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October 28, 2013
HBO and LCT3's JC Lee chats with StageBuddy

JC LeeJC Lee is at home writing for a variety of mediums: he has credits in theater, film, and TV -- and can even be found on the inter-webs blogging, posting, and tweeting.  This Juilliard graduate is definitely one to watch, and he is rapidly making a name for himself: he has not only snagged a spot on the writing staff of HBO's new show "Looking", but has also recently premiered a new play, "Luce", at Lincoln Center's LCT3.  LCT3 is all about new ideas in a new space -- and it is only fitting that they've chosen to present work by this exciting young playwright.

Lee spoke with StageBuddy about his New York premiere and what's to come, and shared his advice for young writers in the business.

StageBuddy: What does "Luce" mean to you?

JC Lee: I think about the play as a study of language: the way the interpretation of language becomes the arbiter of so many of the ways we relate to one another -- either that being a mother to a son, one black person to another black person, one black person to a white person, teacher to a student -- and the way language stifles and confuses those relationships and the way we think about them.LUCE Marin Hinkle, Okieriete Onaodowan, Neal Huff

How long have you been exploring language?

I've always been really interested in language, really fascinated with the way that a thought becomes a word and the way in which that word makes its way to your mouth and out into the world.  How we process thoughts into communication and how our perception fills the space that exists between each of those processes.  I'm interested in the awareness of culture and the multiplicity of identity, how we have Facebook, we have text messaging, we have cellphones, we have twitter.  The way each of those is another extension to that process, and our perceived control over those extensions, is really, really fascinating.

What was it like working with May Adrales (director of "Luce")?

May is amazing.  She is an incredibly precise director and storyteller. She is really interested in making sure that we are doing the most interesting, truthful version of the play that we can.  I think she has been a really remarkable steward of the play, and I don't think this play could be as good as it is now without her.

What is it like working with Lincoln Center?

It's incredible.  Working with LTC3 in many ways is antithetical to a lot of the new play development that is happening around the country.  Plays are developing but they don't really have an end game.  So much of that development is about mitigating risk as opposed to making a play ready for production.  What I loved about LTC3 was their commitment to making the production of this play as strong as it could be.  I feel very lucky to have my first New York play there.

LUCE Sharon Washington and Marin HinkleAny books that you are currently reading or would like to recommend?

Right now, I'm reading old Philip Roth novels because I haven't read any and I think he's amazing.   The book I read for "Luce" was Andrew Solomon's "Far From the Tree", which is all about parents of children who are different in some way.  I would recommend it to anyone.

In your blog, you talk about politics: where do you stand politically? 

I tend to think of my politics as weirdly post-ideological.  I find that the trick with political discourse now in this very complicated world we live in, the typical label for what is a Conservative, what is a Progressive, what is a Republican, what is a Democrat, what is even an independent, are so muddled and unhelpful when figuring out what one's politics are.  I have trouble finding a word that encapsulates my politics because they are constantly shifting and changing.  I wish the world was more fluid in that way but we're so fixed on this idea of being a certain kind of political person in this country that we lose sight of what we actually are.

Any upcoming projects you can talk about?

I just finished writing for a new HBO show called "Looking" -- it premieres January 19th, right after "Girls".  It's about three gay friends in their 30's living in San Francisco. Andrew Haigh, who directed the film "Weekend", is the Executive Producer.  I think it's going to be a really beautiful show.  I'm also writing a screenplay with Imagine Entertainment about Sam Eshaghoff, who in 2010 took the SAT for a whole bunch of his classmates illegally and made lots and lots of money doing so before he got caught, which is a really, really fun project to be working on.

Any advice for a young playwright or screenwriter?

My advice would be to develop as much as possible an awareness of who you are and what you do, and develop the vocabulary to talk about those things without sounding like a douche bag.  That's the most important skill set you can have nowadays because there are so many people who can write and are incredibly talented, and your aptitude to write is not what's going to get you a career -- you need to be able to talk about what you do and how you do it and what your process is and know the strengths and weakness of what those process are.  That has been most valuable for me and helped me the most.

LUCE Marin Hinkle and Olivia Oguma

One Strength, One Weakness

A strength I have is my ability to write very quickly. Once I know what I'm writing, I'm very quick about getting it done, which is of immense value nowadays given how fast everything moves, or how fast the culture moves.

In terms of weakness, I definitely overestimate sometimes how far along I am in my process, like sometimes I'll say, 'my next play is going to be about this' and then I realize: 'oh, that's not actually what my next play is going to be about, nor do I know anything about what I just said, and why did I say that out loud?' So sometimes I get a little too enthusiastic about what I think my next thing should be and how far along I am on it, and that comes from an effort to make everybody else feel like 'look, I'm doing something, look at how much stuff I'm doing,' and then come to terms with the fact that I don't actually know what the hell I'm doing -- that sometimes happens to me. There are a lot of other weaknesses, I'm sure, but we don't have to go into them.

What did you take away from school?

One piece of advice I learned from school and something that always comforts me is I think this is an Industry that ebbs and flows dramatically and you can make yourself really anxious that you're not doing what you want to be doing or the work isn't coming quickly enough or the work isn't good enough and you always sort of have to keep in mind this is what I do and there is a long long road ahead of you and there will be parts of that road that are slow and winding and confusing, and then there will be parts that you get to run through that will be really great but it's a long process and you always have to keep that in mind because it's easy to get drowned in the anxiety of what you're not accomplishing in the moment and that makes you loose sight of the longer game and the longer focus which is really key because you're going to have good days and freaking shitty days too.

"Luce" as a pop song?

Lady GaGa's "Poker Face".

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

For more information on "Luce", check out our full event listing here:

StageBuddy talks with HBO and LCT3's JC Lee.

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Written by: Glenn Quentin
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