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A Career that Rose from the Ashes
Lee Blessing ’71 told a captive Reunions audience that he got his start “because kids in Eliot were smoking dope.” Now a Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright, Blessing was referring to the fire that destroyed the theatre building in 1969. Legend has it that when fire engines came screaming onto campus, students in Eliot thought it was a drug raid, flushed their stashes, and killed the water pressure on campus. (“If it didn’t happen that way, it should have,” Blessing teased.)
When theatre head Seth Ullman tried to raise funds for a new theatre, he came up short; but he did land a playwriting grant. The English major accepted, and the rest is history.
Blessing made it to Broadway in 1988 with Walk in the Woods, which has eclipsed every play he’s written since. But Blessing spoke less about surviving a hit than surviving as a playwright, period, given conservative theatre boards and dwindling ticket sales. Blessing keeps this image in mind when he writes: “There’s a door at the end of every aisle and the audience has their hand on the door handle. . . . They are dying to leave.”
When one Reedie said such classics as The Grapes of Wrath still need to be staged, Blessing retorted: “The great American stories don’t really need to be dramatized right now. I’d prefer new plays, new great American stories.”
—Johanna Droubay ’04