THAT actor-playwright Leslie Ayvazian would be an actress was never in question. "My instincts, in general, are theatrical," she observes. "One of the problems I had as a kid was people saying to me, 'Oh, you're being too dramatic.' And, to me, it wasn't drama; it was just real life. I felt things on that kind of intensified level."
It's Ayvazian's playwright side that took some time to manifest itself. At first it was a hobby -- a fun little side venture for a natural storyteller (Ayvazian credits her Armenian heritage). Then came the kid: "I was gone a lot and I realized that it wasn't the right dynamic. I wanted simply to be with my son more," Ayvazian recalls. So she took a voluntary hiatus from the stage and picked up pencil and paper. "Given that I must have a creative something in my life in addition to constantly rearranging all the furniture, I sat down and wrote the story of these nine Armenians that was based on my family," she says.
"Nine Armenians," was produced by the talent-anointing Manhattan Theatre Club and received a couple of literary awards. Ayvazian has since written (and usually performed) a number of additional works drawing on her family, her heritage and her life experiences. "I like the opportunity of investigating new kinds of work, and I definitely use my own life," she says.
Still, Ayvazian understands that autobiographical writing can be tricky. How can a writer tell when life makes the leap to theater? "I think that's the discovery in the writing. You have to find what the larger issue is, 'the universal issue,' she says. "The points can be subtle -- mine often are -- but they're true, and they're honest, and they're larger than the experience itself. If you don't find that, then basically what you've got is a journal entry."
"I do a great deal of writing that never does find the hook of why I should be doing this in front of people," Ayvazian adds. "But I don't consider it wasted writing. I consider all of it something that may someday inform the larger piece."
Ayvazian says "High Dive" was a bit of a departure from her usual exploratory writing process in that it had a very clear point of view from the moment of inspiration: Ayvazian atop a high dive in Greece, wracked with vertigo, three weeks shy of her 50th birthday. She had ignored her crippling fear of heights and ascended to the platform at the urging of her young son. "I wanted him to feel that all things were possible," she recalls, "that everyone could conquer their fears if they just tried hard enough. So I really did climb to the top of this high dive at this pool in Greece every day for six days trying to get off it."
She never did.
"I finally decided that's not how I jump. It took me turning 50 to decide that it was okay." So Ayvazian climbed back down and dove into her writing instead. "When I realized I wasn't going to jump off that board, I knew I had my play."