Lemon Andersen’s play “ToasT” is being presented in collaboration with Under The Radar Festival at the famed Public Theater in New York City. Elise Thoron (who helped to develop and directed County of Kings and Washi Tales) and street artists will be collaborating with set designers to help him bring it to life. “ToasT” is raising production funding on Kickstarter and was recently supported with a development grant from the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab.
Receiving a Fellowship from Sundance Institute brought all the ghosts back up. Nine months before, I had given up on playwrighting – even though it’s the best medium for me to stage my poetry. Playwrighting is also the hardest hustle to master. I sent out a mass email to my close friends and artists telling them that I no longer wanted to make a living being a playwright – that I will venture into copywriting full time and write poetry and plays on the side. It was a very dark moment for me. After putting up a couple of critically acclaimed shows you would think I was a made man. But actually it was the opposite. I would show up to award ceremonies uninvited and find myself in the darkest corners of the room accompanied by a watered down drink and the hopes of someone saying hello.
My work and culture are not found in the social settings of the theatre world. People in that world barely use the word “whassup.” But that never meant to me that we can’t meet each other half way and agree that we all share a passion for live drama.
When I was given the chance to join a couple of playwrights on a writing retreat to the Sundance/Ucross Lab in Wyoming, I knew it would be a great opportunity to re-kindle my love for writing for the stage and get the other artists at the retreat to know that even though I came from a tough place, I share the same passion for theatre and cry even harder than they did at the end of King Lear. I have daughters too.
After Ucross, I walked away with new friends I still stay in touch with till this day. Blast their accomplishments on my social networks. Keep them strong when they have doubt about their positions as writers in theatre and remind them that sometimes we are all we got, so let’s play hard.
This fall I received a Fellowship from Sundance Institute’s Theatre Program to finish the play I started at Ucross, which is titled “ToasT.” It’s a about the harshest poetry you can ever read at a Sunday dinner. = Even Lenny Bruce would have said “Oh damn, here comes Dolomite!” (my main character). But these Toasts have the most beautiful characters who are dear to my storytelling and knock on my imagination every night waiting for me to give them a new place to signify. So I’ve put it out there.
I will tell you now that Kickstarter is not for the weak at heart – but neither is playwrighting. So onward with the challenge of finding a way to make it happen. Onward with the lessons I will learn everyday of putting my pride to the side and even knocking on my neighbor’s door asking for her support in Spanglish. Who knows? ToasT might be the first time she ever saw a play and her pledge would have gone further than she could have imagined.
I’m Lemon Andersen, the playwright behind ToasT, and I’d love for you to be a part of bringing it out into the world. It’s been waiting a long time to connect with you. Thank you.
A Note from Sundance Institute Producing Artistic Director of Theatre, Philip Himberg:
There is no such thing as a “Sundance Playwright,” since our body of work is defined by an eclectic appreciation of theatre makers that reflect the range of art being created in America today. We are so excited that Lemon Andersen (spoken word artist, monologist, and now playwright) has joined the Sundance Family. An alum of our Sundance Playwrights Retreat at Ucross Foundation in Wyoming (2011), Mr. Andersen is launching his Kickstarter campaign to fund development, rehearsal, and eventual production of ToasT, a piece set back in the 1970s in infamous Attica Prison. What defines a Sundance Institute artist is their ability to venture into new territory, risk, leap into the unknown, into journeys that are the most challenging. With a talent like Lemon’s, this is sure to be an extraordinary project, and we are proud that he is our first official Sundance Institute Theatre Program alum on Kickstarter. Let’s get the ball rolling …