- James Lantz
About five years ago, when Burlington playwright James Lantz was staging his first play, The Bus, Elysabeth Kleinhans had just built a theater in New York City. Her creation, called 59E59 Theaters, is an off-Broadway nonprofit dedicated to bringing innovative plays from around the country to a state-of-the-art, three-story complex at 59 East 59th Street. 59E59 has its own resident theater company, Primary Stages, whose mission since 1984 has been to produce new works and nurture emerging playwrights. What’s this got to do with Lantz? “59E59, was interested in The Bus,” he says. “But we weren’t ready.”
That was then; now, Lantz is getting another shot. The Bus has been accepted at 59E59 and will make its Big Apple debut on October 3 and run for a month. New Yorker Marc Tumminelli, who has acted in several productions at St. Michael’s Playhouse, will direct. Lantz, who is producing, hopes some Vermont actors will be cast, but he notes the difficulty of anyone with a day job taking the requisite time off, not to mention the expense of housing and transporting nonlocal actors. The venue subsidizes space and publicity — “With 59E59, you really are taken care of,” Lantz says — but he will need to cover the other expenses involved in producing a play. Lantz says he’ll begin fundraising soon.
At least a few roles will definitely go to New Yorkers: “I’ve rewritten the play to accommodate some younger actors — two 16-year-old boys and a 12-year-old girl,” Lantz says. He notes that he hired Tumminelli because the latter teaches kids “how to be Broadway actors” at the performing-arts organization he founded, the Broadway Workshop. In the original script, the teens were slightly older. The girl — a sister to one of the boys — did not exist. “I rewrote it primarily to extricate two other characters, and, for whatever reason, a little girl appeared,” Lantz explains. “There was a lot of testosterone in the play, and I thought it needed a female perspective.”
The Bus, which played to generally positive reviews in Burlington in 2006, explores “the confluence of gay teens, religion and homophobia in a small American town,” Lantz says. The New York run will coincide with National Coming Out Month (and Day, October 11). He’s also applied to take the play to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August.
Lantz is an award-winning commercial filmmaker and screenwriter with more than 200 productions under his belt; his unproduced screenplay Hide Fox — a murder mystery that features a spectral, chain-smoking Ayn Rand — won awards at eight national film festivals. Somehow he also manages to squeeze in teaching public speaking and writing at the Community College of Vermont.
Lantz has written three other plays, including American Machine, co-commissioned by the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in 2007. His website offers tantalizing hints about an upcoming work, Thrown Away Circus, previewed on Vimeo with accompaniment from Burlington accordionist David Symons.
“I was not particularly smart [about Thrown Away Circus],” Lantz says. “It’s a 12-person cast! I wrote parts for a lot of our best local actors.” For the first time, he incorporated verse into the dialogue, as well as fantasy. But local fans will have to wait until after the New York production of The Bus to see the result.
Lantz is humbly appreciative regarding his experience with The Bus and other local theater. “It all comes down to being grateful,” he says. “It’s an extraordinary thing that we have people in Vermont who support the arts.”