Date of Interview: September 6th, 2017
Name: Olivia Lilley
Location: Chicago, IL
How often do you bathe or shower?
Every day. I have a pool in my building, an indoor pool so I tend to get back from rehearsal and I will go and dream down there and play some dumb pop music and then shower. And that’s pretty much my showering for the day. I go down to the pool. I swim and then I immediately go upstairs and shower. It’s the routine since I moved into that place. Before I lived in a garden unit in Logan Square and we had a bathtub. It was kind of gross and one day the ceiling caved in so that was a hard week for showering. We thought we heard an avalanche and it was just like yeah. It was the ceiling into the bathtub. The scary thing was I was about to take a shower and I got distracted [laughter]. This could be a much sadder story.
If you were an underwater creature, which creature would it be?
I would probably be a starfish. I like the way they move. It’s pretty beautiful. They don’t really move a lot but they seem pretty content where they are and they look good where they’re sitting [laughter] in the coral reef or whatever.
Do you appreciate when people only move with meaning?
Yeah. I do. I live in Chicago, not New York. Like, in New York everyone’s just moving because they think–They’re moving, moving all the time, because they think that means they’re getting something done. But I think that’s kind of a myth and often if I’m moving way too much I’m just a total mess and I don’t know where I am. I like when I have a little room for being pensive in my life in order for my work to happen. Standing still in order to move.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about giving voice to other people but in a way that doesn’t shut out my own. I’m a theater director and maker and so often times as director, these weird negotiation happen and I often devise so I’m either writing literal characters with the actors. Asking them well, what do you think? What do you think they do here? Or and through their imaginings, it’s really great to be able to write something because it feels like a symbiotic relationship. But I have to be careful not to fully take away their voice and misunderstand their voice and when they say I’m wrong and I’m going in the wrong direction, I have to listen. I have to be humble like that otherwise they won’t be true. It’s a constant balance. It’s a constant trying to carefully understand the people I’m working with. I try to really hear them. I don’t want to misunderstand and then not have an opportunity to know I’m wrong.
How did you fall into that line of thinking?
Well, I think before I was the director. I was a composer. I wrote musicals in high school. And I went to music school for music composition. And I went to this kind of awesome boarding school arts academy environment. And I had my music composition teacher– I was coming from small town Illinois. And it was a miracle if there was one person in my class that was in the arts anyway. And now suddenly, I was surrounded by all these amazing people from all these amazing backgrounds. But the worst of it was my composition professor because I’d walk into his office. I always remember he had this picture, this picture of him and one of his former students, his former student that won a young arts or presidential scholar of the arts and for writing the most atonal bullshitty music and who had gone to Julliard. And it was some white man. It was his crowning joy and we were all supposed to live up to that. So I’d walk in. Because when I was a senior, I was working on this vast opera about the Bolshevik revolution. So I was constantly working out material. I wasn’t often going, “Here’s a string quartet. Here look at this.” I was working out themes and variations and harmonies. And so I would give him my notes and he would just refuse to look at them and not teach me anything and basically just be acting like what I was presenting him with was the worst thing in the world. And I think that comes from that very macho mentality of break them down so that you can build them back up. And really, that just made me not want to write music ever again. So when I went to drama school, something that I realized is that the arts don’t have to always be horrible and vindictive all the time. And there was one time– but I mean, that still existed, that breakdown mentality, that kind of stereotype with the Russian male director who’s just like, “You’re shit!” So there was one time in director’s colloquium where a girl was talking about a quote that Stanislavsky, he’s an acting forefather of the modern– Yeah, you get it. But he used to yell at his actors from the back of the theater, “I don’t believe you.” So I got this tattoo. I’ll show you. And it says [foreign] in Russian. And it means, “I believe you.” So to me, that means “encourage people and the way to get people to get better is not to tell them that they’re shit. It’s to let them know that there is something great within them and to break that open and try to get rid of all that bullshit that standing in their way. That’s my story [laughter]. While I’m simultaneously trying to help, I’m also trying to not let my voice disappear and trying to get all the stuff that’s in my way out of the way too.
What do you think of relationships, platonic, sexual, and otherwise?
I really like them. I am in a long-term relationship with a partner who I first met in 2011. And when I first met them, I knew they were the one and they didn’t. And it ended pretty badly. We were friends and I was like, “I think I really like you,” and he was it’s like, “I’m confused. I’m still angry about some girl over there.” And then in the year 2015, we found each other across the country in a long-distance form. And then I moved out to Connecticut with him for like three months. And then I got him to move to Chicago. And that’s who I live with in a building with a pool. And so I always felt like Jake, my partner, we were supposed to be together. And there were definitely times in my life, after I met him, that I was like, “Okay, no. I’m just being crazy.” And I was wondering if the person I thought he was, was the person he really was. And so I kind of found out– all right. I’ll tell you a story [laughter]. In 2013, two weeks into us dating, he invited me to this mansion in the woods of upstate New York. So all of his friends from college have this thing called a shore party that they do every so often. They rent a giant mansion. They do a bunch of drugs. And they wear a lot of costumes and do lectures, and stuff. So Jake was like, “I’m going to buy us acid [laughter].” So he bought us acid. And we were sitting in a basement and we’re about to do it. And I was like, “Jake, we need to do this together.” Because he was like– because when we got to the party he started being a douche bag. He started being like, “Look, we don’t have to be together this whole trip. I can go this way–” And it’s like, “Asshole. You invited me to a party where I know no one. And you know everyone. That’s absolutely not fair at all [laughter].” So I got him to be like, “Okay. We’re going to do this acid trip together.” So we took the acid and it kicked in. And we went on this crazy journey where we worked through all of our subconscious bullshit. And he realized he was in love with me. And I also realized he was the person I thought he was. And then we kind of never looked back. Back to the monogamist and relationships. I feel like that’s been my experience. But I don’t think that’s like everyone is going to find that experience. I also feel like polyamory is completely possible and great. And if I ever found myself in that position then I would say yes to it. Yeah. I just think it’s all personal. But I think humans are not meant to do one or the other thing. It’s a completely unique journey. And I love working with people who, in creating theatre or whatever, or any sort of art, people who have a completely different experience. And then the challenge of how to work with them to render that experience on stage. And especially experiences that aren’t often depicted. And how to try to not make assumptions. And when I do make assumptions listen when they are correcting me [laughter].
What are your thoughts on familial and platonic relationships?
I would say I have a lot of friends. But sometimes I’m closer to some at certain points. And then some go away and then others come back. And then some people, it’s like you’re friends with them and it’s great. And then you realize there’s something fundamental that’s not going to be reconciled here so then you stop being friends. And I value those people as much as I value the people I talk to every day. Because even though maybe we crossed and didn’t– I don’t think that person is bad for not being able to be a good friend to me or me not being able to– it’s just that we don’t click. That’s something I guess I’ve learned since school: That most people are not really manipulative or bad. Everyone’s just got goals and sometimes they don’t align. And sometimes people go about things in totally different ways than you and that’s okay [laughter]