Melbourne festival: A chat with Young Jean Lee

Young Jean Lea is one of America’s most acclaimed experimental playwrights whose intensely personal work is described as honest, darkly funny and touching.

We’re Gonna Die has four performances at the Melbourne Festival, starting on Wednesday 24 October. Part pop concert and part stand up cabaret, it’s an intimate story of her own personal tragedy, sung as quirky pop.

We had a quick chat with her about her artistic influences and inspirations.

Young Jean Lee
Young Jean Lee

Describe you show in three words?
Death, humor, and music.

Who shouldn’t miss your show?
Anyone who’s ever felt alone in their pain.

What other Melbourne Festival show will you NOT miss seeing?
I’d like to see the Gob Squad show, Before your very eyes.

What was the first festival you were a part of?
The Vienna Festival.

Apart from the Melbourne Festival, what festival would you love to be a part of?
I’d love to go to Japan or Brazil.

 If you’re new to Melbourne, what else are you looking forward to doing while you’re here?
When we went to the Sydney Opera House, I missed out on the Koala petting zoo, so I hope to hit one in Melbourne. (NOTE: can someone take her to the Healseville Sanctuary please.)

What’s one of the great things about performing in a festival?
The people who work for the festivals are so dedicated – those people work incredibly hard. (NOTE: Hell yes!)

What do you like to do when you have a day away from art?
Watch movies.

If you could invite anyone to see your show (and you know they would come), who would it be?
I would invite Barack and Michelle Obama to see The Shipment.

What is the best theatre advice you’ve received?
Tim Etchells from Forced Entertainment told me that all I had to do to be a successful artist was just survive over the years, since most people quit.

 What’s the worst (or best) thing a review has said about you or your show?
I try to block out the worst things. A critic for the New York Times didn’t like one of my shows and wrote a negative review, but in the review he gave me an amazing pull-quote about my being the most adventurous downtown playwright of my generation. I was pretty psyched about that.

What was the last book you read?
Paddington at Work. I read children’s books before I go to sleep because pretty much anything else gives me anxiety nightmares.

What was the last piece of theatre you saw that made you cry?
It was the last show I made, Untitled Femnist Show, and I cried after the premiere because I was so relieved it wasn’t a disaster. Otherwise, I don’t cry a lot in theatre shows.

What does art mean to you?
It’s something I love to experience and make, and it’s how I make my living.

Will anyone hate your show?
Some of my shows invoke a lot of audience ire, but this isn’t one of them. Some arty types get disappointed that it is so formally straightforward. Also, I remember hearing a woman in the restroom complaining about the show’s subject matter, which “wasn’t her idea of a good time”, which I thought was pretty funny.

What work changed how you make theatre? Why?
I’ve been very influenced by the Wooster Group, Richard Foreman, Richard Maxwell, and Mac Wellman. I’ve been influenced by their approach to non-linear dramatic structure and also their working process.

What is the first piece of theatre you remember seeing?
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum performed by a community theatre called The Summer Palace in Pullman, WA where I grew up

What director/actor/writer/creator would you just die to work with?
I’ve been obsessed with working with the actor Austin Pendleton for years, and he’s going to be in my next show, Straight White Men!

What do love most about your show?
I love it when people who have experienced recent tragedies in their lives come up to me after the show and tell me how much the show helped them.

We’re Gonna Die
Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company (USA)
24–27 October

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

One thought on “Melbourne festival: A chat with Young Jean Lee

  • A beautiful, funny and touching show not to be missed. Finishes tomorrow night ( Sat 27th) – who knew singing about death could be so much fun! JG


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