After a few months of home isolation, we asked Connecticut-connected writers where their creative muse was taking them. And what they were doing to keep sane, too. From a dramatic shift in how The Simpsons is produced, to how a Faye Dunaway epic fail led to new inspiration, to Anne Rice’s vampires updated for the coronavirus age, let’s find out how these writers have been creating while sheltering in place.

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Jacques Lamarre

JACQUES LAMARRE

Playwright

Lamarre lives in Manchester and his plays I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti and The Raging Skillet premiered at TheaterWorks Hartford and theaters across the country. He also co-writes shows for drag performer Varla Jean Merman.

On viral gardening …

“One thing I’ve been doing to help with anxiety is weeding. I hate gardening but weeds are living things that are destroying other living things. They’re the vegetable version of coronavirus.”

On struggling to write at home …

“I find it harder to write at home, and so what I’ve often done is go somewhere and write intensely for a time. Being home — and still working at my other job — I’m at my computer all day, and if we’re having Zoom chats or whatever at night I usually don’t have the oomph to sit down and stare at the computer for another four hours.”

On pivoting a project …

“But I’ve been talking with Varla Jean (aka Jeffrey Robeson) about this new show that was originally called The Shady Lady. It was about getting away with bad behavior, but we’ve been talking about changing it, not to be about the quarantine, per se, but to make it about that kind of disconnectedness.”

On escapism and social media …

“I think my new writing will lean into writing more escapist stuff. The other thing I’ve been doing is the social media work for Madame the puppet [created by the late actor and comedian Waylon Flowers]. I’m working with the Flowers estate and having so much fun writing in ‘her’ voice. These are quick little bursts of comedy and we’re finding that people are excited that Madame is back, too.”

Matthew Lombardo

Matthew Lombardo

MATTHEW LOMBARDO

Playwright

Raised in Wethersfield and now living in Manhattan, Lombardo wrote the Katharine Hepburn-focused Tea at Five, which premiered at the Hartford Stage, then played off-Broadway and on tour. He also had Broadway productions of High with Kathleen Turner and Looped with Valerie Harper. His Who’s Holiday played off-Broadway.

On confined creativity …

“This shelter-in-place is the perfect environment for me to execute my creativity. I don’t have the usual daily distractions that usually interfere with writing because everything is shut down.”

On the Dunaway debacle as inspiration …

“I’ve been wanting to write this new play for some time but I’ve been busy being in pre-production for my Conversations with Mother and other projects. But now I have the focus. It’s called When Playwrights Kill and it’s a dark comedy. Kind of a Noises Off meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. You can probably guess that it’s based on my experience last summer with Faye Dunaway.” [Dunaway was reportedly fired for being physically and verbally abusive to crew members.]

On post-pandemic works …

“This pandemic won’t work its way into any of my future writing. For some, it might, but that’s not my genre. I think after all this is over everyone will want a good comedy.”

On life changes …

“This pandemic has turned out to be life-changing for me. I’ve realized I’ve taken for granted all these daily gifts of life: the simple act of going to Starbucks and sitting on a park bench for 15 minutes. It’s also making me kinder, more compassionate and less selfish — in a way.”

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Mike Reiss (and his Simpsons alter-ego)

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MIKE REISS

The Simpsons writer-producer

Bristol born and bred and now living in Manhattan, Reiss is a writer whose plays include I’m Connecticut, Comedy Is Hard and I Hate Musicals: The Musical. For more than 30 years he’s been a writer-producer of The Simpsons.

On not descending into madness …

“Being locked up like this I thought my wife and I would go nuts. I thought it would be like The Shining after the first week, but we’re taking this very well.

On a Simpsons seismic shift …

“What came out of all this is that for The Simpsons I started telecommuting. For years I would fly out to Los Angeles one day a week for the writers meeting but [once home isolation began] we started to Zoom those meetings — and that was it. Now every stage of The Simpsons production process is done by telecommuting: table reads, recording sessions, everything. We’ve been in full production and not missed a day. I’m sure the same thing goes for Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers. All you’re going to see in prime time soon is animation.

“The takeaway was how inefficient we were when we were all together in person. Our writers meeting starts at 10 a.m. and now everyone is on Zoom right at 10, and that never happened. Everyone would trickle in at different times so we’d lose an hour to traffic and another hour telling stories about the traffic.”

On sweating on the cheap …

“The gym in my building closed, so I bought a home sauna — the cheapest sweatbox I could find. It’s the kind of thing you used to see in 1940s movies where you’d just zip yourself into a box and your head would stick out. It’s a comedy prop and looks idiotic, but there I sit watching Netflix in my hotbox and I couldn’t be happier.”

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Rolin Jones

ROLIN JONES

Playwright and TV writer-producer

The Yale School of Drama grad’s play, The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, was a Pulitzer finalist. Another play, These Paper Bullets!, also played Yale Rep. He is also a television writer-producer (Weeds, Friday Night Lights, Boardwalk Empire and the upcoming Perry Mason series on HBO, June 21) and lives in Los Angeles.

On vampires and quarantine …

“I’m developing the Anne Rice vampire novels starting with Interview with the Vampire for AMC. I just started writing [that script] and I’ve moved the story up 45 years — and the first image of the first scene is the pope wandering the streets alone because everyone has been quarantined. It’s a strange moment for humanity now with people feeling that they’re all locked in their own coffins right now.”

On reconnecting to his writing roots …

“I joined a playwriting group right down the street from me that [playwright] Lee Blessing was running, so I thought I should go and let Lee teach me how to be a playwright again. I still have a commission outstanding at Yale. I thought of writing a play with 12 people, and two pages in, I thought, ‘Ah, this would be difficult for even Yale to produce now.’ ”

On what people will want to see on stage …

“I think when things open up again people will not want to see a play documenting what we just went through. Maybe in about 10 years. The first scene of the first play I want to see when I go back to the theater — a theater that is packed — opens with two people on stage kissing for three minutes straight, and everyone would then stand up and applaud.”

This article appeared in the June 2020 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram@connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.