Person of the Week
Laura Copland: Calling the Plays
Former academic, attorney, and actress Laura Copland is tackling a new project: Presenting new plays through the Ivoryton Playhouse Women Playwright’s Initiative. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Taking a walk led Laura Copland down an unexpected path. The results will become apparent on Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4, when the Ivoryton Playhouse presents the first Women Playwright’s Initiative.
The playwrights’ program got its start when Laura and her husband Michael Pressman, new to the area, walked down to the Ivoryton Playhouse to buy tickets to South Pacific. They ran into Playhouse Executive Director Jacqui Hubbard and the two women discovered they had common interests. Laura spent about 15 years as an actress, appearing in everything from Broadway plays to commercials. As Laura and Hubbard became better acquainted, Hubbard mentioned that she regretted she had so little time to read new plays submitted for possible production. Laura volunteered to help with the job, adding that what interested her were works by women playwrights.
And so with Hubbard’s support and Laura’s determination, the Women Playwright’s Initiative was born. Laura put a notice on the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women’s website soliciting one-act plays. When submissions came in, however, they weren’t restricted to Connecticut authors. Plays, about 183 of them, came from authors throughout the United States, as well as from Canada, England, and Israel.
Laura and a team of about 35 readers with professional theater background winnowed the submissions down to 14 finalists and then to the four plays that will be presented, two on Friday night, March 3, and two on Saturday night, March 4. The four playwrights are not amateurs; they are award-winning dramatists whose works have been produced on stage and on television in this country as well as abroad.
Friday’s productions include Guenevere, an unexpected twist on the Arthurian legend; and Apple Season, a drama about the tensions released when a family comes together. Saturday’s two plays are Buck Naked, a story about the battle between propriety and propensity; and Intake, a chronicle of the relationship between a young psychiatrist and an aging patient.
The plays, produced by professional directors, will be followed by talkback sessions where the audience can give their reactions. The playwrights will also have the opportunity to pose questions to the audience. In addition to the talkbacks, Saturday’s performance will be preceded by a panel discussion with the playwrights, the directors, as well as Laura and Hubbard.
Laura says that growing up in Oceanside, Long Island, she always wanted to be an actress. She went to Kent State University intending to major in drama, but events overtook her plans. Student protest over both social conditions in the United States and the Vietnam War convinced her to change her major to political science and philosophy.
“I woke up every day and thought the world was coming to an end,” she recalls.
One day she woke up, looked out her window and saw a tank on campus, part of the occupation of the university by the Ohio National Guard that led to the killing of four students and the wounding of nine others.
Ultimately, Laura transferred to Brooklyn College, went back to drama, and, after graduation, spent two years in England at Bristol Old Vic studying theater. When she came back to the United States, her first role was as an understudy in a British import to Broadway, Otherwise Engaged. She played the part four times, her appearances as notable for her costume, or her lack of one, as her lines. She appeared topless.
Laura acted for 15 years, doing theater as well as commercials for, among other things, Bold and Mylanta.
“Here I was, dreaming of being a great Shakespearean actress, selling laundry detergent,” she says.
She left acting because she and Michael by now had twin daughters and she no longer wanted to travel.
“If you are a professional actor, you have to go out of town sometimes and I just didn’t want to go on the road,” she recalls
She met a woman who was going to law school, and Laura decided that litigating might demand some of the same skills as acting, so she attended Fordham Law School.
“I loved law school, but didn’t love practicing as much,” she admits.
After 10 years as a commercial litigator, she left law and decided to stay home with her daughters, who were by now seniors in high school.
“Then they went off to college, and then what was I going to do?” she asks.
What she did, through a job tip from her brother, was interview for a job as an administrator at the Eugene Lang College of the New School in New York City. She ultimately served there as assistant dean of the faculty.
Then, with daughters grown, she and Michael wanted to move from their longtime home in Tarrytown. They were looking in Pennsylvania when on a train, Michael, a television news producer, ran into a one-time Tarrytown resident Sam Tanenhaus. He and his wife Kathy Bonomi had just bought a house in Essex. Michael and Laura decided to look in Connecticut.
“We were astonished at how beautiful it was here, and we found a house we fell in love with,” she says.
Laura again found a new career when a neighbor told her she made recordings for audio books. Laura thought with her acting background she would be able to do that. She auditioned for one recording company, but didn’t qualify as a reader. To remedy that situation, she took a computer course, including Skype sessions, in how to read for audio. Now she has done audio versions of several books, from a murder mystery set in a hospital to a science fiction novel of vampires taking over Los Angeles.
She has her own studio, complete not only with recording equipment but also with a pack of gum, throat spray, and a clicker. She can use the clicker to indicate a mistake so she will know where to start again when she rerecords.
According to Laura, one of the joys of her new house is the space she has for planting. She has created a large butterfly garden in her front yard. A butterfly garden, at least for monarch butterflies, involves planting milkweed and waiting for the butterflies to arrive—some less glamorously as caterpillars. She inspects the garden every morning in the summer to see if there are new eggs on the plants. If so, she covers the eggs with a mesh sleeve so birds will not eat them before the can hatch.
As she looks forward to the Women Playwright’s Initiative next month, Laura is hoping to create an atmosphere that not only allows the audience to enjoy and to participate, but also one that gives the playwrights the feedback they need.
“I hope all their plays are enriched by this process,” she says.
Women Playwright’s Initiative
Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 4 with a panel at 5 p.m. and plays at 7 p.m. For tickets, call 860-767-7318. For more information, visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org/women-playwrights-initiative-march-2017.