked it, but we didn’t think it was realistic.

Sara Joy: Didn’t think it was realistic?

Mike: Yeah.

Sara Joy: Interesting.

Mike: If you really think you had been raped you’re not going to go be alone with the person.

Sara Joy: That was one of the things that we struggled with. As far as why does she come back?

Mike: Right.

Sara Joy: What we came up with as far as Carol’s back story was that she didn’t quite believe what she was doing. She kind of had been taken over by this outside group because she talks a lot about “my group, the people I’ve been talking to.” They were filling her head with these stories. They were kind of using her as their spokesperson because they could. She didn’t quite believe it. So when she gets this note or call or whatever from the professor saying, “I want to talk to you about this.” She wants to believe she is wrong. She wants to believe that he is a good person. We found evidence in the script that she had possibly gone through this in high school and had been harassed by a teacher and hadn’t said anything about it. She wants to believe that this teacher is ok. So she goes back out of curiosity. She goes back out of wanting to know what he could possibly say to her. Hoping that he’s going to make her realize that she is wrong.

In the end, unfortunately she is her own worst enemy. It goes to such a length that it becomes violent. And at that point here’s no turning back. That’s why I loved the movie trailer that said,” Whatever side you choose, you’re wrong.” Absolutely. It’s missed perceptions. There’s always three sides to every truth I love to say. There’s my side, your side, and then there’s the actual truth. Our perception is colored by what we see. The first play that I ever wrote was based on that. I had a couple of friends that I felt none of them were looking at the situation correctly and I though to myself, “I just want to put them in a room and lock the door and make them talk.” And so I did. And I wrote it myself. It was an interesting thing. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.

Mike: How many shows have you written?

Sara Joy: I’ve written three that have been produced and I have at least four others that are somewhere in the process of being finished. Whether they’ll ever make it to the stage is yet to be decided. Mostly one acts. Baker’s Meadow which is the one I just did this past Summer at the NVTA Festival was the is the third one that I’ve gotten produced at the Festival.

Mike: So tell us about Baker’s Meadow.

Sara Joy: Baker’s Meadow was a lot of fun. It was an anomaly for me. Nomally when I write a play I come up with an idea or a story line. In the case of the one I wrote a year ago called The Perfect Son a character pops into my head and starts talking to me. But I start with he story. Baker’s Meadow I actually started because four of my friends were like,”Write a play for us.” So I started with a cast. I asked what do I know about them as actors and how can I play to their strengths and what kind of characters do I create around these actors and then how do these characters interact with each other. What’s the story line now. I’ve never written it that way. It was a different challenge for me.

Oddly enough I’ve had people tell me that of the three that have been produced, this is the best one as far as my writing is concerned. Which was strange for me. But I really enjoyed it. I attacked it in a very different way, but the process ended up being the same. I start writing the play. I almost immediately know what the ending is going to be. I can see it in my head, I know where I want it to end. So I write that ending, that big dramatic moment that is going to leave the audience, either inspired, or shocked, or whatever it is going to be. And then it’s a process of getting to the ending, of getting the beginning and the end to match up.

Baker’s Meadow is the first play I’ve written that has absolutely nothing to do with me or true events. It’s about four guys who were best friends five years ago. And these four guys and the death of a fifth one and they’re coming together on their five year anniversary. A lot has happened in that five years. One of them is no longer a part of the group. He has kind of pulled himself out and has also been ostracized by one of the others who blames him for her death. And I just gave away the big shocking moment, but that’s ok. You’re not supposed to know at the beginning that it’s a girl. It’s four guys on stage. You don’t realize until half way through the play that it’s a girl. She is the sister of one and the fiance of another. It’s literally just them coping with life and what’s happened to them and life and how they’ve dealt with not only with her death but what they’ve gone through in the five years since she died. The fact that one of them didn’t go away to college. The fiance stayed behind when he graduated to be with her because she was younger than them. He’s been in the same town for five years. The other two had gone away to college and came back after graduation. Now they are having to deal with these memories that they didn’t have to deal with for a couple of years. So it’s the whole dealing with life thing.

That never happened to me. I never had a friend or a sibling who passed away at a young age. I never had three great friends where the friendship fell apart. It was completely fabricated and made up. All of the other plays that I’ve written have been based on some sort of truth. Some sort of real event that’s happened to me or one of my friends. It’s a very different process for me and I love it. I’m really hoping we’re going to be able to do it again. We’re looking to do it again at other venues and other competitions. So keep your fingers crossed.

Mike: Is it difficult to write dialog?

Sara Joy: No, not for me. Some people, yes. People have told me, “Your dialogue is so great. I can’t do dialogue.” I have all these ideas and characters and plot points. For me, the dialogue is the easiest thing. I have difficulty with the plot points. I have difficulty with the filler. You go see a play and there’s a lot going on. If you pulled it out of the play, you wouldn’t miss the story. But you’d miss a piece of the character. You wouldn’t know this little piece about them. That’s what I have difficulty writing in. I happen to get to the point very quickly in my writing. Not so much in my talking. I’m a little long winded when I talk, but find me an actor who isn’t. In my writing I’m very concise and go from point to point to point. That’s one of the things I’ve been working on is how to fluff it out because a play is all dialogue.

