Each month Brian James Polak (he/him) talks to playwrights about the things usually left unsaid. In conversations that dive into life’s muck, we learn what irks, agitates, motivates, inspires and—ultimately—what makes writers tick.
Brian closes out 2021 with a conversation with the playwright and performer Haruna Lee. They are the creator and writer of the Obie-winning Suicide Forest, directed by Aya Ogawa and hailed by The New York Times as “vivid, haunted, heart-stingingly tender and explicitly personal…A wild ride of a production.” An investigation of how Japanese suicide has symbolically permeated Lee’s transcultural and social identities, the play had its world premiere at the Bushwick Starr in 2019, with an Off-Broadway remount in 2020 with Ma-Yi Theater Company.
In this episode Haruna talks about moving to the U.S. from Japan at eight years old and finding themself living on an island in a lake in Washington state. They originally found theatrical inspiration through an opportunity to perform in a musical about Lewis and Clark, thinking they’d be perfect for the role of Sacagawea, since they were the only person of color auditioning. Instead they found themself cast as Lewis, an exhilarating experience that made them decide what they wanted to do with their life: crawl into roles that allow them to be a completely different person. It wasn’t until they attended undergrad at NYU when they began to write plays, crafting works for themself to perform that felt closer to who they were.
Lee is currently writing for HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, and is co-directing the Brooklyn College MFA Playwriting Program alongside Dennis A. Allen II. They have taught playwriting and performance at NYU Experimental Theater Wing, Stanford, Playwrights Horizons Theater School, PACE University, York College, and Abrons Arts Center. They hold an MFA from Brooklyn College for Playwriting where they studied with Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney.
The episode can also be found here.
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