Andrew Lee Creech is a Seattle-based playwright and creator of The Legacy Plays Project – “a nine-play, multi-century-spanning cycle meditation on the lives of Black Americans in pivotal moments of American History.” He is currently working on an exciting three-play commission from ACT and Trial & Error Productions, and is an actor, educator, and content creator. Read about Andrew’s inspiration, the importance of a team, and how storytelling links his occupations together.
How did you become a writer?
There are three answers here. All are integral. The flippant answer: one day, I started calling myself a writer, and so it was true. The fun answer: I’ve always been a writer and a storyteller. At nine-years-old, I had a typewriter and my own Goosebumps-inspired book series called Toxic Terror – writers, don’t bite that title, I might publish them one day. The more nuanced answer: I studied acting and writing in college, and when I graduated, I dove headfirst into acting. After a few years of regularly performing, I returned to writing because I’d recognized that I wasn’t seeing the kind of stories that I wanted to see onstage. I wasn’t hearing the kinds of conversations that I wanted to hear. And I wasn’t seeing the faces that I wanted to see – that deserve to be seen. Instead of waiting around and hoping for all of those “wants” to someday materialize, I decided to start telling my own stories and making it happen.
You’re based in Seattle – do you pull much inspiration from living in the Pacific Northwest?
I’m absolutely inspired by the PNW. My play Riverwood was written to talk about the gentrification of Seattle neighborhoods and the displacement the communities are facing. As I continue to work and learn and grow, the more Seattle/PNW history I become aware of. There is a deep history here that I think needs to be written about. And I love plays and movies set in Seattle. Anytime I see one I let out a little shout of joy! I always say there are too many New York living rooms onstage.
What inspires you?
People. History. And my community and support network. People because in doing theatre, I am constantly discovering and rediscovering what it means to be human. To that end, it’s people who inspire me. With all of our hopes and dreams, failings, successes, struggles, courage, joys, fears – all of our shit. History because it doesn’t repeat itself exactly, but it spirals back around again. And each time it spirals, we have an opportunity to learn from it and make different choices – not that we often do… But I still think we have a responsibility to interrogate the past and to document the present for future generations to have next time the spiral comes back around. Lastly, my community and support network. My friends, family, and mentors who always entertain my ideas and offer feedback. Who come to readings? Who listen compassionately when I have moments of self-doubt? Who send opportunities my way and encourage me to push beyond my comfortability? Who graciously reflect back to me what I’m saying and things that I didn’t know I was saying? Who empower me to take up space? They all nurture and inspire my writing.
Why are you excited to work on this commission with ACT?
I have worked with ACT Theatre in many capacities throughout the years. I’ve been in productions on both the main stage and the ACTLab stages. I’ve worked in the ticket office, on the house staff, and I even designed and operated the closed caption presentations for the main stage season. ACT, in many ways, has felt like my artistic home – a place where I have grown as both a human and an artist. For that reason alone, I am excited to continue my work and growth here in yet another capacity, as a playwright. I joke that one day I’m going to intimately know the ins and outs of every single position at ACT. That might not be just a joke forever!
Also, there have been times in my life where I have had to work three jobs plus side hustles to make ends meet as an artist. And when you live that life, you regularly find yourself having to make choices like, “do I sleep and take care of my mental health, which means I lose momentum with my writing or I miss that grant deadline, or do I try to push through and write, which will leave me depleted tomorrow or make me oversleep and late for work?” An impossible balance that, over time, can cause a lot of damage. Living that life is an extreme challenge. Especially as a young writer, because when you’re first starting out, the writing of a play is done for free and the money comes from highly sought-after productions, award competitions, grants, or other development opportunities – all of which take extra effort on your part (not to mention, a little luck) to make happen. I’m so grateful for this commission because it flips the script by paying me to write. It invests in me, which in turn, allows me to invest in myself.
Lastly, the big body of work that I’m currently writing is The Legacy Plays Project – a project that is near and dear to me. This is a large, nine-play cycle that will take years to complete. And with this commission, I won’t complete the project, but I’ll be able to keep momentum rolling forward, and I can get done in a few years what would take me maybe twice as long without.
How important is an artistic team when developing new plays, and how do you cultivate one that helps you in the process?
A banging artistic team is crucial when developing new plays. New play development requires different mindsets and skillsets at different points in the play’s life. When a play is in its infancy, it’s all about the text. Say it’s the first workshop. You want collaborators in the room who are compassionate, make strong choices, curious, ask good questions, and are there to interrogate the text in a way that serves the play and the playwright’s vision. I love actors in a new play process because they can be like private eye detectives. They can discover things about your characters that you never knew!
In a director, you want a true leader. Someone who can help you identify goals and intended outcomes for the process. Someone who can articulate those goals to the company and who is making sure that we’re always working towards clarity and a stronger, more cohesive play. And I appreciate a director who encourages me to take big swings and reminds me that we are here to discover but won’t hesitate to keep it real with me.
Having artists that you’ve worked well with before is great for the shorthand communication that develops between you: A+. Having collaborators that understand the assignment and operate with a reasonable amount of malleability and grace, because nothing ever goes exactly according to plan: A+.
In addition to being a playwright, you’re also an actor, educator, and content creator. In what ways do all of these paths overlap, and what have you learned from their similarities and differences?
When I create theatre content, all of these paths overlap. I make theatre content that educates, empowers, and incites discussion – all things that social media excels at. I use my acting background to make my videos entertaining to watch, I use my writing skills to articulate my thoughts, and I use my sense of content creation in order to make it flow and to keep it engaging.
Similarities and differences? I’ll give you one. In addition to posting theatre content, I use my platforms to share stories from my life and to make random funny content. When a piece of content does really well, the thing that is always consistent is a sense of connection between me and the viewer. With content creation and storytelling, it always comes back to “are you connecting with people?” People’s hearts and ears open when they engage with something that they find relatable or true or authentic. This is always going to be true, no matter the medium. And when the performer/content creator is being authentic and true, the listener/viewer is drawn in. And when the performer/creator isn’t, the listener/viewer is pulled out. There’s so much to say on the similarities and differences of all of these things! Too much! Buy me a beer sometime, we’ll talk.
Find Andrew Lee Creech online at https://andrewleecreech.weebly.com and check out his Instagram @papadontcreech.