Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?
I have a five-way tie. While at school, I was in the theatre department, but was an interloper in the other departments as much as they'd allow it, and because of it I had a true bed of hands to fall back on, helping me develop into the multifaceted artist I wanted to be. Charles Mee who was my playwriting professor, became a mentor to me, not only teaching me what it is to collaborate, but opening up my mind to what a play can actually be, changing my entire way of looking at theatre. Frank Pugliese taught me about how to structure my work, and was also extremely supportive of me as a writer outside the classroom. Bob Holman infused me with a love of poetry that I had never had. His way of life made everyone turn electric in his presence, and that showed in our work and continued on in our friendships outside the classroom. Then there was Henry Bean, who also taught me how best to tell my stories, and took a lot of time to be extremely available with me and the other students. He is zen master, and a true teacher/mentor. Finally, Jamal Joseph taught me not only how to be a better artist, but a better human being. Just standing in the room with that guy fills you with joy and makes you a better person.
How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?
Before attending School of the Arts, I knew that there was something more I wanted to explore in my work, but wasn't entirely sure what it was. It was only a feeling I had, a buzz. I remember walking into Chuck Mee's first class, and within the week, I had been exposed to the kind of theatre that matched the buzz I was feeling. From then on in the program, I was able to meet future collaborators, doors opened for me in the theatrical community that would have never opened without the support and outlet of the department. Also, the time I was afforded to write and explore, and the diversity of the other people I was studying with helped open up my mind in a way that I would've never discovered outside of school. Attending was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
What were the most pressing social/political issues on the minds of the students when you were here?
I was there during the 2008 elections, which was extremely exciting. Also, when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited campus. I ended up skipping class, because I wanted to see the broadcast on the lawn, thinking it was more important than theatre history. After the broadcast was over, I went upstairs to Andy Hammerstein's class, and found that everyone had been discussing it in class. I was so happy I was able to be in a place that wanted to intelligently engage in the current political climate.
What was your favorite or most memorable class while at the School of the Arts?
My most memorable class was Exploding Text with Bob Holman. It was a class where people from every department could join in, and we just kind of mashed all kinds of different art together, which culminated in a weird avant garde performance at The Bowery Poetry Club at the end of the semester. It was probably one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. I also met some of the best, most talented, inspiring people I know in that class.
About Libby Leonard
Her plays have been workshopped, produced, developed, and commissioned by The Hangar Theatre, NYTW, Woodshed Collective, Source Festival D.C.,Samuel French OOB Festival, Columbia University and The Great Plains Theatre Conference. She is a recipient of the Alan Minieri Memorial Playwriting Award, two Cherry Lane Mentor nominations, a finalist for the O'Neill Conference, and a Semi-Finalist for the P73 Fellowship. Her TV Pilot The Still Life was one of the 25 finalists for the Fox Comedy Pilot Competition at the NYTV festival, and her screenplay version of The Armchair Travelers was a quarter-finalist for the Academy Award's Nicholl Fellowship. She received her MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University, where she was a Liberace Scholar, Howard Stein Fellow, and Shubert Fellow. She currently writes interactive comics for a living, among several other things.