Posthumously, Jon Lipsky is now a published playwright
Jon Lipsky was a prolific Boston playwright who wrote more than 14 full-length and dozens of short plays. Lipsky, who died in 2011, also contributed to the development of hundreds of other plays as a teacher, director, and mentor at Boston University, where he taught for nearly 30 years. But his plays have never been published, making it difficult for other theater companies to produce them. Until now.
"He was never much of an advocate for his own work," says his son Jonah Lipsky, "so after he died, one of his former students, Bill Barclay, and I took on this project of collecting and publishing the best of his work."
Publication of the two-volume collection "The Plays of Jon Lipsky" (Smith & Kraus) will be celebrated Sunday at a party at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse, where Lipsky was an associate artistic director for many years. A Boston-area event will be held Aug. 12 at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, where members of Actors' Shakespeare Project will read from the plays.
The collection contains eight of Lipsky's full-length plays, including the one of which Jonah says his father was most proud, "Living in Exile," which took as its inspiration Homer's "The Iliad," but reduced the epic tale's cast of thousands to just a handful of characters.
"My dad liked to start with true events," says Jonah, who manages the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Lab at Brown University. "But the emotions were the most important. He took stories that captivated him, used that as source material, did a lot of research around the period and the people, and then took off from there."
Also included in the collection are "Maggie's Riff," based on Jack Kerouac's autobiographical novel, "Maggie Cassidy"; "Beginner's Luck," a retelling of the biblical story of Saul and David; and "Coming Up for Air," the autobiographical story of Boston saxophonist Stan Strickland, which earned Lipsky an Elliot Norton Award.
"I think what he enjoyed most was the creative development of new work, the opportunity to collaborate with other artists and come up with something that was completely unique," says Jonah. He and Barclay approached many of Lipsky's collaborators to provide introductions and context for each play.
"He called the process 'playmaking,' " says Barclay, who was one of Lipsky's graduate students at BU, "and we thought it was important to capture his collaborative spirit along with the text."
Barclay, who calls himself Lipsky's "musical wingman," currently serves as music director of the Globe Theatre in London. "Music is the shaman in all of Jon's plays," says Barclay, who collaborated with Lipsky on a musical version of Jack London's "The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang."
"The goal was not: How can we add music here or there?" he says. "It was: How is music going to drive home the emotional impact of this piece?"
"Call of the Wild" ultimately toured 42 states as part of the Olney Theatre Center's National Players program.
Lipsky was also a proponent of dream theater, a style of devising plays using dreams as source material for drama. He wrote a book called "Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out" (Larson Publications, 2008), led dream theater workshops across the country and around the world, and used the technique as a play development tool in his classroom.
"The Wild Place," co-written with Susan Thompson of the Pilgrim Theater Research and Performance Collaborative and based on her dreams, and "Dreaming With an AIDS Patient," based on psychologist Robert Bosnak's book of the same name, are both included in the collection.
" 'Dreaming With an AIDS Patient' moves forward on an emotional rather than logical level," says Kate Snodgrass, artistic director of the Boston Playwrights' Theatre. "That was one of the first plays I saw when I moved to Boston, and I was struck by its honesty, how connected he was to complex human emotions."
Snodgrass got to know Lipsky during the time they both worked at Boston University, and several of Lipsky's 10-minute plays were produced over the years as part of the Boston Theater Marathon, before they were gathered together as one play called "Walking the Volcano."
The 10-minute plays "capture the intensity of relationships," says Snodgrass, "the way people come together and then split apart. The final play had a touching sense of rapprochement that comes when people are confronting the end of their lives."
Says Barclay, "We hope these volumes, with their introductory essays, offer a window into different aspects of Jon's creativity."
For more information on the events surrounding the publication of "The Plays of Jon Lipsky" contact Martha's Vineyard Playhouse, www.vineyardplayhouse.org, 508-696-6300, and Porter Square Books, www.portersquarebooks.com, 617-491-2220.
The Huntington-Codman Summer Theatre Institute is celebrating its 10th anniversary with free performances this week of "Macbeth" in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.
The summer institute is free to students, who are paid a modest stipend for participating in the four-week program. The 17 students involved this summer range from rising sophomores to recent graduates of Codman Academy, a Dorchester charter school. During the four-week program, students not only study poetry and plays, they also participate in hands-on work in the theater. The program has been recognized locally and nationally as a model for improving urban students' reading, writing, speaking, and presentation skills.
For a free ticket to Friday's performance (another was held on Thursday), call 617-266-0800, or go to www .huntingtontheatre.org/education/codman.
TV talk show host, author, and Broadway actor Dick Cavett will serve as host for "Broadway in the Berkshires," Shakespeare & Company's annual fund-raising event Monday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. Cavett will introduce more than a dozen performers who will offer tunes from recent Broadway productions. Tickets range from $75 (show only) to $1,000 (including cocktails, dinner, and after-show party with the stars). All proceeds benefit Shakespeare & Company's education and training programs. Call 413-637-1199, ext. 105, or go to www.shakespeare.org.