Game On: An Interview with Great Leap Playwright Lauren Yee

By Joy Meads

As The Geary Theater prepares for the opening night of Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, we caught up with Lauren (and her father Larry!) to learn more about the stories that inspired her.

Lauren, how did you take Larry's basketball stories and turn them into a story for the stage?
Lauren: Those basketball stories were a part of the family lore I never really investigated. It was only when I was thinking about what I might write for Denver Center for the Performing Arts that I really dug into these stories. And in going back to talk to my dad, I’ve discovered that I wrote some of these things in without even knowing it was in his story.

Lauren Yee, award-winning playwright of The Great Leap.

Larry, how did your relationship with basketball begin?
Larry: When I was about seven years old, I started playing at a playground in Chinatown. Then I played pick-up basketball at the local rec center , which is now called the Betty Ong Rec Center. They used to put on a Chinese New Year tournament. Well, I won a few tournaments, so I was recruited to play in Taiwan in 1977. We had a coach from UCSF. They were a professional team, we were a pick-up team.

Lauren, when you decided to write a play about basketball, did you know how you were going to dramatize the sport?
Lauren: I didn’t, because in spite of my father being very athletic all three of his kids never took after him. Basketball is a sport I never really appreciated. So there was a lot of catching up I had to do to write this play because, in addition to it being a play about basketball, it is a play where basketball is reflected in the storytelling, the vocabulary, the staging, and the visuals. Even though you know you're not seeing a traditional basketball game played onstage, there’s the same excitement and tempo and rhythm that you get when you're watching a game.

How did you build that into the play?
Lauren: The structure of the acts and how quickly characters get into scenes and say what they want—that feels to me very much like changes of possession in basketball. A lot of the scenes feel as though they happen in transition as one team gets the ball and they're trying to hurtle down the court to score.

We think of basketball as an American sport, but it’s just as popular in China.

Lauren: China has had basketball almost as long as America has. It was brought to China in the late 1890s. It’s a sport that in Mao Zedong's eyes really reflected communism. Everyone plays with the same goal. It's about people working together—there's nothing more Chinese than basketball.

Want to read more of this interview with Lauren Yee? Pick up a copy of Words on Plays at The Geary or online. The Great Leap runs at The Geary Theater through March 31. Get your tickets today.

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