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Pondering Life's Next Steps in the Midst of Midwinter Madness

A conversation with Next Stop, Anywhere playwright Yasmine Lever.

(© Melisa Annis)
This past month I've been delving into the role of a teenager in Next Stop, Anywhere, a new play by Yasmine Lever, a London native who relocated to the U.S when she was 17. Part of the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival, it's one of 30 plays being staged as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival. Anywhere tells the story of an estranged father and daughter trying to reconnect after having served time in prison and while he works at sobriety.

Did you always know you wanted to be a playwright?
I only started writing plays the last few years. Before that I wore many hats, including actress, and I still foolishly pay my Equity dues even though I have no desire to ever act again.

You've written mostly musicals, why did you transition to a drama? Do you have a certain genre of playwriting that you prefer?
I started off writing short ten-minute plays, which got produced in places like the Flea in New York, Theater 503 in London and other short play festivals. I went on to get an M.F.A in Musical Theater Writing at NYU. I'm working on a musical now, but I see it more like a play with many songs, rather than a traditional musical. I love contemporary plays – especially those that…explore what is most fractured in the human psyche; I have no preference for genre as long as it's done well.

Where did the idea of Next Stop, Anywhere come from?
I'm interested in the subject of regret and damaged individuals struggling to connect, people wanting to start over, parent/children relationships that have somehow gone awry. I wanted to write a one act, straight play that was narrower in scope than my musical, and that I could complete and stage in a short period of time.

What's your favorite part of the process — besides staging your play, of course?
It's when I get an inner ding and I know what it is I want to write. I also love getting into discussions with people who "get" the play, like Or Matias, who wrote music for this piece.

What is the value of the development process for you?
Next Stop, Anywhere is…a first draft that hasn't changed much at all during rehearsal. Normally, I'm a big fan of private developmental workshops with a reading at the end for an invited few. Working with artists in the room is an ideal way to solve script problems and get a sense of what the script needs in order to move forward. I have also learned the hard way how important it is to protect your work – and that it is YOU who has to protect it from overexposure too soon.

What do you look for in rehearsals from the director and actors?
With Next Stop, Anywhere, I truly feel blessed to be in a room with a team of talented artists who all seem to have wonderful instincts for the piece. I also feel so gratified to see everyone working so hard to bring the piece to life in such a truncated rehearsal period. Melisa Annis has been a gift as a director. She connects to the material and communicates easily with actors. My work veers towards the dark side so I look for actors with a certain depth, a sense of truth about the work, and I'm always attracted to actors with both intelligence and a rich emotional life.

Where do you find inspiration for your playwriting?
The theater both here in New York and in London, where it is actually affordable. Music. And, honestly, just life. Life baffles me. I go in and out of feeling like everybody gets it except me. Funnily enough I didn't feel this growing up, but when I turned 20-years old I suddenly felt like an ill-equipped misfit.

What's your next stop (anywhere)?
I'm excited to see excerpts of CRUSH, a musical I conceived and wrote the book and lyrics to, staged at the D lounge on March 11th.

And I hope you'll make that your "next stop" too.

Check out Next Stop, Anywhere at Roy Arias Studios & Theatres on Wednesday, February 20th at 6:00pm, Friday, the 22nd at 6:45pm, and Sunday, the 24that 12:15pm.