By Linnda Durre’
Lance Griffin, 26, is a playwright who will have a shortened version of his full length play, “A Timely Affair” making its world premiere on Friday, April 17 & Saturday, April 18 at 8 PM and matinees on Saturday and Sunday April 18 & 19 at 2 PM in the “The Five Minute Play Festival” at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Loch Haven Park.
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up, and how you became a writer as well as a certified yoga instructor.
I grew up in a coal town in Kentucky on the Ohio River. Limited opportunity, small town mindset. I grew up in a Catholic family- my grandma is the choir master, my aunt works for the church, my uncle as well. So I went to Catholic school until fourth grade, which was terrible - just a terrible experience all around. One time I neglected to do my assignment in the fourth grade. The teacher was walking down the rows collecting the assignments. The kid in front of me said that he had accidentally left his at home. She said OK; just bring it in next time. I decided I was going to be honest, and I told her “I forgot to do it.” She grabbed me by the arm, jerked me out into the hallway, screamed in my face, and made me stand in the hallway.
As a kid I always sort of perceived things more deeply than the people around me; at least that’s how it felt. Sometimes I felt things were wrong, but I didn’t have a voice because I was a kid, and the adults “knew better.” That’s basically how it’s been my entire life, now it’s just with my peers since I’m an adult.
I started practicing yoga when I was about 13, because it was a nice way to release tension. I was struggling a lot - the first time I thought of suicide was in a Wal-Mart when I was 11. So I got into yoga, studied alternative spirituality type stuff, and it helped, it was therapeutic. But I’ve always been a writer. Before I really knew how to write I drew. Once I learned how to write, the rest was history…from the time I could form sentences I was writing stories.
Did you write poems, essays, scripts, novels?
A little bit of everything. Not so much scripts early on- it was more short stories. I read so much - just ridiculous amounts of books. I got the award in middle school for the most reading points in the school (they made us read and take tests on books to score points). So I was imitating more or less the fiction that I read.
Once I got into high school is when I really started writing scripts. Throughout high school, I did nothing but make elaborate films for every assignment, so everyone knew me. I wrote the films so I was always the lead - I wrote myself as a tragic hero almost every time. I’d drag my friends out and make them act.
Did you get a lot of encouragement from teachers?
Yes and no. It helped that I was very smart. I’m not saying that to be arrogant, it’s just the way it was. I was in the IB/AP program; I got A’s without trying. So the teachers definitely made allowances for me. A couple of them were very supportive and encouraging. My economics teacher teamed up with me to make educational videos, for example.
You moved from Kentucky to Florida, which was quite an adjustment.
Yes, I was 13 and we moved to the coast, Merritt Island, and it was a tough transition. It takes me a long time to make friends. So I’d finally made friends that I felt like were actually good people for basically the first time in my life. Also my maternal grandma - I didn’t want to leave her behind. She provided a safe haven for me, and that’s where I did all my creative work as a youngster.
Your parents struggled with alcohol. And it wasn’t passive alcoholism, where people just nod off and are incapacitated. It was more belligerent.
Yeah. It was probably more like alcohol abuse. My parents worked hard. They made money and accomplished a lot, including starting successful businesses. But it was usually 3-4 nights a week, and yes, it would often be loud and belligerent. Maybe it affected me more deeply because I’m a sensitive type.
What did your Dad do and did he want you to join the family business?
My Dad was a general contractor in construction. My Dad hated it towards the end of his life. He didn’t want me to be a part of his business, because he didn’t want me to be miserable. Also, in the last five or so years of his life, he rekindled his passion for music and performed with various rock bands. His untimely death last year shook my soul.
Did you get a college scholarship?
After high school, I could go anywhere I wanted. Anywhere in Florida was free tuition. I might’ve had to pay if I went out of state, I’m not sure. So I went to the University of Florida. I was young and really tormented about figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. It was like this question that I had to answer. So I tried a few different things. I tried English, thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be a writer. And I like reading.” But the creative writing classes were awful, and it was mostly analysis and categorization of other people’s art, which was OK, and helpful in some respects, but I didn’t feel like it was training me to do what I wanted to do.
