For Patrick Lazour, BC ’13; Sarah Lunnie, BC ’08; and Bryce Pinkham, BC ’05, Boston College served as a springboard to eventually becoming a playwright, dramaturg, and Tony Award–nominated actor.
All three were at different points in their careers, but last spring, they shared a common experience—the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted their careers. Despite the drastic effect of COVID-19 on the performing arts industry, all three have found new avenues to express their love for the performing arts and share it with their audiences.
Music and theatre surrounded Lazour’s life from an early age, he said.
“I always loved the theatre,” Lazour said. “I was a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan when I was a kid because my dad would play cassette tapes like Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, though I know Les Mis isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
Lazour first discovered his love for playwriting when he and his brother wrote their first musical for a middle school play competition.
“I think I really loved performance and theatre and all of that and my brother loved theatre but also music, and it was just sort of a match made in heaven, or a match made by our mother,” Lazour said.
Pinkham’s parents also introduced him to theatre early on. Theatre was a natural solution that came out of a parent-teacher conference during which Pinkham’s teacher said they needed to find him an outlet for his “reckless creativity.” His parents were quick to enroll him in a kids theatre.
Lunnie, though, had a later start to the performing arts—theatre entered her world at BC. When she began her freshman year, she had never heard of the word dramaturg, and certainly never imagined it would become her career, she said.
Scott Cummings, a professor in BC’s theatre department, introduced this term to Lunnie, and he quickly became a mentor to her, helping her identify what became her career path, she said.
A career in theatre became a more palpable reality to all three alumni during their time at BC.
For Lazour, his early passion for writing shows with his brother continued into undergrad, even though his brother was in New York studying music at Columbia University, he said.
Lazour’s political science and theatre double major developed his love for political theatre, he said. He co-wrote the show The Grand Room with his brother, which premiered during his senior year at BC. The play tells the story of an affluent family living on Cape Cod during the Great Depression, offering commentary on the economic crisis among the upper class.
Though this was his first time producing a show on this level, Lazour was inspired by the strength and confidence of the theatre department, he said.
The premiere of The Grand Room at BC gave Lazour the courage he needed to pursue playwriting as a career after graduation, he said.
“[The Grand Room] really served as a springboard for my time after school,” Lazour said. “I think it gave me a lot of confidence. I really believe that that step was sort of the first step in solidifying my collaboration with Daniel, my brother.”
For Pinkham, his experiences on stage at BC instilled a similar assurance—his passion for theatre could transform into a real career after graduation.
After entering his freshman year, the world of theatre drew Pinkham in, both socially and creatively. During his four years at BC, he appeared in nine different shows, and he was president of the Dramatics Society. For his work-study, he built sets and made costumes at Robsham Theater, he said.
His theatre experience at BC wasn’t exclusively success stories, though. When Pinkham was a sophomore, he starred and had a monologue in La Bête at BC, where he had his first experience entering the white room—a term performers use to describe the void one enters after forgetting their lines that may leave them mentally and physically frozen.
He performed his role in a way aimed at making his friends in the audience laugh rather than following the plot as the writers intended it to be acted. After he was unable to remember his lines, he put his head in his hands and squatted down on stage, completely breaking, which shifted his priorities on stage going forward, he said.
“I had done something selfish on stage,” Pinkham said. “I had made a particular moment about me, Bryce, getting a laugh from my friends rather than delivering on the playwright’s intention.”
ACT II: POST-GRAD LIFE
For all three alumni, the transition from BC theatre to trying to make it in the real world was heavily guided by the theatre department faculty. Cummings encouraged Lunnie to apply to intern at the Actors Theatre of Louisville during the summer before her senior year.
Another source of inspiration for Lunnie was English professor Elizabeth Graver, who was her thesis advisor.
“I really loved, not only the space to think about and sort of refine my own writing, and the generosity of her mentorship, and her sort of reader’s eye, but also building the muscle of engaging collaboratively with other people and their writing, [which] really turned into what I do,” Lunnie said.
Through her mentorship relationships with Cummings and Graver, Lunnie began to discover how theatre and writing could combine into a career.
After she graduated from BC, Lunnie returned to the Actors Theatre of Louisville to begin her career with a fellowship in the literary office. The fellowship was only supposed to last nine months, but Lunnie stayed in Louisville for five years.
The Actors Theatre of Louisville is known for its Humana Festival of New American Plays. Lunnie was tasked with finding new shows by current American writers for the festival and co-editing the Humana Festival play anthologies, which she fell in love with, she said.
After graduating from BC, Pinkham was accepted into the Yale School of Drama. The day after he graduated from Yale, he already had a rehearsal for a show. He was in Beyond Therapy, where he played an outlandish character who entered the stage only to get laughs.
He had always joked that he would work as a waiter after graduation, and here he was waiting tables—it was just on the stage.
After Pinkham graduated from Yale and Lazour graduated from BC, both further pursued their careers in New York City.
When Pinkham moved to New York, he worked three part-time jobs. Within nine months, he got his first gig in an off-Broadway show—Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Two years later, he made his Broadway debut in a production of that same show.
Despite these successes, Pinkham always wondered where and when he would receive his next paycheck. He promised himself that if by his 30th birthday he did not love the lifestyle of an actor, he would walk away.
“You never know where the money is going to come, and you never know where the success, however you would define success, would come,” Lazour said.
Despite the unconventional and unpredictable nature of working as a playwright in New York City, Lazour enjoys the autonomy that comes with his job, he said.
