artist statement

Photo by Nico Fernandez

biography

I tell stories about outsiders who are in a psychic battle with their identity and at war with what should be home. 

I am the child of an Iranian immigrant who I’ve never met and the grandchild of an Irish Immigrant who practically raised me. I was not born into a nuclear family nor did I look like anybody in my family, so I was designated the outsider in our small, midwestern, mostly-white town. After 9/11, I became even more painfully aware that I would be seen as dangerous should my true identity be found out, and making theatre became my escape. On the cusp of my teen years, I started writing musicals centering disenfranchised characters who fought like hell to be seen and acknowledged. That sensibility has continued to permeate my work as I’ve matured as an artist. 

American society is all about heroes, winners, and celebrities. As a result, we as individuals have become obsessed with perfection. We’ve become so scared of our flaws that we feel like we have to bury them or be canceled. I combat this American mindset by giving my characters, ranging from Hollywood icons to immigrant students, the right to be complex, messy humans, and for that to be enough for us to care. As a Bohemian city dweller who’s spent most of my career working at restaurants and non profits, I am also drawn to the trials and tribulations of normal people trying to form alternative communities in reaction to the American white heteropatriarchy status quo. Despite good intentions, they are still impacted by this ethos of American perfectionism. I am fascinated by the ways our ethics and egos are tested in these settings, and how that is revealed publicly and privately. I am also heavily influenced by my deep love of movie musicals (such as Moulin Rouge and Chicago), and Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s ensemble based realism style. 

What’s unique about my work is that I create my plays with a carefully curated ensemble of actors. Together, under my authorship, we tear apart existing classics (films, plays, short stories, and novels), or nonfiction pieces (biographies, political screeds etc.), and rebuild a story centering the themes we want to explore and the tropes we want to subvert. Usually these are centered around alternate endings for female characters, which are normally tragic.   My plays are often described as cinematic and very energetic. They consist of short and long scenes, intercut with montages, silent moments, and sometimes dance sequences. At times playful and swift, I don’t shy away from stillness and intimacy. Some of the descriptors critics have used for my work are “Millennial Bloodbath (Kevin Greene, NewCity Stage )” “Blurring the lines between surrealism and destruction (Danielle Levsky, NewCity Stage)” “Ripped from the headlines urgency (Dmitri Samarov, Chicago Reader)” 

Olivia Lilley is a playwright, director, filmmaker, and producer who came up in Chicago's DIY scene. She uses a devised process to create and develop her plays that she's been honing since 2013. Olivia's work often ransacks classics (films, plays, novels) or non fiction with a collective and builds a new story for the current moment. Olivia fights American perfectionism by telling stories about complex and messy characters, subverting tropes, and giving alternate endings to women who are traditionally tragic. She often collaborates with choreographer Kelly Anderson. Olivia is Artistic Director of Prop Thtr. She was the founding Artistic Director of The Runaways Lab Theatre (Voted Best New Theatre Company in the Chicago Reader's Best of 2014) and currently sits on their advisory board. She's an Artistic Associate at Pivot Arts, and she's curated at The Museum of Contemporary Art. She's the Creative Director of Pop Magic Productions. Olivia’s feature screenplay “The Snowpeople” was selected for Full Spectrum Features Producers’ Lab 2020. Her short "Amanda" was a Semifinalist for Camera Ambassador's Community Builders Grant. Olivia attended Carnegie Mellon School of Drama for Directing, and Interlochen Arts Academy for Music Composition. 

Photo by Olivia Lilley

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