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Southwest: Lunch Time with Larissa Brewington
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I’ve had the pleasure of working with Larissa Brewington as a dramaturg for her piece The Devil Inside at The Phoenix Theatre Company, and as her co-producer for her play Shades of Grey at Now & Then Creative Company. One of the things that sets Larissa apart in our region is her longstanding partnership with Herberger Theater Center’s Lunch Time Theater, a unique program that offers lunchtime performances in downtown Phoenix. How did such a fruitful partnership begin?

Larissa Brewington: I was performing in Pearls: Motherhood Unstrung for Arizona Women’s Theatre Company, a show written by a group of mothers/playwrights from Scottsdale.

I was backstage, waiting to go on, sitting with the assistant to the Outreach Director of Lunch Time Theater. She said, “Don’t you write plays?” I said, “I dabble.” At the time, I only had my one woman show, An Evening With Harriet Tubman, which I’d written and performed in my home state of Pennsylvania, and a short piece about a mother and daughter in a dress shop, Quality Time.

The assistant suggested that I send something to the Outreach Director, Judy Rollings. I then remembered that I had sent something to Judy but never got a response. The assistant insisted I resend the piece. So, I resent Quality Time. Here we are, fifteen years and seventeen shows later!

John Perovich: It’s incredibly rare that a playwright in Phoenix has a lengthy, productive relationship with a company. What are the obstacles that you’ve worked through?

Larissa Brewington: Casting Black actors in Phoenix can be a challenging experience. I write pieces about the Black experience, through the eyes of Black people. There are historical pieces told through the scope of the “white woke person.” These stories are inspiring, however, they’re not the only stories.

When I first began auditioning in Phoenix, I was aware that the chances of me being cast against type, as a Black actor, would rest solely on the openness of the director. Because of this mindset, I think actors of color don’t tend to go for it most of the time. They’re apprehensive about reaching out and developing trust with a company takes time. I’ve actually rewritten roles that were meant for Black actors and geared them for white actors because of unavailability. It’s disheartening to know that I can write anything, but if I want to see it on stage, I need to remember the sad realism of this situation.

John Perovich: There is often an assumption that writers shouldn’t direct their own work, yet you have directed many of your plays. For our members who are reluctant to direct their own work, what can we learn from your experiences?

Larissa Brewington: When I first began directing my own pieces, it was out of necessity; I didn’t have the manpower to get my work done. As the years went on, it was lack of trust. I didn’t want to deal with someone who didn’t understand history touching my things! Ego. I have grown emotionally from all that, though. Now, I direct because after all these years, I feel that I’ve earned it.

I don’t suggest writers direct their own pieces if they have people to consider. You don’t want someone messing things up, but if you want to be produced, you are going to need to learn to let go and let other creative, talented, professional, committed people adore your voice and trust you to recreate your vision in a way that is respectful and relatable. 

I’m so very thrilled to have the opportunity to have my pieces Curveball, Frederick & Ida, and A Vote For Alice directed by local talent this March at Mesa Encore Theatre for the diversity festival, We Tell The Story! It’s going to be wonderful to see how someone else’s creativity brings things to life.

John Perovich
John Perovich

is a playwright, dramaturg, theatremaker, and educator in Phoenix, AZ. He is the founding Artistic Director of Now & Then Creative Company (2017-2021), whose mission focused on the "now"—new play development and productions of new works, while also celebrating the "then"—classics for the stage.