An Interview with Alexis Scheer

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Alexis Scheer is hands down, one of the most accomplished theatre artists in Boston right now. A Miami native, Alexis is currently pursuing her masters at Boston University. For the majority of her life, Alexis has been heavily involved in the theatre industry. From founding her own theatre company, to writing award winning plays--Alexis is stripping away the notion that Jewish women can only thrive as performers. It was absolutely inspiring to sit down with the playwright, producer, performer, extraordinaire. 

How did you get involved with Off the Grid Theatre? What are they all about?

So, I founded Off the Grid in 2012 as an undergrad at The Boston Conservatory. I was a musical theatre major in a highly focused program, but there were other avenues of my artistry that I wanted to explore and work out. And I was surrounded by other students who wanted the same thing… so I started a company! It was entirely student produced work in those undergrad years, but when I graduated the company graduated with me. And so I started producing in Boston and you know, started paying people (laughs). Now I think we’re gaining a reputation for producing things that are slightly off mainstream. Plays that some of the bigger companies might consider too risky or that would leave their subscribers not too thrilled. As an artist and as a playwright, I like to think my audience is largely my generation. So what I really hope to do with my work is help raise this generation of theatregoers. I want a 20 year old to come to the theatre, see a show, and say, “oh I didn’t know theatre could do this, I’m gonna keep coming.”

What is unique about being a playwright?

I think it’s much more collaborative than people assume. As a playwright, I try and go into the room, whether it’s rehearsal or a workshop, with the thought that actors are it. They have wisdom about these characters that’s so integral to the development of new plays. At the end of the day, I’m trying to create a blueprint or map for a lived experience in real time and space. So being able to listen to my collaborators is critical. And it’s also fun! I’m building the playground so we can all play on it together.

What is the inspiration behind Our Dear Dead Drug Lord? What do you think the future of that play looks like?  

I started writing the play a little over a year ago, and it was a combination of all these things that were swirling around in my head. My mom is Colombian, so Pablo Escobar is this weird, looming figure in my head always… especially once Narcos on Netflix became a big thing. I was also reading a lot of comic books during that time, Paper Girls and Bitch Planet, and thinking about being a young angry teenager. I also think a lot of the work being created now is somehow in response to our political climate and I wanted to address our current situation, but I don’t really have the distance needed to articulate anything worthwhile. And Lila Rose Kaplan, another wonderful playwright who you should totally get on this blog, talks about tilting reality in order to actually speak to it. So the play takes place in 2008 during the Obama election cycle and the girls that populate the play are on varying ends of the political spectrum, and then there’s magic of course.

I head to Chicago next week for a workshop and reading of it at the LTC Carnaval of New Latinx Work and I’m hoping I can connect to people who are excited about the play and it’s future. And then I come back from that and a day later I’m in rehearsal for the Boston workshop production with Off the Grid. So this summer I’m really focused on development and getting the script in shape. And then it’s the dream to see this play live in NYC and then the regional theatre circuit, I think it’s so unlike anything else that’s out there. Then, eventually, I’d love to see it in the college theatre realm. I think a lot of my work is me trying to write the types of roles and scenes I wish I could have done in high school and in college. In high school, I went to the insanely wonderful New World School of the Arts, I remember choosing to work on Harper’s scenes from Angels in America, god bless the teachers that okay-ed that, but I was always wondering where the meaty stuff was that was age appropriate and authentic and gritty. I feel like we’re now finally in this movement where great material for young women is being made like The Wolves, Dance Nation, and School Girls. It’s happening and I’m hoping to hop on and ride that wave.

What did it feel like to win the Improper Bostonian Magazine Rising Theatre Star Award?

(Laughs.) I mean, I’m just deeply humbled by it. It’s extremely cool to be recognized and also really exciting because I feel like it’s boosted my signal as an artist, so I’m really grateful to The Improper Bostonian for that. But, you know, it also makes me want to bury myself in work. They plugged Our Dear Dead Drug Lord and I was like, cool I better get started on those revisions!

Could you also talk a bit about your one-woman show, Chosen? What inspired it, excited you about it, called you to it?

Well, I went on Birthright (a free, ten day trip to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage) to really investigate my Jewish identity and I did that fully knowing I was going to use the experience to write a play. I feel like a lot of things I do, I do to get a good story out of it, (laughs) I don’t think that’s really great life advice. Anyway, the greatest surprise was how quickly I wrote Chosen. I usually let ideas and experiences percolate in the back of my head for a while. And this year my New Year’s resolution was to not start any new plays and focus on revisions for everything else I’m working on. Then in February, holed up in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere Connecticut, I ended up writing the first 30 minutes of this one person show that attempts to articulate the complicated and profound experience I had in Israel. And then I had the first full, 90 minute, reading of it in NYC with Sanguine Theatre Company the very next month.

To be honest, when researching your work before this interview, I was stuck scrolling, totally overwhelmed with all the quality work, and different types of work, you’ve produced at such a young age. What about your art keeps you motivated to keep creating?

Ah, you’re so nice, thank you! You know, someone extremely wise just told me we’re driven by divine dissatisfaction. And I think what really pushes me forward is the fact that what we do, all of us as artists, is impossible. We’re trying to articulate the human condition and you can’t really do that definitively. So my work is never going to be done.  

How would you explain your experience in theatre through the lens of a Latinx Jewish woman?

That’s such a huge question. I feel like I’m usually made to be one or the other, usually Jewish. And I’ve always struggled with feeling agency over my Colombian side because of the way I physically appear and my clumsy Spanish speaking. Sometimes I feel like two halves of something don’t make a whole of anything, which I think is a common theme amongst people with intersecting identities.

How do you think your Colombian roots and your Jewish roots intersect?

My go-to answer for this is guava hamentashens (a pastry associated with the Jewish holiday Purim, filled with a fruit paste). They’re great. But, beyond that I’m still trying to figure out how they intersect. I mean, I know they intersect, because I exist. I think something you can find in both cultures is a drive to persevere and a great entrepreneurial spirit.

What is a piece of theatre that spoke to you as a Colombian Jewish woman?

Okay, this is a shout out to Melinda Lopez. The first time I read Sonia Flew, the opening stage directions talk about the house, it’s the holidays and it describes the Christmas tree covered with Star of David ornaments. This was years ago and I remember that moment so distinctly.  It literally took my breath away, just that stage direction-- that was my childhood. It was this great validation of my identity. (laughs) I don’t think I ever told Melinda this story. I feel like such a nerd. Anyway. Yeah, Melinda Lopez is a rockstar.

What is a story you would write that you think could bring more nuanced representation of Jewish women to theatre?

Those are stories I’m definitely trying to write, especially with Chosen, which is a major investigation of my identity, because I am Jewish and Colombian. Writing more intersectional characters is something I want to do. There are some ideas for plays marinating in the back of my head that I think would be considered nuanced representation, but I can’t give away all my secrets to you.

Judaism is very based in the asking of questions. What is one question you like to ask yourself when writing, or a question you want your plays to ask audiences?

I love the idea that Judaism is based in the act of questioning. That’s something that came up a lot in Israel, cause I had questions about everything. And I think the intersection between Judaism and theatre is the question, ma nishtana. Why is tonight different from all other nights? It’s the question we ask on Passover. It’s the question I ask myself when I start a new play. Why do these actions occur now? And it’s the question I ask when I go to the theatre. Why this play? Why now?