An Interview With Lyndsay Allyn Cox

unnamed.jpg

Lyndsay Allyn Cox has been an integral part of the Boston theatre scene for the last 11 years. After making the move from North Carolina where she worked as a drama teacher, she dominated as the managing director for Fresh Ink Theatre Company for six seasons. Lyndsay devotes most of her energy to acting and has been seen in productions all over Boston like Men On Boats and Crossing Flight. Coming up, you can see Lyndsay in Leftovers at Company One Theatre, open from July 21st-August 18th. Get your tickets here: https://companyone.org/production/leftovers/. Over the years, Lyndsay has found a community and a home in Boston. She is one Jewish woman who is stripping down barriers left and right.

What motivated you to get involved with Fresh Ink Theatre Company?

I met with Louise [Hamill, Artistic Director of Fresh Ink) back in 2011 when we were working on some sort of play festival and I had been in Boston for a few years and I was looking to get involved with a company in a leadership sort of way. We were talking one day after a rehearsal and she told me about her new company and asked if I would be interested in getting to know more about it. I said yes and I went to see their first performance and instantly I realized they were a company I wanted to be a part of. I then joined them as their managing director and I basically learned on the job. We were a really small company in those days, there were just a few of us on staff. I think what initially drew me to Fresh Ink was their desire to present new work by local artists. There’s lots of companies that do new work, but I think what is unique to Fresh Ink is that they are producing work that is locally grown. Part of the requirement if you are a playwright at Fresh Ink is that you are living in Boston or New England throughout the entire production of your piece. I think also the process of having them act as a dramaturg and being present for workshops for each full production is really important.

Did you see a lot of new works come in from Jewish women?

There definitely have been playwrights that have come across our eyes at Fresh Ink. But, you know, out of six seasons I could only tell you about a handful of people. I think when Fresh Ink was looking at how to diversify their demographics of playwrights, I don’t know that looking for playwrights who were Jewish was a priority necessarily. I think trying to get playwrights of color and from the LGBTQ community involved was a huge deal. I think so often it’s not so much a point of focus for companies to make sure that they’re having a Jewish voice being brought to the stage.

Being both a woman of color and Jewish, what has your experience been with casting and the rehearsal process during productions?

There’s so much complexity to being Jewish, there’s so much complexity to being a woman, there’s so much complexity to being a woman of color, and if we put all of those together you get a very deep and rich character that you can create and build on. I would definitely appreciate more characters like that. I tend to do shows that have mostly African American casts, and there's usually this culture that is very Christianity based. Like praying as a group before we go on stage. I’ve found it very tricky to find my footing in those situations and the other day at rehearsal, I said ‘oy vey’ which is something I say all the time, and it slipped out of my mouth and one of my cast members was like, ‘what, are you Jewish?’ and I was like… “yeah, I am”. And it was just this weird interaction because I don’t think people expect that from me because they have probably never met a black person who is Jewish. I mean, besides Sammy Davis Jr. I think people have a hard time coming up with someone. In particularly in the African American community, the default is Christian and we’re going to assume that if we’re all in a room together then we’re all Christian and that’s just the way it is. It has become a bit more challenging for me as an actor in [the African American] community because there is always that assumption. Now I actually have to tell people that I’m Jewish, not that I don’t want to tell people, but why should I have to have this conversation with you about my faith so you don’t automatically assume that I’m Christian? So to have the opportunity to work on a play where the story of a Jewish person of color was the meat of it, it would feel so different and freeing. Whereas every time it’s a discussion and a debunking of people’s assumptions.

What has been your favorite role you’ve been able to portray? Why?

That’s such a hard question! I would have to say, I’ve done a lot of great roles and I’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of great directors. One of my favorite directors, Summer Williams, cast me in the show I’m in now and, I mean maybe it’s because this is the character at the top of my head right now, but the character I’m playing in Leftovers, Raquelle, she’s freaking amazing. She’s a mom, I’m a mom now, so I think I come at it with a very different approach than I would have before becoming a mom. And she has two sons and a deadbeat ex-husband and just the things she says and experiences are so true to life. Yes, I’ve done a lot of character work on this person, but most of my character work has really been remembering my family members and the way that they act, respond, and raise their kids. This has been a pretty special role for me and I just fell in love with the play and with Raquelle. She has bits and pieces of every mother and grandmother in her.

What is a piece of theatre you have seen or read that really spoke to you as a Jewish woman of color?

