in conversation with


Lisa Banes & Jordan Boatman in  The Niceties . Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Lisa Banes & Jordan Boatman in The Niceties. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

We The Women spoke to Eleanor Burgess regarding her work process, her favorite artists and performances, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and more.

We the Women: How did you get into playwriting? What is it about the medium that inspires you? How do you feel about the ephemerality of the medium?

Eleanor Burgess: I love the fact that theatre lets multiple different perspectives live onstage at the same time, and, ideally, gives them all an equal shot at the audience’s empathy and attention. Child and parent. Man and woman. Dreamer and cynic. A play doesn’t have to be told through any character’s or narrator’s point of view—every voice in a play has direct, live, intimate access to the audience’s emotions.

I also love the ephemeral nature of theatre. With The Niceties, the play feels different every single night, depending on who’s in the audience and what city you’re in and what happened in the world that day. That’s so exciting, to have a collective experience with strangers where you're all co-experiencing—even co-creating—this same, unique, emotional ride together. We don't live absolutely, fully in the moment very often these days, but at the theatre, we do.

We the Women: You grew up in Massachusetts. How does place, and sense of place, inform your work?

EB: That varies enormously from play to play. Some plays are set in an incredibly particular context—the characters' perspectives and voices only make sense in a particular place and

time. Other plays are more abstract, or stylized, and then the "place" isn't really a literal place like Massachusetts, it's a psychological or philosophical or legendary or imaginary place. I always know, from the very beginning, which one of those I'm writing—I think that specificity informs every aspect of a play.

We the Women: Who inspires you and your work? Artists, authors, other play writers? Do you have a favorite play?

EB: I read and see so many plays, and have been inspired both by the ones that stun and dazzle and move me, and by the ones that frustrate and challenge and anger me. I’m also very inspired by non-fiction—dense history books, true stories that friends tell me. I think that the real details of what human beings have actually done, and of how they actually interact, are often much wilder, much more dramatic, much more fascinating than anything I could invent with my imagination.

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EB: I’m not sure that I feel particularly strong or successful most days. This career involves a lot of risk, uncertainty, vulnerability, and disappointment and I’d be amazed if anyone, female or male, is able to cruise through it feeling strong or secure. I do find it energizing to know that a lot of the stories that I want to tell are badly needed. It's exciting to hopefully be contributing to a better culture where women's perspectives are heard and empathized with and enjoyed as often as men's.

We the Women: What, to you, are the three most important things in life?

EB: Oof! That is very hard. I guess that I would say: Kindness.

We the Women: Please briefly describe your writing process.

EB: It tends to change from project to project, depending on what a particular script demands and on how my schedule comes together. I try to write first drafts quickly—I think that velocity in the writing shows up in performance. Then I’m a steady, diligent rewriter—I rarely do a drastic “page one rewrite” but I do a lot of gradual deepening, honing, polishing, and adjusting. With plays, I try as much as possible to rewrite in collaboration with other artists, so that I’m building a live, performed experience—which is what a play really is—instead of a script on the page.

We the Women: What does the future hold for you and for your work?

EB: Good question! I have no idea. I hope I keep trying new things. I hope I can stay honest, challenging, and inquisitive in my writing. And I hope I can write something else that, like The Niceties, cracks people open and gets them thinking, feeling, and talking to each other—and hopefully also having a great night out at the theatre.

Eleanor Burgess is playwright whose work has been produced at spaces and institutions including Manhattan Theatre Club, Huntington Theatre Company, the Alliance Theatre, the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, Portland Stage Company, and Centenary Stage, developed with The New Group, New York Theatre Workshop, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Salt Lake Acting Company, the Lark Play Development Center, and the Kennedy Center/NNPN MFA Playwrights Workshop. Eleanor has been a member of Page 73's writers' group Interstate 73 and The Civilians’ R&D Group, is the recipient of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Award, an EST/Sloan commission, a Huntington Playwriting Fellowship, a Keen Teens Commission, and the Susan Glaspell Award for Women Playwrights.

She grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, attended Yale College, and recently completed the M.F.A in Dramatic Writing at NYU/Tisch.

A limited number of discounted tickets are still available for “The Niceties” performance and post-show talkback with We The Women on Tuesday, April 23! Click Here to Purchase

For tickets to any other performance of “The Niceties”, please visit geffenplayhouse.org

Promotional Poster by Geffen Playhouse

Promotional Poster by Geffen Playhouse