I do have a novel I started writing a couple years ago that is much more descriptive because you can use more descriptive words. You have to set the place. You have to tell them where they are and what does it look like so that the reader understands. With a play as a playwright all I have is the dialogue. Because once the play is written, it’s up to a director, and a scenic designer, and a costumer and all those people to come up with what are the people going to see. I can give hem ideas, but they don’t have to listen to me. You don’t have to listen to what the playwright says as far as those kind of elements are concerned. If it’s set in a house you want to set it in a house not an igloo. But you can. Look at all the Shakespeare plays that are set somewhere else. You interviewed Jay Tilley last time. He did Julius Caesar which is supposed to be set in Rome. They set it in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. You can do that. The director has the absolute right to do things like that. So as a playwright, all I have control over is the dialogue.

Mike: So what are your future plans? Are you going to be doing acting next or are you going to be doing another backstage type thing?

Sara Joy: I’m actually going to be doing directing next in about three weeks. July 10th and July 12th. I’ll be auditioning The Baby Dance at Rockville Little Theatre up in Maryland. The production dates are September 8-10th, 15-17th. It just runs the two weekends, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. This is actually a play that I’ve been shopping around to different theater companies for the past two years. Hoping that somebody would pick it up and direct it. I’ve worked with Rockville Little Theatre in the past. I did A Thousand Clowns there in January of ’05. They read The Baby Dance and they really liked it. They thought my resume looked good enough and they said,”come on up.” So I’ve been working on that almost as long as I’ve been working on Oleanna.

There was a gentleman, John Moser, who was part of the play reading committee and said, “I want to produce this.” So he called me up and he’s been on the ball. I’ve got most of my tech people in place already, which is really rare in community theater this far ahead. I’ve already had a production meeting and talked to everyone. We’re ready to roll. I’m very excited.

The next three weeks will be spent going over the script a few more times. Figuring out what pieces I want people to read, and just hitting the streets putting out advertisements hoping that people will come. As a director the one thing you want are choices. It’s a five person cast. Three men and two women. They can really be any age. The script calls for late 20’s to late 30’s, but I can make it late 30’s to late 40’s. There’s absolutely no reason why I couldn’t make it almost to the late 50’s for some of the characters. I’m probably going to stick with the late 20’s to 40’s to keep it a little more contemporary. I want to have choices. I would love to have five people per character that I could be choosing from. Rather than,”Well, OK. . . .” You want to try to get as many people to audition as possible because everybody wants the same thing: to create the best show that you can have. The only way to do that is through choices. You want to be able to make as many choices as you can and have as many choices available to you. Not only with the actors, but with the set and with the lights, and what are the ideas and what can we do.

There’s a theater company that I absolutely adore working with. They can’t do much with their lights. They don’t own their own theater. They’re regulated by the people who own the theater. You’re kind of stuck with the lights in that respect. That’s frustrating as a director. As long as you can work yourself around it you can still have a wonderful show. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still going to be a little bit frustrated that “I really wanted to do this and I can’t.” I don’t think that I have an issue with any of the stuff I’m doing for The Baby Dance, but I haven’t gotten into the theater yet so we’ll see what happens.

Mike: So if someone wants to audition for the very first time, what should they know about the whole auditioning process?

Sara Joy: Just show up. I mean honestly. At least for community theater in this area, it’s open to anyone and everyone. I’ve talked to people that I meet who have move into this area who want to get involved and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t have any experience.” It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to have experience. You don’t need to have a resume. You don’t need to have a head-shot. A lot of community theater you’re going to walk in the door and they’re going to have a polaroid camera to take your picture. They may not even want a head-shot. It’s always good to have one with you if you have it. Chances are you’ll look better in that than in the polaroid. But you don’t need anything, but to show up.

I personally think it behooves people to have read the script before they walk in the door so that they can have some idea on character interpretation and character description and what’s going on. Some people will say don’t know anything about the script, because then you can’t make a wrong choice. You can only make choices from what you gathered at the audition. Whatever works for a person.

I think, honestly the best place to find information is on the websites of the theaters themselves. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and contact the people at the theater. Don’t be afraid to contact the director. On The Rockville Little Theatre website right now, which has the information for Baby Dance, it says contact the director and it has my email address. Go ahead and contact me. Most directors would be happy to answer your questions and happy to give you any kind of information that they can or they’ll pass it out to someone who could answer it if they can’t.

But really just go. Don’t be afraid to take a part that you may think is smaller than you wanted. Don’t be afraid to take a part that may be larger than the one you want. I did a show in October. I did Ten Little Indians with Castaways. The guy who played my leading man had never had a role that large before. He’d never had a role larger than five lines before. This is a character that almost never left the stage. He was scared, but he was great. He was great. Now he has a whole new idea of what he can do and what he can accomplish.

