Supporting creative work by women
Jake Lipman is an actor, producer, and director in NYC, who has toured nationally, appeared onstage and in film. She has produced 31 productions for Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions. Jake stars as ‘Natalie Marx’ in the upcoming world premiere of The Inn at Lake Devine, which she also adapted for stage from Elinor Lipman’s (no relation) book of the same name, October 7 through 24 in New York City.
Jake spoke to Works by Women about the adaptation process, her grandmother’s influence on her love of theater and how much she enjoys working with director Kimberly Faith Hickman.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What drew you to The Inn at Lake Devine?
JAKE LIPMAN: The book by Elinor Lipman begins, “It wasn’t complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal: They had a hotel, they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews.”
I love that first sentence. We know instantly that Natalie Marx, the protagonist and narrator of the story, is mystified by The Inn at Lake Devine. She knows she’s not welcome at the inn, but that doesn’t mean she won’t finagle a way in. And, we’re off!
WBW: Tell me about the adaptation process? What was involved? How long did it take?
JL: I am so fortunate to have amazing friends and colleagues involved from the outset of this adaptation.
When I optioned the book, I got advice from producer/director Jessica Ammirati, who has adapted several books into plays. She counseled me to turn all dialogue in the book into lines in the play, and any actions into stage directions. She said, don’t judge it, just convert it from book to play and when that’s done, you’ll know what needs to stay and what can go.
I started that first draft in November 2014 and finished that draft on January 1, 2015. It was 177 pages – way too long.
Then I started cutting—narration, extraneous characters, dialogue, and I reached 120 pages by end of January. Then I showed it to Elinor Lipman (the novelist, no relation), to make sure she felt I was capturing the right tone.
With her blessing by mid-February, I began workshopping the script with a group of trusted actors.
After each meeting with the actors, I would update further, and I sent subsequent drafts to readers for their written feedback.
By April 2015, I was ready to put a nearly final draft up on its feet for an invited audience at a staged reading. I solicited comment cards after that reading, and made a more final version of the script that I sent one last time to my trusted readers, before sending Elinor my nearly final script on May 15.
All in, I worked on the script extensively for about six months.
WBW: You’re working with director Kimberly Faith Hickman on this piece. What has that been like?
JL: Working with Kimberly Faith Hickman has been a dream come true.
I had a wish list for the kind of director I wanted for this production—someone established, who excels at working on new material, and, ideally, she would be smart, warm, funny!
Kimberly is all of those things and more: punctual, hard-working, detailed, and, as an added bonus, a gifted choreographer! I sat in rehearsal the other night, watching her create this witty dance number, and thought: Wow. This is going to be so good!
It’s exciting for me to have Kimberly look at the script through fresh eyes. She has embraced the minimalism of a memory play, yet evokes a great deal from the actors.
WBW: Your company Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions focuses on comedies. What draws you and your audiences to comedies?
JL: When I founded Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions in 2006, I found this quotation from actor Peter Ustinov: “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” That made perfect sense to me, and our mission statement became: to produce and create thought-provoking comedies.
I say thought-provoking because the stories I want to tell use comedy to get at something deeper. I want our audiences to care about the characters and their conflicts. I like when laughs come from the audience recognizing themselves in the material.
WBW: Why theater? What inspired you to be a theater artist?
JL: My grandmother loved live theater, and took me to see all the big shows that came through Boston: Annie, Peter Pan, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera. When I moved to New York City in 2000, she would come down to visit and buy us tickets to see the buzz-worthy Broadway shows: Proof, The Allergists’ Wife, Elaine Stritch at Liberty.
I wanted to be ‘Orphan Annie’ so bad, I drove my family crazy by singing along with my record again and again, standing on our dining room table.
When I got to high school, the two people who ran Brookline High School’s Drama Department were very innovative, Mary Mastandrea and the late Iain Ryrie. As teenagers, we devised pieces, learned about View Points, produced and directed one-acts. That’s where I first understood the flexibility of the medium, and knew I would pursue a life of creating theater.
WBW: What are the challenges for women in American theater?
JL: As an actor, I worry a lot about my looks. Which is futile, I know, since I’m not going to get any taller, or younger, or prettier. But I think casting and audiences adore the young and beautiful, and it’s a challenge for me to keep my confidence up. But to turn this conundrum on its head, I know my girl-next-door-looks motivated me to start producing theater – to ensure I’m always working on projects that I love, casting myself in my favorite roles, from ‘L’il Bit’ in How I Learned to Drive to ‘Natalie Marx’ in The Inn at Lake Devine.
The main challenge for women in theater, overall, is parity.
I would like for men and women in the theater to be represented in equal measure: meaty roles for men and women, an even number of male and female directors/playwrights/producers working and receiving recognition, without the qualifier, “female.”
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
JL: The women I know and admire in the American theater give me every faith that we are headed in the right direction, to more women in roles on stage, to more directors, production teams, and designers who are women.
I’m working with 2 phenomenal women on The Inn at Lake Devine, director Kimberly Faith Hickman, and associate producer/assistant director/stage manager Molly Ballerstein. I feel unstoppable with them working side by side with me.
The world premiere of THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE runs for 16 performances, October 7-24, 2015 at 7:30 pm (matinee Sunday, October 18 at 2:30 pm, no shows on Mondays). For tickets and more, visit www.tictheater.com or call 212-868-4444.