Playwright Profile

leslie slape

Leslie Slape

2022 New Voices Emerging Playwright

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Currently residing: Rainier, Oregon, since 1984

Growing up: I grew up in many small towns in Washington state, thanks to my dad’s job with the railroad. I graduated from high school in Cle Elum, in the Cascade Mountains near Ellensburg. I lived in Kelso and Longview before I got married. I also have a strong bond with Winlock, where my mom grew up and where I spent two weeks every summer with my grandparents.

Creative beginnings: I’ve always been a writer, musician and storyteller, and our parents took us to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a few times (when the slogan was “stay three days, see three plays”).

My playwriting draws from all of that, but especially from my imaginary play. I lived very much in my imagination as a kid. I tell a story called “The Toy Piano” about a memorable childhood experience that impacted my creative identity, particularly as a performer. It’s about how my dad saved the lives of some models and their photographer by getting them off the railroad tracks before a train came around the bend. He wouldn’t accept a reward, but he let them take me (I was 6) and my brother to buy Christmas presents. I chose an 8-key toy piano, taught myself to play a hymn, and played it in church. That was the first time I put myself and an audience into a trance. It scared me at the time, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson.

What nurtured your playwriting: My beloved friend Don Correll (drama instructor at Lower Columbia College) in 1998 asked me to collaborate with him on a new physical theatre play based on folklore and myth, with the common theme of caring for Mother Earth. I had been storytelling for about a decade then.

Seeing actors bring the images to life with their bodies was a thrill equal to the one I experienced when I played my toy piano in church. Seeing audience members return multiple times was incredibly empowering. I decided then and there that someday I would write a play that was entirely my own.

Stories you gravitate toward telling: I want to write plays that I would want to see. I’m drawn to stories that spark conversations, make people think, help them see and understand other points of view. I like characters that inspire me, especially people who struggle against the odds. I really like historical drama.

As a storyteller, the leading characters in my favorite stories are almost always women, so it surprises even me that my first solo play is about two men. But they inspire me in the same way that Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons inspires me.

Writing process: I take a notebook with me everywhere for freewriting. Sometimes I just make a list of ideas for plays. If something on the list triggers more ideas, I start freewriting a dialogue between a couple of characters. If I like it so far, I sketch out a general outline of a play and a list of characters. Then I start writing scenes. I’m in a writing group, so every other week I give them a copy of my latest scenes, and they give me feedback. I have a lot of actor friends, so when I have something I’d like to hear aloud, they’ve been great about doing that.

If it’s historical and/or based on real people, deep research is also part of the process. For The Harder Courage, I created a timeline. It started as one page and now it could be a book.

My favorite point in the process is when I feel possessed by the Muse. The only danger there, other than eyestrain and writer’s cramp, is that I will bore my husband and everyone else within earshot because I can’t stop thinking about the play.

Currently inspired byHamilton. I’m just amazed at how Lin-Manuel Miranda took it from reading a biography all the way to a fantastic musical based on a historical figure — and how he always keeps the kid inside him close to the surface.

I’m also inspired by Zelenskyy’s courage. I’m Ukrainian on my father’s side, so this war feels personal. As a former journalist, I know that ALL news is local — so as a playwright, I take my inspiration from everything in the world that stirs me in some way. If it means something to me, it will mean something to others.

Nature. I love trees, mountains, rain, flowing water... If I’m stuck, I get up from the computer and walk outside, or I take a drive in the pouring rain, and talk to myself. Then I write it down!

Currently in the works: I’m working on a one-act version of The Harder Courage for high schools to use in competitions.

I’ve got some other plays in progress, but none of them has captivated me to the point where the Muse takes over. One is about a 19th-century female reporter, but it has stalled. Another is a dystopian drama about some people who thought they were going to stay in a sustainable AirBnB, but a mysterious illness on the outside started killing people, and no one could leave the AirBnB. Not long after I began this, the world went into lockdown and everything just got way too real. I had to step away and write silly bake-offs for Zoom instead.

I am considering taking my Feather of the Firebird story (you could call it a dramatic monologue), which I performed at a storytelling event in 2021, and converting it to a play. It’s a 30-minute epic right now.

Most looking forward to at ANPF: Networking with other playwrights and other people in the theatre world.

Taking workshops that get me re-energized and playing with new ideas.

Having a much-needed break now that The Harder Courage has finally been produced, and using that break to start a new project.

Walking through Lithia Park. It’s been too long!