Three years ago, Florida panhandle-raised Lucy Alibar was a struggling playwright working multiple jobs in New York City when she penned "Juicy and Delicious," a highly personal Georgia-set tale inspired by her dealings with her father's ailing health. Soon after, the play became the basis for Benh Zeitlin's film "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was nominated for Best Picture and landed Alibar a nomination for best Original Screenplay, which she shared co-writing credit on with Zeitlin.
Last Thursday, things came full circle for Alibar when she returned to her alma mater, NYU, to accept the Woman of the Year award at NYU's Fusion Film Festival and stage a live reading of "Juicy and Delicious." Indiewire caught up with the young writer to talk about her new-found career in screenwriting, including adapting "The Secret Garden" for Guillermo del Toro, finally meeting Tony Kushner, and her brushes with Oscar celebrity.
So you attended NYU in ETW, the experimental theater program. Did you do any film work while you were there? Did you act in film or anything?
I didn't actually know anyone at the film school. They kept us very sequestered; we didn't have time to do anything else. We were our own entity; they called us the Naked Studio. People would get naked for, well, for their projects but really for anything.
"I always thought playwriting was this very unattainable, perfect thing that I could never get to."
When you were growing up in the Florida panhandle, how did you stumble upon experimental theater and have enough access to it that it became a passion for you?
My mom taught painting in the prisons, so we lived about an hour away from Tallahassee. And they have an incredible public library and incredible public schools. So my mom taught painting at the Tallahassee prisons and I got residency to go to school in Tallahassee at this really good magnet school. And because my mom worked so much and we lived so far away she would just drop me off at the library. I would spend until the library closed every day just reading. And they had some incredible books: they had Spaulding Gray, Eric Bogosian, Tony Kushner. I always thought playwriting was this very unattainable, perfect thing that I could never get to. But then when I started reading pieces that were written in a person's voice, Spaulding Gray or John Leguizamo, all of a sudden I saw that it could be very experiential and very in your own voice, and that that voice could be exquisite if it's mindful enough. That was when I started really seeing the possibilities of someone like me who wasn't very educated, wasn't very smart, but had stories to tell. Were there a lot of opportunities for you to use that growing up? Did you write a lot as a kid, or get involved in the theater?
Growing up the only theatrical performances that I remember being exposed to were Passion plays at Easter in the Church, which could get really crazy where I'm from. I always wrote in a journal, and then I got into the Young Playwrights program, which is based here. They did a lot of outreach and my school was one that they send fliers to. So I entered the contest and ended up getting it. And that's how I met Benh Zeitlin, when we were fourteen, we were both there at the same time. I would say locally the opportunities all came through reading. I went to a really good public school but as far as theater and anything like that we didn't really have it.
How did you and Benh decide to start collaborating, and specifically try to turn something you had written for theater into a film, of all things?
Benh has always been the first person I've shown a piece of writing to, and vice versa. He'll show me all of his short films. So I showed him "Juicy" right after I wrote it, when it was still really raw to me. And he came to me a few months later with the idea of filming it and setting it in the bayou. I had no real expectation or idea of anything happening beyond actually shooting it. But it sounded like a great adventure, so I sublet-ted my apartment and went to the Bayou. We had no expectations of anything at that point.Had he shot [Benh's short film] "Glory at Sea" at that point? That film obviously shares a lot of DNA with "Beasts."
While he was shooting "Glory," he said he drove down the road as far as he could go and that's how he found this location, where "Beasts" was shot and that inspired it. I was in New York writing "Juicy" at that time.Wow, so it's kind of a series of interconnected events.
Yeah! And it's funny because he was asking me to come down and work on "Glory" and I said no, there's this play in me that I've got to get out, I can't focus on anything else. And I think we both learned so much in those processes, me writing "Juicy" and him making "Glory," about our next step. I think it served us really well in our collaboration.