What’s so special about theatre? The form’s unique ability to help people “harness the powers of articulation,” if you ask Lexy Leuszler. That view of theatre’s strength is something of an unofficial mission statement for her in her role as literary manager of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. Leuszler dedicates her time to showcasing new writers, eliminating barriers, and making the play submission process more accessible.
“Leading the lit office of the O’Neill is no easy feat,” says O’Neill executive director Preston Whiteway, “and Lexy manages 2,500-plus submissions across our five professional programs, is available to each and every aspiring applicant and artist, answering questions and guiding their applications, coordinates the blind review processes, and brilliantly represents the O’Neill’s mission and values to the field.” Whiteway adds, “Because of her and her team, we discover some of the brightest talent in the field.”
And it’s mostly new talent, in part because Leuszler is deeply invested in amplifying previously marginalized voices. For her it’s personal: Growing up as an LGBTQ teen in Lyndon, Kans., she recalls, “I didn’t really have a community, or I hadn’t heard voices that were articulating some of the things that were going on in my brain, in my personal identity.” She started to find her community at the Topeka Civic Theatre, where Leuszler performed in shows as a kid in the group’s summer camps and worked as an assistant stage manager and in the box office. She remained a multihyphenate, double majoring at Iowa’s Grinnell College in Theatre and Dance and in Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. Her experience there also led to an internship with the O’Neill’s National Theater Institute, followed by work as a teaching artist and with education departments in Chicago at Steppenwolf and Court Theatre, then at Kentucky’s Actors Theatre of Louisville. In 2017 Leuszler got a call from the O’Neill that the literary manager position was opening up, and she’s been there since.
Leuszler sees a lot of overlap between the work of literary and education departments, and she’d like to foster more collaboration between them. Leuszler’s mom was a public school teacher, and her influence has informed Leuszler’s work. “She would always tell me to take a breath and take a step back and assess the room and see if you lost anybody,” Leuszler says. “Try as much as you can to get focused on the same page, and if you can’t get them on the same page, try to give everyone in the room a drive to achieve their goal.”
That penchant for self-reflection has served Leuszler well, especially as she strives to make theatre more inclusive. She strives to keep the O’Neill’s submission fee relatively low—currently it’s $35; she says eliminating it is “the torch I carry/my ultimate goal”—and does her best to waive it when it’s too onerous for some applicants. In one case she got in touch with a writer’s group from Alaska and encouraged submissions even from those without playwriting experience.
Leuszler always looks toward the future—the only thing old-fashioned about her is her talent for mixing the bourbon-based cocktail of that name. And she happily admits she doesn’t “stay in her lane.” She has clear ideas about what she wants to see from the theatre field, and the literary management community in particular. “I don’t want to see another homogeneous season,” she says. “Palates can dramatically change. Keep pushing harder as literary folks to find playwrights, break down siloed positions, and bring your skill sets to the table no matter how large.”