Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Lisa Caruccio Came: Waiting For Lefty

By | Published on Friday 7 May 2021

Theatre goers will be looking forward to attending shows in person in the coming weeks, but – thanks to the burgeoning of the online delivery of culture inspired by pandemic conditions – it looks very much as though we can also look forward to continuing to take in innovative theatrical projects via digital platforms.

One such project, a Zoom-based staging of ‘Waiting For Lefty’ accompanied by panel discussions with a fab line up of guests, is coming up this month courtesy of Two Lines Productions, a company newly formed by Lisa Caruccio Came and Phil Cheadle.

I spoke to Lisa to find out what to expect both from ‘Waiting For Lefty’ and from Two Lines in the future.

CM: To begin, for readers who aren’t familiar with ‘Waiting For Lefty’, can you tell us what the play is about?
LCC: ‘Waiting For Lefty’ by Clifford Odets is a poetic and provocative play set during the Great Depression in New York and focuses on a taxi drivers’ union meeting, where the drivers are fiercely debating going on strike to demand a living wage. The action shifts between the union meeting and four powerful domestic scenes, where the personal costs of capitalism on the ordinary person are laid bare.

CM: What are the main themes of the play?
LCC: It’s a story about standing up against inequality and exploitation, tackling the issues of fair pay and workers’ rights. It exposes the deep injustices of capitalism and challenges the audience to think, and to act.

CM: What is it about the play that made you think it would work well as a digital project? Have you set it in contemporary times?
LCC: We have set it in contemporary times yet kept the dialect, which is beautifully New York. The production merges the past and the present. The nature of the union meeting lends itself well to a Zoom, and the vignettes are duologues and will be captured in the actors’ homes, which is exciting. We have actors in bubbles for some of those scenes, which will allow the audience an intimate glimpse into these characters’ lives.

CM: What made you want to stage the play at this point in time?
LCC: This play could not be more relevant. Although the life we knew before COVID seems to be returning, the pandemic has exposed beyond a shadow of a doubt just how unequal our society is. Not everyone has been financially crippled by COVID, but those who were already more vulnerable are suffering even more. Last year I remembered reading that, in the coming months, many families in the UK would be unable to afford school shoes. This is almost a direct quote from ‘Waiting For Lefty’. This is why it feels so important and necessary to revive this play.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast and the creative team?
LCC: We have a hugely talented and experienced company, who share our belief in this project. We are a company of ten actors, including myself and my partner Phil Cheadle, who is also directing the play.

Phil and I are co-producing and playing husband and wife. Another cast member, Tim Delap, is also acting as an associate producer and helping us put together our post-show panel. The rest of the cast is Charles Aitken, Philip Arditti, Mariah Gale, John Moraitis, Ian Redford, Rhys Rusbatch and Rebecca Scroggs.

We’re working alongside East City Films to help us capture the scenes from our homes. Joss Holden-Rae is our sound designer and Simon Kenny is designing. Jacquelyn Landgraf from the US will be moderating the panel discussions and acting as our dramaturg. Stage manager Judith Volk is also our ‘Zoom Master’, a vital new role in the digital theatre age.

CM: How does getting this kind of digital production together compare to staging ‘in person’ work? What challenges do you face?
LCC: The most difficult thing so far is not being able to properly unwind with the company after rehearsals. Normally, being able to go to the pub after a long day and debriefing is such a crucial part of developing a group dynamic. Most of the cast and company know each other, but some are working together for the first time. And Zoom, although brilliant, has some limitations.

CM: Live shows will be happening again as of this month, but I feel as though digitally delivered culture has a lot to offer even post-pandemic. Do you agree? Do you think companies will continue to create work like this after all the restrictions are lifted?
LCC: Absolutely. It’s incredible to be able to bring people who are spread out across the UK and world together for a live performance. Although the cast and almost all creatives are London-based, our moderator and dramaturg is working alongside us from her home in Los Angeles.

Some of our panellists will be logging on from other parts of the UK and in the US. We fully believe this is making theatre accessible to all and engaging people in the arts without having to travel. Yet the shared experience of watching a story unfold, live, is intact. There is something truly special in that.

CM: You’ve mentioned the panel discussions. Can you tell us what to expect from those and who is involved?
LCC: This is an evening of two parts. After every performance – which runs under an hour – our moderator and two or three panellists will discuss the issues raised in the play and take questions from the audience. We’ve gathered an impressive panel of fifteen journalists, writers, policy experts, trade union reps and politicians.

We want the audience, panellists, and company to have a chance to properly reflect on what the play is offering us. The parallels between the Great Depression and present day are striking. But what does this mean for us now? How do we move forwards? What alternatives exist to the current financial structures in place? What haven’t we learned yet? And what can we actually do to change the situation?

All theatre is political, in some form. But ‘Waiting For Lefty’ demands action. The panel discussion is a chance for us to understand what this means today.

CM: Two Lines Productions is a brand new company: what plans do you have for it going forward?
LCC: We’d love to continue producing socially engaged work. The panel has been exciting to organise as it bridges the world of theatre with the world of policy, and invites the audience to respond. We want to keep working this way.

CM: What hopes do you have for the post-pandemic future generally?
LCC: I really hope this opportunity to reset isn’t wasted. We have a chance to reset our relationship to the environment and who we share our planet with. To shift the policies that have created such inequality both locally and globally. I would hope the fact the world has collectively suffered such a tragic disruption of this scale would allow us to move forwards with more empathy and solidarity.

‘Waiting For Lefty’ is staged via Zoom from 18-23 May. For more information and to book, see this page here.