One of the speakers at this year’s Drama Conference at Rollins was playwright Lisa Loomer. Best known around Rollins as the creator of the play Expecting Isabel, which was performed in the spring of 2016, Loomer has addressed such controversial topics as adoption, medical treatment, misogyny, the Middle East, abortion, and many others in her variety of plays. Amy Muse, an Associate Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, asked Loomer a variety of questions in an engaging conversation held in the Annie Russell theatre.
The opening question Muse asked Loomer was about how such complicated and layered plays come into existence. Loomer stated that her plays are mostly fashioned from whatever she is “pissed off about” at the time. Loomer notices issues arising in everyday culture and life and wonders how she could address it in her plays to get a conversation started on the topic. Many of Loomer’s characters have very strong personalities, a trait that she claims helps to push important questions toward the audience.
Muse later asked if Loomer would identify as a political playwright. Loomer responded, “I do consider myself a political playwright. If I’m going to wear a label… I don’t really object to that one.” Loomer believes that there is not enough conversation occurring in America regarding heated political topics. One of the goals Loomer hopes to fulfill in her plays is to bring about conversation by telling a human story. “Theatre,” she stated, “has a unique potential to look at what we share… as human beings in a different way.”
Loomer also believes that political theatre is hard to define, especially considering most of what she has seen has been written by men and consists of battles, war, and kings. She has no desire to write about these themes, stating that human stories are the focus of her messages.
The following question Muse brought up was about how humor functions in her plays and the message Loomer is trying to communicate through comedy. Loomer laughed at the idea of her plays being funny. “I don’t even know it’s funny, I swear to God, until the first preview.” Loomer stated that the humor comes naturally to her writing, and after previewing her plays she often has to resist the urge to go back and add more comedic parts. She does not view her plays as satirical, however, stating, “satire is humor without compassion.”
Later, Muse asked Loomer about the reception to her most recent play Roe, which covers the infamous Roe v. Wade case of 1971 that granted women the right to medical privacy and abortion. Muse wondered about the reactions of audiences with Roe, given the current political climate, and whether Loomer had received mixed reactions.
Loomer said that what was most fascinating to her was how the play changed every day it was performed. The showing of Roe occurred before, during, and after the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump. She stated that whatever had been on the news one day affected how the audience would view Roe that night; moments that were meant to be funny would lose their humor, or tragic moments would lose their impact.
Inclusion of different voices was incredibly important to Loomer for the creation of Roe. She stated that she didn’t just want one political side; therefore, she presents both the liberal side and the conservative side in regards to abortion, humanizing both opinions. Loomer was often criticized for showing too many voices in Roe, to which she said, “you have to tell it the way you see it. I didn’t want to add to the polarization in the country.” Loomer stressed the importance of listening to political views other than your own. Agreeing to disagree is something that no longer exists, according to Loomer, and by refusing to listen to opposing viewpoints, politics have become hostile.
Loomer later stated that she understands being a playwright does not mean she is going to have a profound impact on the world. She only hopes that by starting a conversation within the theatre community, she can create a change or a new perspective in just a few people’s lives. Theatre is different than film in Loomer’s eyes because an audience is a part of it, they live it and breathe it as it happens, and a play can change every night. She views this process as surreal, allowing conversation to be started in regards to real stories, not just wars or politics.