Craig Lucas Explores Joys and Obstacles of Playwriting, Screenwriting and Directing

Not every visiting speaker provokes rapt attention at serious topics, rollicking laughter at jokes, lively question and answer sessions and a crowd of students clamoring to converse after the presentation. However, playwright, screenwriter and director Craig Lucas achieved just this in the packed Tang Theatre on Wednesday night. Lucas began his career in the arts acting, but he soon found his passion in writing plays, on and off Broadway, and writing and directing films. Focusing on what it means to be an artist, he shared long-garnered advice ranging from how to enter the theater world to how to find happiness. “Write something great. Make a movie with your grandmother’s inheritance and when she isn’t looking, take the silver. Make yourself a pest until someone will open the door for you,” said Lucas to anyone wishing to succeed as a playwright. Lucas encouraged young actors and writers to take unstoppable initiative and grasp opportunities without fear of the opinions of others. Making people angry and provoking emotion is a necessary part of being an artist, he explained with vigor. Of directing movies, Lucas said, “It’s really fast. It’s fun. “I shot my last two movies in under 25 days.” He explained that at times it can be hard to balance his vision with the actors’ natural development of their characters. Sometimes collaboration makes his work much better. He said, “If you have smart people on cast and crew, [your ideas] can get changed quite dramatically.” Lucas did not always know he wanted to become a playwright, screenwriter or director. “I wrote as a kid. I was verbal, but I didn’t know I wanted to do it (as a profession). I didn’t really know it was a job. I was 30 before I realized.” Now Lucas speaks passionately about the obstacles and joys of his work. Nikita Lamba ’11 said, “It was great that he talked about doing what you love and that the experience is more rewarding than fame or money. Not enough people talk about their work with the amount of love that he did.” With unrestricted frankness, Lucas shared personal stories about his life and career path. Abandoned at birth in a car, Lucas was adopted by a loving but racist family. “My heroes are the people who my father shook his fists at,” he said. Lucas realized that he was homosexual in his early life but struggled with the judgment from his family and society. His mother begged him not to reveal his sexual identity when he went on the Today Show, but Lucas said, “Those people need to hear people say, ‘This is who I am.’” Racism, homosexuality and family relations create the core of many of Lucas’s plays. He takes his material to a thought-provoking edge. “I have a responsibility to represent a situation,” he said. He tries to make people feel uncomfortable about their prejudices but said, “If someone under-represented gets angry, I have to listen to that.” Lucas shared his candid opinions on the state of theater in America. He believes that the near future of live performance is dim because of insufficient funding. However, he says, “As technology fails us, everyone will be back in the town square doing plays.” A graver problem faces the arts in America at large. Lucas explained that America’s primary export is weaponry. Major businesses benefit directly from every war. “Our art will be virtually meaningless if we are focused on weaponry,” he said. Lucas revels in the freedom he has to express opinions on controversial topics both in his plays and films and in speaking to audiences. Lucas said, “In many countries, people have been put to death for saying things I’m allowed to say here,” he said. “I knew it would be okay here because it is an institution of education, and there is some liberalism built in.” Fatima Liaqat ’12 said, “I was happy that he put so much politics in his speech. Most people think that as teens we don’t keep up. I liked that he thought we were mature enough to hear his honest opinions.” Ceylon Auguste-Nelson’12 said, “He didn’t keep anything back from us. It was inspirational.” After the performance, students who had met Lucas earlier in the day when he visited classes and many others who admired his presentation gathered around him for engaging conversation. When Lucas had to be wrenched away to a meeting, a long line waited to shake his hand or, in some cases, exchange a hug. The enthusiasm and respect of the audience showed that students will be glad for more engaging, honest speakers like Craig Lucas.