Stars Behind The Stars: Elisabeth Frankel ’19
BY Robbie Armstrong, April 20, 2020
Stars Behind The Stars is a bi-weekly series featuring theatre makers behind the scenes. This week we sat down with Playwriting alumna Elisabeth Frankel ’19 to discuss her theatrical work and creating art during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frankel is a Leo who has written The German Party, 2076, and The Visitors. She recently served as an Assistant Director on the Classic Stage Company production of Assassins, prior to its postponement.
Tell me about your first time being involved in Theatre.
Elisabeth Frankel: I found my first theatre home in taking after-school classes as a kid - playing theatre games, learning songs (from shows that were probably too grown up for us to understand!), and putting on a show at the end. The process immediately made sense to me, and it's always been in that feeling of community, where I've found the most meaning.
You’re a Leo. How does it appear in your work?
EF: I'm outing myself here, but I'm not really familiar with the attributes of a Leo. I believe Leos are outgoing, which is something that's increasingly inconsistent with me as I get older. I wish it was a simpler answer!
A handful of your plays have had staged readings and performances. As a playwright, what part of the development process is most helpful to you?
EF: My favorite part of the process, and something I really miss being in quarantine, is workshopping a draft with actors and dramaturgs in a rehearsal room. Plays make most sense to me when they're malleable and adjustable based on an actor's instincts. I love working on plays once we've already been up on our feet and we can all gain creative clarity as one team. I'm not as interested in writing in solitude, but it's a muscle I've been working on a lot. The short answer is, I love working with actors.
Your play 2076 features a cast of 6 gender neutral performers. What’s the role casting plays in your personal playwriting process?
EF: It really varies from project to project, but I like picturing specific actors while I'm writing; I think a lot of playwrights do this. I've noticed it adds a deeper layer of nuance to the character. Then the imagined version gets redefined and sculpted in such a beautiful way when an actor really embodies the character.
What type of theatre inspires you most?
EF: Any theatre that makes someone's life a little easier and more beautiful. Whether that's making them feel seen in a way they never have before; or making them laugh; or challenging them to confront parts of their life they never had before, and inspiring them to be better.
If you could be any famous child, who would you be and why?
EF: She's not famous, but I wish I could have the fashion sense of my 6-year-old niece Phoenix. I call it Phoenix-chic. Nothing matches, everything is comfortable, loud colors and patterns, and SO MUCH JOY.
What’s your favorite play/musical?
EF: Normally, Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas, Sunday in the Park with George, and Angels in America. During this shutdown, I've been at home listening to feel-good musicals like The Drowsy Chaperone. I'm very grateful for the laugh, that show is so silly and clever.
I'd love to know more about what kind of theatre you think will be most important once this pandemic is over. What type of art do you think the world needs right now?
EF: If there's anything creatively enriching we've been able to gain from this, it's the solidarity; we still and will always love sharing stories together. There's a reason it feels like everyone and their mother is watching Tiger King! It feels like we're all watching it together, even in our separate homes. People are craving unity more than ever.
And so it's heartbreaking that theatre hasn't been able to provide that unity for people in an extremely long time, because it's become radically exclusionary in its pricing. The only way theatre can make any impact is if everyone can see it - if everyone can afford to see it. I'm obsessed with how there's enough space and need for all kinds of theatre - high brow, low brow, meant to only challenge, meant to only entertain.
Whether it's realistic or not, the only kind of theatre that the world most desperately needs right now, is free theatre.