By France-Luce Benson
This Saturday we are joined by playwright, director, and Founding Artistic Director of The Farm Theatre, Padraic Lillis. Founded in 2013, The Farm Theatre develops early career artists with limited support systems through workshops, productions, and mentoring. The Farm Theatre’s name is inspired by baseball’s “farm system” to develop new talent. Similarly, Lillis has devoted himself to developing new voices in theatre, as well as mentoring young artists through his work as an educator, and with his own work. His award-winning solo show Hope You Get To Eleven or What Are We Going to do About Sally, about suicide awareness, has been performed at high schools and colleges around the country – and he’ll share an excerpt with us this Saturday. Here, Lillis talks about the timeliness of that play, his love for the Yankees, and hopes for the future of theatre.
How did the Farm Theater come to be?
I am a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, NY and led the education program for a decade. It became clear that the artists and young companies that succeeded were those that had on going contact with mentors and had a community of peer support. When I had an impulse to start my own company, I recognized that my passion was not in developing and producing plays but that it was developing artists.
What seeds are you planting for the spring?
I’m developing a lot of new work and mentoring playwrights – and I’m investing in their work. I believe the work that we begin to write and fully develop will be ready to share publicly in the spring. Regardless of the form public productions will take in the spring – we will have a lot of new voices ready to share the stories.
You describe yourself as a life-long Yankee fan; Do you have a favorite memory watching the Yankees?
I grew up in Upstate New York. Fairport, a suburb of Rochester. I became a Yankee fan probably because of the great history of the team and our cable tv in the 70’s included channel 11 where I could watch the Yankees play every night. A favorite memory of watching Yankees – I have a lot, but one that stands out…and I talk about in my solo show, is game 5 of the 2001 World Series. Top of the 8th inning – and the Yankees are in the field – and the crowd starts chanting “Paul O’Neill, Paul O’Neill” – he’s in right field. He’s retiring after this year. This is his last game at the stadium and the crowd needed to let him know how much they appreciated and valued him. What makes it even more beautiful is that the Yankees were losing. They were about to lose the World Series…but the fans needed to tell Paul O’Neill how much he meant to them. I love that moment.
Do you feel your solo show Hope You Get to Eleven, or What are we going to do about Sally?, about suicide awareness, has significant relevance right now?
Right now, isolation is a major challenge. Our entire industry is shut down and each of us are being forced to reimagine how we create and share our work. It is incredibly difficult to reimagine your entire identity and how engage with the world. People need to know that they are not alone, that they are not the only ones experiencing difficulty, that need help – and that it is okay not to be perfect or to not know —- how to navigate this change. We’re all figuring it out.
Do you work with any suicide prevention organizations?
When I present this show for a public audience, I make it a point to raise funds and awareness for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When I perform the show at high schools and colleges I do it in collaboration with the school counselors – and make sure that each performance has a post-show discussion. For days after each performance I hear audience members share their personal relationship with the issue. I believe the most valuable thing the show does is that it facilitates open dialogue about a disease that preys on secrecy.
How have you cared for yourself during this time?
I take a walk in nature every day. It gets me out of my apartment, away from my computer, and gives me a chance to appreciate the simplicity of life.
What’s been keeping you sane?
The daily walk. And baseball.
What brings you hope?
This. The fact that your theater has found a way to stay engaged with your community. The plays that people are writing. Zoom readings, audio plays, live streaming…all of the ways that people are finding to create and share their work. I think we can all agree that not all of the forms are completely satisfying – but that fact that we are continuing to create and to share the work is incredibly hopeful.
France-Luce Benson is a playwright and Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.