So I decided to study theater instead. Actually I saw a flier for an audition, and I decided what the hell, just for fun. I got a callback, but I missed it because I thought they were literally going to call me. The real thing was the adrenaline and the experience felt so life-affirming, I knew I wanted to do it again. So I majored in theater and graduated from UF in April 2010.
They have a good theater department at UF. How many productions were you in there?
They do have a good theatre department. It was a blast. I probably acted in six plays while I was there. The first one was Marisol by Jose Riviera and I played Ice Cream. Even though I was in an environment that was much more conducive to creativity, I was still depressed. It’s funny, because even though I was in that environment, I was so painfully depressed…I still functioned, I was a functional depressive. I acted in six plays, including one that we took to the St. Augustine Amphitheater. Between acting in the plays, I was also constantly doing scenes in class, directing, and acting, and other various trainings. My last year there was the best, after I sought help for the depression.
I wrote as well in a playwriting class, and even though I skipped a lot of classes, she gave me an A because my play was good. That same play was accepted into the New Works Festival there, and they produced it.
What happened when you graduated?
Once I graduated, I went to teach English in Guatemala. I was there for six months with an NGO (non-governmental organization) in a school in the jungle for kids who otherwise would have no opportunity. Then I came back to the U.S. and I got a job at Starbucks because I needed money. Then after working there, I took all of the money I’d saved up and traveled a little. I went to California, Hawaii, Texas, then back to California, and I decided I wanted to live in Central California in Davis, closer to Sacramento, where UC Davis is. I continued working at Starbucks – 40 hours a week and I also got a part in a play so I took the bus to rehearsals.
Then I decided I wanted to teach yoga. I wanted to get out of that café job at Starbucks. So I took the train and I went down to Southern California, took out a loan, and got my yoga certification. I was pretty much out of money at that point. My great-grandma died so I flew back to Kentucky for the funeral. I didn’t have any money left. And she was almost 90, and she didn’t leave me any money. Probably it was all used up on birthday cards over the years.
After the funeral, I came back to Florida and lived with my parents for a while. I snagged a job at a factory, just to get some cash. When I had some cash saved up, I went to Costa Rica to teach yoga there and it was an absolute blast. Best place I’ve ever been in my life. So friendly, such beautiful nature…just a little Eden, really. Then I got into grad school at UCF. I decided I wanted to learn more about the science behind yoga so that I could become a better teacher. And all through this my writing continued. Yeah, writing never really stops. I must confess though that the science of what I had to do was taking over at one point. I was in a Masters Program and I had a different mind set - the left brain, I guess you could say - analyzing research papers, memorizing things, and what not.
So you have the ability to be a left brain and a right brain thinker. You can switch gears. Most people cannot do that at all. So let’s focus on your play that was accepted into The Five Minute Play Contest. How did you hear about it and why did you decide to enter it?
The theme was “Time Passes.” I wanted to do it, so I let the words “Time Passes,” float around in my brain for about a week, week and half, and then I started writing. It was early February. The deadline, I believe, was February 20. And I was told it was accepted into the Play Festival on March 4. Each play is only five minutes long. There is just nothing like seeing your play produced, even if it’s short. It’s amazing.
What are you working on and what are your goals and dreams for the future?
I’ve got five short screenplays that I plan to develop. But I’ve been focusing on this play I’m developing, to be honest. It requires all of my love and attention. Dreams do come true. It’s such an amazing feeling. You can say dreams come true and you want it to come true for years and years, then it finally happens, and there is just awe.
To be honest, I’d like to be an established writer – a playwright and screenwriter. My heart is in the theater more than film just because it allows me a little more freedom of expression as an artist and a lot more control. If I want to, I can sit two actors at a table and have them talk for an hour and a half. That’s difficult in film. Yes, control, respect, that good stuff. There are great films, and I’d like to write a great film, of course. I’d also like to be published. One of my dreams is going into a bookstore and seeing something with my name on it. Someone called me, “Fred Astaire with words.” That’s flattering!
He is playwright to watch for. Clever, witty, and thought provoking. Broadway – take note!
©2015 Linnda Durre' , All Right Reserved