I thought that I would never want to repeat a role again. I did a role, why would I want to do it again? What can I learn from that? Through a very strange set of circumstances I ended up repeating a role this last January. I played Essie Carmichael in You Can’t Take It With You for a second time. And in doing it again, I was actually disappointed. I ended up not being cast originally and ended up filling in. I was a little disappointed that I had not been there from the beginning. It was a whole new character because it was a whole new cast. It was a whole new set of people to be interacting with. It was a whole new set of experiences and learning that I went through. So I’ve learned for myself that there are characters that I’ve done that it wouldn’t be so bad to do them again, have another shot at them, and try them with someone else and another director and another venue. So just do it.

Mike: How much of a time commitment do you need to make if you want to be an actor in a community theater show?

Sara Joy: If you want to be an actor in any community theater show, 99% of the time you’re looking at three months. About three to four rehearsals a week for a couple hours. Usually one weekend and two to three weeknights for three months. Your commitment per week gets a little bit heavier as you get closer to production time. Sometime they’ll have a full week of tech. Sometimes a full week of dress. That’s usually a show. There is a community theater in the area that does six performances a week. There are some that do five weeks of performances. There are some that do three weeks of performances. It’s going to be a little different no matter who you’re working for. But you’re basically talking about three months. If you have three months to give, go for it.

The great thing about community theaters in this area is when you get to an audition one of the things they ask you for on the audition sheet is what are your conflicts. So if you’re thinking to yourself, “I have too many conflicts or I have a couple of Tuesdays I can’t be here.” it’s OK. You go in and put done on your sheet these are my conflicts. Some people will tell you not to put that down. It looks like you have too many conflicts. Tell them after you get cast. No. One thing a director hates is finding out after they’ve cast you is that you have conflicts and you can’t make rehearsals. Tell them before hand. Then if they cast you they know full well that they can’t schedule you for a rehearsal and they can plan a rehearsal schedule around what the actors can do.

My rehearsal schedule for Baby Dance has not yet been set. I’m going to set it specifically on the five actors that I cast. I put that on the website: Come with your conflicts. So that I can come up with a rehearsal schedule that’s going to be good for you.

Mike: So what are your long range goals? Do you want to move up to the professional level? Do you want to go to Broadway?

Sara Joy: You know, if Steven Spielberg walked in the door and said, “Hey, you’re going to be my next big star,” I wouldn’t say no. Absolutely not. I don’t need to do this professionally. There is almost a part of me that doesn’t want to do it professionally because right now I’m not doing anything. I’ve got four weeks. Baker’s Meadow ended June 9th. Baby Dance isn’t until July 10th. So I have four weeks off. I’m prepping for Baby Dance and I’m looking to take Baker’s Meadow to other venues, but technically I’m not doing any theater for four weeks. It’s ok. It’s not my job. I have a job that’s paying the bills. There’s no stress involved with not doing theater for a little while. Part of me doesn’t want to have that stress. Part of me doesn’t want to have that stress of, “I need to take whatever I can get.” I can be choosy.

I’ve thought about it a couple of times. The last time was about two years ago. I thought about just scrapping everything and moving to New York and doing the professional thing or going to grad school. A lot of grad schools for acting when you’re off from school in the summertime, they actually have interships for conservatories in the area. So you’re still getting an education and you’re still acting, you’re still getting to do it. I got the best advice ever from my sister. Who did it. She has a BFA in musical theater. She went to Penn State and graduate and went to New York and she tried it. She had her own set of realities to deal with at the time. She said to me, “If that’s what you want to do. If you want to be a paid profesional actor and that’s all you can think about. Come on up to New York. I’ve got a bed for you. If you still like your day job and all you really want is to be on stage, stay where you are because you’re doing more acting in Virginia than you’re ever going to do in New York.”

It’s more competitive there. You’re going to spend more time trying to make sure you have money for a meal tomorrow by waitressing or temping. Trying to find an agent who’s going to get you into some of those auditions that you can’t get into. If you want to do it, I say go do it. I have a friend who next month is off to New York. I am so proud of him because he has done a great job of getting the professional stuff down here and putting it on his resume. I honestly think that he can make it in New York. And if that’s what you want to do and you have the drive: go do it! But if you really want to be on the stage for the love of it and you can be happy doing something else from nine to five that’s going to pay you the money: do that and be happy about that. I just want to be on the stage. So as long as people are going to put me up on the stage or let me produce my own shows, I’m happy.

Mike: Well, thank you very much for sharing with us, Sara Joy.

Sara Joy: Well, thank you very much for having me. This has been a lot of fun.

Mike: Good, I’m glad you found it fun. Thanks for listening to the Showbizradio Spotlight. And now, on with the show.

(Note: Be sure to visit Sara Joy’s web site at Interview recorded on June 20, 2006.)

This article can be linked to as:

started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

2 Responses »

  1. Great interview Sara Joy! And thanks for the mention! 😉

  2. Sara-Joy, You did a really great job. Thanks for your candor and sharing your passion for local theatre. Mike and Laura, thank you for adding this feature to your site.