The Subtext: Mike Lew

Brian James Polak interviews the author of ‘Teenage Dick’ about disabled representation onstage, and also about writing ‘structure-less joke-fests.’

The Subtext is a podcast where playwrights talk to playwrights about the things usually left unsaid. In a conversation that dives into life’s muck, we learn what irks, agitates, motivates, inspires, and ultimately what makes writers tick.

This month Brian travels to New York City to chat with Mike Lew, author of Bike America, Tiger Style!, and Teenage Dick (currently playing at The Public Theater through July 29, from Ma-Yi Theatre Company).

Mike Lew. (Photo by Walter Kurtz)

As a young person, Mike had a strong focus on science in school, but the pressure of having to prove every bit of evidence in science writing made the freedom of playwriting all the more appealing. It was the early years of writing with that freedom and no expectations that allowed him to create what he describes as “structure-less joke-fests” with no point before developing an understanding of his responsibility to the audience.

Mike discusses disabled representation and the condescending narratives often used to portray those with disabilities, and how that motivated Teenage Dick, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, a play about the most famous disabled character of all time.

Mike also talks about stereotypes, and how theatres want him to write “immigrant-coming-to-America” plays, despite the fact that he’s a third-generation American. He credits the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, which he joined in 2005 and currently co-directs, for providing a moral compass with which he writes today. All that and more is below.

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