When longtime stage actor/director and film professional Jason Leyva stepped into his current position as Technical Director and Production Manager for the Farmers Branch Firehouse Theatre in 2012, he hoped his diverse technical skills, imagination and people savvy could help support and upgrade the venue and its family programming. He also brought to the Firehouse his own theatre company L.I.P. Service (Leyva’s Independent Productions), which now has a real “home” there. I caught up to Jason as he juggled his many job “hats” and gained some insight into what makes his artistry go tick-tick-tick and where he plans to take L.I.P. Service. Talk about an abundance of focused energy and enthusiasm.
You say on your website that L.I.P. Service was “created as an avenue for creative artistic expression outside the norm.” What did you mean by that? I mean a primary model of inspired artistry, not a commercial business model, the “norm” so many companies are forced to follow for survival.
Do you pay your casts? Sometimes a stipend, and sometimes a percentage of house, sometimes both. It depends on cast and show. Actors are encouraged, but not required, to sell tickets and get a cut of the profits that come in. They are my partners in the artistic venture and deserve a part of “ownership” in it.
How do you select your plays and how many shows in next season? Last year I asked artists and directors I trusted to bring their suggestions to me. We sat around and discussed what we wanted to do in 2015. We have a reputation for mounting edgy shows, and we do like to produce them. But what’s more important to me than edginess is INSPIRATION. If someone I respect brings a work to me they feel passionate about directing or performing in or seeing produced, I want to consider it for our season. Every work we’ve produced this year arrived like that. We will mount around five productions in 2016, including a regional premiere with an overseas playwright and adding an intimate setting for staged readings or minimally set and costumed shows. We have room for developmental projects and encourage them. We will announce our season around the end of December after many conversations and debating all sorts of combinations of intriguing possibilities. “It’s all about the art”, we truly believe.
L.I.P. Service opens David Rabe’s Tony award-nominated Streamers this Thursday, August 13. Talk about this play and why it’s important now: How much things have changed since it first opened in 1976, yet how little things have changed. I have always been a fan of David Rabe’s. Every beat, every word, every emotion he creates with character has a purpose. From the start, his works connected with me; when I played Eddie in HurlyBurly, it sealed the deal. I find Streamers’ depth, delving into versions of reality and exploration of self-acceptance, compelling. Big issues: race, religion, sexual orientation – all come up raw and potent in this play about Vietnam era soldiers. Acceptance of those who differ from some preconception is its prime subject material. It’s so relevant for today. It exhibits such raw honesty with highly emotionally charged subjects. I find it really interesting to watch the actors leave their modern beliefs at the door to explore characters’ viewpoints that are totally different and from another era’s perspective. Fort Worth’s Seth Johnston has brought a clearly defined strength of vision in helming the show. He is larger than life, truly a force to be reckoned with.
Are you enjoying working at Firehouse? Most definitely. I’m directing Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs for them, opening September 10. We wouldn’t be where we are without Firehouse’s full support, so I make sure I address their needs as a priority. It’s a fully functional, respectful partnership.
Regional actor Pat Watson stepped into the play’s pivotal role of “Cokes” when another actor left the show due to illness. Here’s what Pat says about L.I.P. Service and Streamers: “Working with Jason Leyva in my first LIP Service production has been very easy. I feel what he expects from his performers is my core belief as a performer: movement and body language are the true foundation of theatre. Seth Johnston’s direction of Streamers? Wow. The closest I can describe it is what it might have been like to work with John Belushi. I’ve been given free rein to explore the entire stage to embody his directorial vision of my abusive alcoholic character Cokes. Coming into this challenging role right from performing in Firehouse’s production of Oklahoma! on two weeks’ notice has been exciting, to say the least. What do I hope the audience will learn? Don’t hit people!”
Of interest: in 1983, Rabe adapted his play for a feature film directed by Robert Altman and produced by Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau (The Thin Red Line). The cast included David Alan Grier as Roger, Mitchell Lichtenstein as Richie, Matthew Modine as Billy, Michael Wright as Carlyle, George Dzundza as Cokes, and Guy Boyd as Rooney. The movie was awarded a Golden Lion for its entire ensemble cast at the Venice Film Festival.