ED2022 Interviews ED2022 Theatre

Joanna Lipari: Activities Of Daily Living

By | Published on Monday 15 August 2022

The latest one person show to attract our attention here at TW Towers is ‘Activities Of Daily Living’ by US actress and writer Joanna Lipari.

When I heard about one of the primary motivations and themes for the show – the invisibility of older women – it struck a real chord with me, because I have heard so often from older friends and relatives about the sudden sense they had, at a certain age, that people were not really seeing, hearing or acknowledging them any more. 

Joanna’s show explores these themes through a mixture of storytelling, poetry and even some animation. As it’s been created and is performed by such an experienced actor with a long history of work both on stage and screen, I feel sure this show will be an entertaining and thought provoking experience.

I spoke to Joanna to find out more about the show and its creator. 

CM: Let’s start with content of ‘Activities Of Daily Living’ –  does it tell a story, or stories? 
JL: ‘ADL’ tells stories from my life. Spread over my entire lifetime. In addition to stories, there are poems exploring issues about love, anxiety, triumph, and living fully, each and every moment.

And there’s also two ‘think pieces’: ‘Spider Hatchery’, about how it’s difficult for us to truly remember who we were as children, so many decades ago. And ‘Twigs’, about how we are all so vulnerable in life, and the need for us to take care of one another.

CM: What themes are explored through the show? 
JL: So, as you can see from my first answer, there are many ‘life’ themes that are explored… some funny, some sad, some triumphant, some regretful, some painful and some joyful. They run the gamut of what us humans regularly experience during the course of our lives.

CM: What inspired you to write this? What made you want to tackle this subject? 
JL: Well, three things inspired it. I became a mother when I adopted my daughter at birth when I was 47, and as she was growing up, I would tell her stories about my life, and she loved them. And she made me promise to write them down so she could have them after I departed this Earth.

The second thing that inspired me was that, when I turned 65, I started to notice that I was becoming invisible in life. I mean, I could rob banks, I was so invisible. People discount older folks. They don’t see the LIFE in us – or even credit us – with having had a life. And that bothered me.

I wasn’t willing to wear the Old-Age Pensioner invisibility cloak, and I knew of many friends who didn’t want to put on that cloak either.

And the third thing was when I joined a theatre group, Rogue Machine Theatre, in Los Angeles, and they did an evening of storytelling as a monthly fundraiser. They asked me to participate and, in 2014, I wrote a story, ‘Divorce Is Hilarious, After You Stop Crying’.

My reading of the story was put on YouTube and went viral, getting over 14k views. Then a year later, they asked me to write and read another story. And this one – ‘Nuns, Jews And Negroes’ – garnered over 32k views. And well, that just started me writing stories.

So I found Beth Bornstein Dunnington’s ‘Big Island Writers’ Workshop’ in Los Angeles and I started writing these pieces.

CM: What made you think this would work as a show? Who is it aimed at and who do you think will love it? 
JL: At first, when I was writing these stories, I thought I might publish them in a book. And the aforementioned Beth Bornstein Dunnington was willing to edit the book.

But then, one day as we were chatting, she said: “What is it you most want to do?” Well, that’s always been easy for me: ACT!!! Being an actor has always been my dream in life. So Beth said “let’s make it into a show”. And she was willing to direct it.

As for my audience, well, of course, it appeals to middle aged and older folks. But my daughter started bringing in her young friends and we were surprised at how much they LOVED the show. And soon, my audience were truly spread from teenagers to the very old.

CM: So, from what you say, it was always the plan that you would perform this piece? What’s it like performing your own work? 
JL: Yes, I was always planning on performing it myself. And always to have a prologue and epilogue where I portrayed a very elderly, infirm person, to highlight the in-between life.

But I worried about what would make my show different, unique. What could I add that would really bring the audience into my stories? And that’s when I came up with the idea of animation.

It took more than a year. First, finding an animator. That was tough, but after searching and researching I found a young Canadian Animator, Anna Bron. I loved her artwork and her take on ‘Activities Of Daily Living’  was perfect! Over the next year, we worked together to develop her gorgeous and innovative animation.

What’s it like performing my own work? Pure joy. It’s very different from creating a character in a play or TV show or film. It’s my life. My story. But acting is acting, and it’s my job to bring the audience in on each story… on each version of ‘me’. Frankly, it’s been so much fun!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your career in general? How did you get started in the arts world and what drew you to this kind of work? 
JL: I always wanted to be an actor, from a very early age.

March 7th, 1955. I am not yet six years old. My family ate dinner early to be ready for the first ever live NBC broadcast of the musical ‘Peter Pan’ starring Mary Martin. We sat together in our living room as my dad opened the TV cabinet to reveal our black and white television.

The picture was grainy, but it didn’t matter. I was mesmerised. And when we were told to chant “I do believe in fairies” to bring Tinkerbell back, I did it with gusto, tears streaming down my face. I wanted to sing like Mary Martin. Fly around the stage like Mary Martin.

And so I decided that I was going to be an actor. I wanted to be a part of all that… part of the magical world of theatre and make believe. I was hooked, then, now, and forever more – a world of make believe, where imagination is as powerful as a buzz saw.

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of your career thus far?
JL: Frankly, it’s all been highlights. Even the auditions that I have done and didn’t get the part. Any day I get to act is a good day for me. I am very proud of all my theatre work. And then of course, all the TV and films.

I guess I’m most proud of the NBC series ‘Persons Unknown’, where I got to play a set of twins! The main twin was a nasty character who ran a secret government programme. It was so much fun! You can catch it on Amazon Prime! Yes, that’s the actor ever doing promotion!

CM: Can you see yourself doing more solo shows?
JL: Yes, I can. I’m already writing another show. This new one is very different from ‘Activities Of Daily Living’. It has multiple characters, and music… and of course, good, funny jokes.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
JL: I really hope to do more television in the future. I would love to be a recurring character on a TV show. Or get cast in a Broadway play. I love the idea of being part of a theatrical family.

CM: Have you been to the Fringe before? What made you want to bring the show here? 
JL: I have never been to the Fringe before. I’m a 73-year-old ‘first timer’. I always wanted to come to the Fringe, but Augusts were always a busy filming time for me, and as for performing here, I didn’t have a show to bring before now.

CM: Are you enjoying being in the Festival City? What are you getting up to when not performing? 
JL: Edinburgh is a spectacular city. Beautiful. Friendly. Stunning. I have had so much fun just walking around. And so much fun seeing other shows. I love the comedy… the new stand-up acts, but I do wish they had more regular theatre. And eating… yep, eating is a big thing for me. The food is delicious. All the different types of cuisine. I love it.

CM: What’s coming up for you next, once your Edinburgh run is over? 
JL: I will return home and continue work on my new show. And also, continue writing the novel I’ve started. It’s called ‘The Dauphin In The Asylum’ and is set in 1959.

The main character is a very introverted fourteen year old boy whose life is turned upside down when his father suddenly dies, and his mother takes a job at an insane asylum where all the staff live on the grounds. It’s a coming of age story and a lot of fun to write.

And of course, I’ll continue to audition and look for more acting gigs.

Joanna performed ‘Activities For Daily Living’ at Gilded Balloon Teviot at Edinburgh Festival 2022.

LINKS: joannalipari.com