Lisa Soland is a playwright who moved to Knoxville after beginning a successful career in Los Angeles. Her evening of short plays, Meet Cute, will premiere at Pellissippi State. Performances are October 15, 16, 22, 23 at 8 p.m. and October 24 at 2 p.m. at PSCC's Clayton Performing Arts Center.
How did you get into theater?
I went to school at Florida State University, where I got my Bachelors of Fine Arts. I transferred from my home state of Illinois to FSU because of its connection to the Burt Reynolds Theater. The college in Illinois was training its students to be acting teachers. I have the utmost respect for teachers, and I teach a great deal now myself, but I wanted to be working "in the field." Burt Reynolds had created a training program [in conjunction with FSU]. So I transferred to Florida State because I was thinking beyond the next step; and I was fortunate enough to be accepted. It was unreal, but I'm thankful that at the time it was happening, I knew it was great.
And it was there that you met actor/director Charles Nelson Reilly.
It was his doing that I got into the Burt Reynolds training program. He directed a world premiere production at the theater, and he cast me as Zelda Fitzgerald. It was a great part, and I was dead-set to be an actress. That was my first experience with having both the director and the playwright present in rehearsals. The playwright was my mentor and friend, Broadway playwright William Luce. And I fell in love with the experience, and although I sought that kind of experience afterwards, it rarely happened. Little did I realize that further down the road I would be that playwright. In hindsight, of course, I can see that that was the significant thing that happened to turn me from an actress to a playwright. And Charles was responsible for that.
Was there a moment when you went "Ah, ha! I'm really a playwright"?
After a bunch of us who had gone through the FSU/Burt Reynolds Theater training program went to Los Angeles, because that's what you did as actors, right? Go either to New York or L.A. And Charles led me toward L.A. He ended up teaching an advanced acting class in Los Angeles solely for his Florida students. I was sitting in class one day and I was getting frustrated, because I have an intense creative nature but didn't have enough of an outlet for it. I was also waiting tables and living in a shabby apartment in Hollywood. After my shifts I would carry my tips home. And I used to create this scene in my head of somebody robbing me, and what I might say. And it was comedic, of course. So one day in class I just started writing my first play. I'm writing away, and Charles turns to me out of nowhere. I think he was empathic [laughs]. He says, "Lisa, what are you writing?" And I go, "Oh, nothing", but I kept on writing. And that became "The Name Game." It was my first play, published by Samuel French, right out of the box. It was performed in Los Angeles and starred Richard Hatch [Battlestar Galactica].
What did your classmates think?
Well, six of them are now writers as well!
And now you're in Knoxville.
I always thought that as a writer I didn't have to be condemned to a life in Los Angeles. It's great when you're very young, but…I had written several plays and gotten them produced and published. My career is continuing to do well, and I keep my contacts in Los Angeles.
How did you and Charles Miller (Theater Director at Pellissippi State) meet?
I taught a playwriting workshop, and was introduced to him through a mutual friend. And as we talked off and on for a few months I could tell how much he cared about his students. Charles is a lover of original work and he especially likes to direct physical comedy, which is my forte. We tossed around ideas and came up with this project; one in which we thought the students would most benefit from.
And this is "Meet Cute". It's an evening of short plays?
The first half consists of five of my short plays. These are two and three character plays, and features primarily Pellissippi students. The second half consists of one longer play, "Thread Count", which stars local working actors Biz Lyon and Jacques Du Rand. The title of the evening is the theme -- romantic comedies where a boy and a girl "meet cute" in some unique fashion. By the end of each play you have the feeling that this is the real thing, and that it's going to last. Most of these plays are premieres, including "Thread Count", which looks like it will be published on its own. But I plan on putting the other short romantic comedies in an anthology entitled "Meet Cute" and submitting those for publication as well.
Shorter plays aren't easy to write.
It's tough to do, but I came from a family of songwriters and writers, and a story is a story. It's a challenge, but the limitations can be liberating.
Is there a genre you prefer?
Some of my best work is drama, but I'm much happier when I'm writing comedies. I suffer through the dramas [laughs].