Svetlyachki at FringeNYC
An Interview with Alla Ilyasova

Indie Theater Now asked Alla Ilyasova a few questions about her play Svetlyachki.

Who were the key figures who made this production happen—could be other artists, people who inspired the story, producers/producing company, etc.

In August of 2009, I visited a dear friend in Slovenia. It took me very little time to fall in love with all those beautiful Slovenian hills, and be reminded of the hills I grew up loving as a kid in Russia. A month later, I returned to New York to start my second year as a playwriting student at Actors Studio Drama School... and my first full-length play. Thinking back now, it's no real wonder why when I heard Edward Allan Baker's advice to "write what [I] know best," the story I was most compelled to write was set in Russia. On a hill. For the next four years, Colleen Britt (a fellow student and a brilliant director) and I worked on developing Svetlyachki - first at ASDS and later at the Actors Studio Playwright/Directors Workshop. We had the great fortune of having an especially gifted and generous cast, we had a ton of support from our classmates, teachers, friends at PDW... but by 2014, I hit a wall I couldn't figure out how to climb. A wall I wouldn't figure out how to climb until Infinite Variety Productions presented Svetlyachki (then known as If Stars Are Lit) at the Wyoming Theatre Festival's New Play Reading Series in 2015. I guess a month among Wyoming mountains (and people who believe in you), can shrink the highest and the scariest of walls.

Why is this a play, as opposed to a film or a web series or a novel (or anything else)? And what is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?

One of my favorite things about playwriting (which is also one of my favorite things about theatre), is that whenever you keep a bunch of people in the same room for a while - things are bound to get interesting. Characters (and audiences for that matter, too) in film and literature have too much time and space to wander and to plan, to contemplate, to hide. In theatre - and in this play - there is no time, there is no space... it's do or die, and everyone's involved.

Who taught you how to be a playwright? This could be specific teachers, or role models whose work you’ve seen or read, or of course any combination.

If you're asking me who taught me how to tell stories, the answer is, my family. They were the ones who first thrilled me and terrified me... made me laugh. They were the ones who taught me how to listen and how to make others listen to me. But if you're asking me who taught me how to build a play? Of course, I haven't learned all of it yet, but the little that I did, I learned from some extraordinary people. Playwrights I've never met, like Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov, Martin McDonagh, Sam Shepard, Sarah Kane, and Will Eno. Playwrights I've come to know, like Edward Allan Baker, Clay McLeod Chapman, Michael Ross Albert (whose play Miss is also premiering at the Fringe this August), Sarah Rachel Jones, Sherry Kuroda, Yokko, Sean Michael Welch, D.L. Siegel, Gabrielle Sinclair, and John Christopher Jones. Directors like Colleen Britt, Brian Rhinehart, Brandon Stock, Adam Levi, and Kaitlyn Samuel. Designers. Stage managers. Audiences. Actors.

What have you learned about this play as it has evolved from first draft to the present version? And what has surprised you in this current production-what did you discover in the work that you didn’t realize was there?

There've been so many drafts of this play that in fact, I'm having trouble thinking back to its first. What was I trying to say in it? Or was I even trying? I don't know. The one thing that I'm certain of, is that the way it starts and ends were always there. It's all that middle stuff that's changed - moment-to-moment, beat-to-beat. I'd like to think that all six of its characters have grown (to know the hard work that the actors who've worked on this play have put in, doesn't go unseen), I'd love it if I've made the plot as clear and as engaging as a plot should be, I hope that I've been brave enough to tell an honest story. One thing I know for sure? Having the privilege of watching this great cast and crew breathe life into my words over the last few weeks has made me realize that it's a life worth seeing.

Without giving away any important surprises—what moment or moments do you most look forward to when you see this play being performed?

I don't mean to be vague, it's just the truth - the moment that I'm looking forward to the most in this play, is the very last.

posted July 31, 2016