2014 Best Director of a Play Nominee Interview: Lizette M. Morris for Happy Medium Theatre's "Baby With the Bathwater"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Omar Robinson

Photo by Omar Robinson

Lizette M. Morris is no stranger to the Boston fringe scene, and her work has rightfully won her accolades over the year, as she chooses challenging and thought-provoking plays to enliven the Greater Boston theatre community.  In her Interview, Lizette discusses some of the challenges of directing Christopher Durang plays, her rehearsal process, and some of her "bucket list" plays. We're so thankful to have you in Boston, Lizette!

Thank you so much for agreeing to an Interview with ArtsImpulse, Lizette. It was a pleasure to see your work again, especially as one of the final productions in Boston’s Factory Theatre.  Can you introduce yourself to our readers?  Who are you, with what theatre companies do you work, what is your theatre background, and how do you spend your days and non-theatre time?

Thank you for taking the time to interview the nominees! I’m Lizette M. Morris, a local director, stage manager, and performer.  I was formerly a Stage Manager for BMG Boston and an Advisory Board member for Happy Medium Theatre, Inc. but have taken a step back in 2015 to devote more thought and planning to the kind of work that I want to focus on in the future.  I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Fresh Ink Theatre and imaginary beasts in various capacities.  

When I’m not theater-ing, I’m the Minister of Fun for the Research and Development team of a tech company in Watertown.   

What made you choose to direct Baby With The Bathwater?  Are you a Durang fan?  Have you directed or performed in his other works?

Baby with the Bathwater was a script brought to HMT by another advisory board member.  After reading it, I was drawn to directing it because it’s the right combination of dark humor and morbid eccentricity for my taste and aesthetic. 

I am definitely a Durang fan!  In fact, my first foray in to directing was a scene from Beyond Therapy as a senior in high school (Humble brag: I won best director for Senior Scenes 2003!). I got the directing bug and it was all downhill from there. 

What are some of the challenges of directing Durang?  What is enjoyable about it?  How did you respond to these challenges and joys?

I think the challenges are the specificity of stage direction.   It’s clear that he has really strong feelings about exactly what kind of productions of his work that he wants to see and I wish that there was more room to play.  Once you put a piece out there, let people experiment with it; be open.  Sure, sometimes the final product might not look at all like your own imaginings and it’s hard, but sometimes it might surprise you and add to your original intention.

Photo by Karen Ladany

Photo by Karen Ladany

The enjoyable parts are the bizarre characters and completely absurd plot points.  Baby is full of the stuff that makes Durang the most fun to work on.

I responded to the challenges/joys by doing what I usually do in situations where I’m not sure how the playwright would feel about the choices that I’m making:  I assume that they’ll forgive me and stay true to the vision that I’m working with.  I trust my instincts and taste, and I firmly believe that even if the finished product is something that the playwright didn’t intend for, they will still be able to find value in it. 

Do you have a favorite Durang play?  Why? 

I don’t think I could say it with total certainty because I haven’t read the full catalogue of his work, but Baby is the front runner.  I could go on forever about each of the minor things that I love about it, but the major headline this:  the basic plot line and arc is solid and relatable.  “Well-intentioned parents have a child, screw up raising it, child spends years and a small fortune telling someone else about it only to suddenly find himself in the same position.” Layer characters like Nanny and The Young Woman on to that, and you’ve got comic gold. 

Do you have a particular kind of theatre that you like to direct?  Why 

I lean towards work that’s dark and meaty that leaves me asking questions.  The form and style is less important than the meat.  The “why” is more difficult.  I’m sure there are a few folks that might assume that I’m a ranking member of "The Damaged Hearts Club" and write my work off as an adolescent indulgence.  I’d like to think that I care to put out work that I’d like to see. 

The work that I like to see is multifaceted, and easy to slip in to, and full of characters that you can simultaneously hate and sympathize with, and sometimes makes total sense but other times feels odd, and, most of all, deals with subject matter that’s hard, challenging, and difficult to watch and process at times.  I’d rather spend 90 minutes watching that than a feel-good jaunt that I’ve already forgotten about by the time that I light my post-show smoke.  Nothing wrong with the jaunt, mind you, it’s just my preference. 

Photo by Karen Ladany

Photo by Karen Ladany

Talk to us about the rehearsal process.  How did you prepare your actors to handle Durang’s unique style?  What was the most fun?

I think the thing that we focused a lot of time on was not playing right into the joke every single time.  We tried to fine-tune the bits so that some were more nuanced, some read darker, some really hammed it up.  This is still one of my favorite rehearsal processes.  I really lucked out in that my cast was utterly phenomenal and (seemingly) really trusted me so there was time to experiment and push toward the outward limits of what should “stick to the wall.”  I remember laughing all the time and really looking forward to walking into the room to see what we’d come up with that night. 

How have you seen the Greater Boston theatre scene change in the last five years?  The last two years?  How do you see the scene changing in the next year? Five years?

The hard hitting questions. 

In the last five years, I think I’ve seen greater diversity of work and that makes me excited for the future of theatre here. 

In the last two years, I’ve seen companies that I know and love struggle because the city doesn’t make it easy to be successful.  And that’s great because “[i]f it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  It’s the hard that makes it great” (Jimmy Dugan for life). That being said, would be so much to ask that venues have a sliding scale of rates that are based on what a company can actually afford?  I think not.  Would it be too much to ask that fringe companies rally together in a way that they never really have to accomplish tasks rather than talk around the same issues we’ve always faced?  Nope. 

I’m really not sure what the next year brings since we’re still down a venue; the only venue that was affordable and perfectly positioned to be a home to the fringe, specifically.  I think we’re going to lose companies and that’s heartbreaking but the reality of doing this kind of work off the side of your 9-5 desk. 

I can’t really think five years ahead in a meaningful way, but I’m feeling reasonably optimistic so let’s say that I’d like to think that in 5 years, we’d have filled the void that the Factory [Theatre] left behind.     

If you had to eat one thing at least once a day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Rice and Beans.

Mountains or beaches?

Beaches.

Do you have any plays on your “bucket list” to direct and/or perform?

A Long Day’s Journey into Night – Eugene O’Neill

Stone Cold Dead Serious – Adam Rapp

What is the hardest thing about acting or directing for, or managing a fringe theatre company?

Reminding yourself in moments where making the time to do it feels like torture, for whatever reason, that this is what you love and it’s worth it. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Performing in Lifers with HMT and Argos Productions – we open on Friday (March 20)!  Come check us out!