His schedule as a playwright is similar to that of a freelancer, he said. His days often begin with writing lyrics or dialogue. He then responds to emails or attends meetings, with more free time in the afternoon.
In 2019, Lunnie left her job as literary director at Playwrights Horizon, a nonprofit off-Broadway theatre, to freelance. Since then, she has collaborated more directly with a variety of individuals and institutions, she said.
As a freelance dramaturg, Lunnie’s day-to-day also never looks the same. Some days, she sits in on a rehearsal with playwrights and works with them on the script. Other days, she meets with writers in the earlier stages and helps them develop their ideas.
Lazour’s free time over the past years has been dominated by his most recent production, We Live in Cairo, which premiered at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., in 2019, he said.
“I was in the International Relations of the Middle East class [at BC], and I saw a photograph of all these students above Tahrir Square in Cairo,” Lazour said. “They were all uploading testimonials and photos from the protests below. After I saw that photo, I talked to [my brother], and we started.”
Once inspired by an idea, Lazour and his brother play around with generating songs, dialogue, and characters for the play, which he said is the best part because there’s no pressure.
In this stage, the pair create the world for the show and contemplate potential themes.
“[We ask ourselves] what are the things that get us excited, [what are the things that] get us angry?” Lazour said. “What about society do we think needs improving?”
Similarly, for Pinkham, the struggles of acting’s unpredictable and volatile nature have been complemented by moments that assure him to stay in the industry. At age 30, he had officially gotten the role of a lifetime—originating the role of Monty Navarro in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder on Broadway.
After his initial audition and callback for the show, Pinkham was scheduled for a chemistry read with his co-star Jefferson Mays, who he had long looked up to. The day before the read, he was at his sister’s wedding in California. While on the plane to New York, he flipped to the first lines of the play that his character has—“October 19, 1909.”
“I hadn’t flipped to the first page before this … October 19 is my birthday,” Pinkham said. “When I saw that opening line … that’s when I knew I had it.”
In 2014, he received a Tony nomination for best lead actor in a musical, and the musical itself won best musical. He was finally able to pay off student loans and had validation for what the voice in his head had been telling him for so long, he said.
“I had finally proved it to myself,” Pinkham said. “It gave me a great deal of confidence because I knew I could lead a Broadway show and help win it a Tony award. It gave me license to trust myself, to know that I belong here with all of these people. The entire experience was monumental.”
COVID-19: CLOSING THE CURTAIN
All three BC alumni’s careers have had their share of freedom and unpredictability, which was only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. With Broadway shut down, the theatre industry has had to find other ways to support itself.
The daily tasks for many in the theatre industry have shifted, according to Lazour. His meetings with individuals potentially interested in his show have all become virtual and his days of writing in cafes are over, at least for now, he said.
Although We Live in Cairo closed before the start of the pandemic, Lazour and his brother wanted to find a way that fans could enjoy the music from the show from home. They released an album titled Flap My Wings with singer-songwriters and activists from all over the Arab world singing the songs from We Live in Cairo.
“We were like what if we invite all of these activists, the songwriter activists who are integral to our show, like they were inspirations for the characters of our show, and their music was inspiration for the score of the show,” Lazour said.
They emailed Hamed Sinno, a Lebanese-American vocalist and songwriter, and Ramy Essam, who was coined “the voice of the Egyptian Revolution.”The artists were given liberty to interpret the songs however they wanted, and the Lazours produced the tracks and combined them to form the album.
“These artists are extremely busy, but because of the pandemic, everything shut down, so it’s like, ‘Why not collaborate on something like this?’” Lazour said. “It just ended up that everyone we asked said ‘yes’ to the project.”
The album was produced remotely, with everyone recording it in their homes. This resulted in a global album with songs produced in Mexico, Paris, Cairo, California, and Boston.
Last March, at the beginning of the lockdown, Lunnie was in Louisville working on a play in the Humana Festival. On March 12, half an hour before curtain, she found out that the show had been canceled. Like most people, Lunnie did not realize how drastically her life was about to change, she said.
Despite the challenges of being a dramaturg in a time without live theatre, Lunnie has been able to find work. Before the pandemic, she worked on audio adaptations of shows that had productions in New York, leading to the opportunity of doing the audio for the theatre division of Audible—an audiobook streaming service.
She also continued working by producing audio adaptations of two plays—Good Grief by Ngozi Jane Anyanwu and Transfers by Lucy Thurber.
“That was really helpful, to be working on things in the belief that they will have a life when we can gather in person again,” Lunnie said.
Despite the challenges the pandemic poses to the entertainment industry, the silver lining for Pinkham is that he spends more time with his kids, he said. When he does have time to himself, ideas for future projects revive him in this stagnant time.
Pinkham is hopeful for the future of the profession, he said. The time away from the theatre—and the events that have occurred in between—has allowed the industry to begin cultivating a better version of the American theatre, he said.
He said he predicts that new situations that audiences have undergone in the past year will be brought to the forefront when theatre returns. This is especially possible through donations to charities from those who enjoy live performances, music, and art, including The Actor’s Fund, The Sable Project, and other organizations that support emerging Black artists across the country. Most of all, Pinkham said he is excited to be back, whether it is on the stage or in the audience.
“With a family, I’ve considered choosing a working life that is more stable, but I don’t think that I’ll ever stop wanting to perform,” he said. “It’s my drug of choice; I just throw myself to the wolves of live performance and try and come up with something that will make people laugh or cry or somewhere in between, and that’s enough of a rush for me.”
Featured Graphic by Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor
Photos courtesy of Patrick Lazour, Sarah Lunnie, and Bryce Pinkham