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A Conversation with Lucy Alibar and Neel Keller


Lucy Alibar in “Throw Me On the Burnpile and Light Me Up” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

We interrupted Throw Me On the Burnpile and Light Me Up writer and performer Lucy Alibar and director Neel Keller in the midst of rehearsals and asked them to explain what makes this play a totally unique piece of theatre for the Center Theatre Group Podcast. Listen in full or enjoy the edited excerpt below. Throw Me On the Burnpile and Light Me Up is onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through October 2, 2016.

Neel Keller: Lucy, when did you realize that your childhood was remarkably different in some ways than most people’s childhoods, and that it would be of interest to people to hear about?
Lucy Alibar: It might have been the reaction to Beasts of the Southern Wild, and just hearing aspects of the South that people didn’t recognize. Like how you have Deer Day at school, where that day of school’s off because it’s the first day of hunting season.
And there’s always someone who doesn’t come back to school the next day because they’re in the hospital getting buckshot pulled out of their…
I think it was actually more that people, no matter where they were from, would relate to certain aspects of it—the weird teachers and that sense that you have as a kid that adults who are in positions of authority are actually unqualified to be there. It’s all about being a kid, and you’re basically a prisoner to these crazy people.
And what have you found that is different, as we worked on it, about making it into a theatre piece versus a film or a book?
In film there’s a push to show and not tell, and as much as I enjoy doing that, what gets lost is sometimes this storytelling aspect—which I think is a very southern thing—where the story becomes this larger-than-life tale that’s embellished. The feeling I wanted you to have is that you’re talking with your friend at a bar, or even that person you don’t know at a bar—not that I’m at a bar, but—
—how do we make people in the theatre feel like they’re at the outdoor patio of a bar or at a barbeque in some friend’s backyard?
Yeah, the barbeque aspect was really important.
I think it’s about you being able to conjure up and relive the emotion of the humor and the drama of those stories, but be telling them to us. We never pretend that the audience is not there. It’s not that kind of theatre at all. It’s very much direct storytelling.
I forgot at some point that other people would be hearing these stories, and that I’d be telling them. They started out as just me writing about my childhood.
So how much of these stories are true?
Did we have approximately 8,000 feral cats? I remember there being so many cats everywhere. It feels like a child’s truth, in a way, and that to me is the key of this story: that she believes that this is true, that you’re absolutely hearing this from a 9-year-old looking out at this world and explaining it to you.
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