My official journey to Judaism, because I did choose to convert as an adult of my own choosing and not because my spouse is Jewish--he’s not--was catapulted into high gear after I saw, The Pianist of Willesden Lane. I saw it at Emerson and it was a one-woman show and she was playing the piano and singing and talking about her mom’s life in Europe during the 1940’s. I got free tickets to it from a woman in my class, I was a teacher at the time, and I just remember walking out of that performance thinking “I’ve been seeking Judaism for a long time and me getting tickets to this random play at Emerson must be a sign”. The whole experience really moved me. That night I went home and started researching where I can start studying officially, I had been studying on my own sort of haphazardly. Yeah, it was a piece of theatre that sealed the deal for me and confirmed that I was making the right choice for myself. So I embarked on a very, very long conversion process, it was not easy, but it was all started by a piece of theatre. With anything, because I identify as multiple things, you know, African American, LGBTQ, and Jewish, and all these stories that deal with any of these identities tend to be sad, forlorn pieces of art. It’s definitely difficult to find art out there that speaks to me as a Jewish woman, a woman of color, and a queer woman that are authentic, but not the same story we’ve heard a million times over. It’s hard, though.

In the past few years, there has been an incredible, long overdue, push for racial diversity on Broadway. On the other hand, while there is definitely a rise in nuanced stories about race, most stories involving Judaism are very specific to historical contexts like the Holocaust or some version of Jewish exile. Coming from both of these communities, how do you feel about this and how would you like to see Broadway, and theatre in general, take responsibility for representing both of these communities?

I mean in the same way that you can go see plays with brown characters that aren’t all about slavery, or crime, or civil rights, I think there is a space out there to see plays about Jewish life. It should be just as normal. It doesn’t have to be about the Holocaust, but I think the real work has to come from the Jewish community. It has to come from playwrights who are writing plays that speak to them and who will self-produce or for the leadership in these companies to have Jewish stories on the forefront of their mind. I think racial equity and gender equity is right at the forefront of their minds. Every play they read, every season they put together, they’re thinking very quickly about those two things and that's great, they weren’t doing that however many years ago. But now we have to take a moment and be like, ‘okay, now that we’ve gotten this far let’s add another layer onto that’. Especially being a Jew of color it's even more complicated to ever see yourself depicted anywhere else outside of looking at myself in the mirror. You don’t see it on TV, you definitely don’t see it on stage. If we’re going to start representing Jews on stage then let’s talk about what that really looks like in America today.

Is there a personal experience you would like to share about how being a Jewish woman impacted an opportunity for you in your theatre career?

One of the things that I think has changed for me is that now when I work on shows I very quickly try to identify the other people who are Jewish. And I think in that way, it has built a community for me that I didn’t know that I had within this Boston theatre scene. I’m not sure how it happens, but I will have this moment with someone where we both identify with each other as both being Jewish and it just opens up this relationship because we’ll feel like we have this thing in common that not everybody else has. When I worked on a production of Barbecue at The Lyric, our stage manager was Jewish and one Friday night we brought challah and Shabbat candles and grape juice and invited the cast and crew to participate in celebrating Shabbat. It was a really special time and everybody got this window into what Jewish life can be like that they probably never would have known had they not worked on a show with someone who is Jewish. It’s little moments like that that I think have really shaped my experience as an actor. I hope for more of those types of experiences and connections.

What do you hope to see happen in the theatre industry in the coming years?

I think we are doing a really good job, of course, we could do better, at making sure untold stories from people of color and people who identify as LGBTQ are being put forward and produced. But, I do think that there needs to be a space for Jewish stories, Islamic stories, really anything that is not Christian based is not produced much. And if it is, it’s these war-torn, heartbreaking stories. We can’t forget what’s happened and what is happening, but where is just the regular, everyday story about my life where I just happen to be Jewish? I think that’s why shows on TV, like Transparent, were kind of groundbreaking, because you were watching a Jewish family in a very normal context. I hope to see what is happening in film and TV to begin happening on stage. I think it’s going to take Jewish playwrights really writing their stories and finding avenues to have those stories brought to life. If it’s not through the typical process of submitting plays, then it has to happen in some other, new way. Maybe I’ll be the one to create a space for the people who are writing those stories and give them the opportunity to share. I think there is space in our community for a company who focuses on telling Jewish stories from a Jewish perspective. Maybe we are at the beginning of that right now.