“Run for the storm cellars!”
That was Anne Lucas’ first line on stage, when she played a little girl in a performance of The Wizard of Oz. Ever since that first role at 5-years-old, Lucas has been enamored with the performing arts.
She says that this love was sparked in part by her mother, who aspired to be an opera singer but never had the money for it. Instead, she took her daughter to lesson after lesson, hoping to give her the opportunities she had not had.
Lucas’ career has taken her onstage, behind the curtain, and across the globe. Her education took her to the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and the Royal College of Music in London. When she returned to the States, she worked as an actress in Cincinnati, before moving to Boston to get a Master of Fine Arts in directing and theater education.
“And then, I was broke,” Lucas says.
After getting her master’s, she stayed in Boston, directing at Newton South High School and at Bentley University.
“Bentley had never had any arts at all at that point,” Lucas said. “They asked me to be the first person to ever come in and direct plays at Bentley.”
But she was pulled away from the Massachusetts theater scene to the bright lights of New York City.
“My younger sister called me and said, ‘You said some day we’d go to New York and be actresses together,’” she said. “‘And I have to go now!’”
And so she did.
Lucas left her teaching job behind to work in New York City from 1979 to 1989, where she had a prolific acting, directing, and music career.
It was in New York City where she met her husband. However, when it came to raising a family Lucas, who grew up in Ohio, knew that she did not want to raise her children in the city.
Weekend trips to the Boston area to find a house led her to her current home in Marblehead.
“It’s a neighborhood that’s very quiet,” Lucas said. “It was a beautiful place to raise my children.”
Leaving New York did not mean leaving behind her career in theater. She worked as an adjunct professor at Salem State University for 10 years, wrote a performance for The House of Seven Gables in 2001 that ran for 20 years, and directed at Marblehead Little Theatre.
Lucas has also written 30 plays — from 10-minute performances to musicals. Among them is her first full-length play From Silence, which follows a Holocaust survivor as she decides to tell her story. She explained that the story of From Silence examines the impact of the Holocaust on not just the character who survived it, but also her whole family.
“The damage was done to the entire family,” she says.
Her second full-length play Recovery focuses on three mothers and their daughters as they navigate addiction. The story of Recovery came very much from Lucas’s own personal experience. She explains that her eldest daughter was addicted to heroin for a time. Seeing the stigma surrounding substance abuse, Lucas sought to change the perception of addiction.
“People don’t understand that it’s an illness, they think it’s a moral failing,” she says. “And the horrible things that were said to me, people said to me, ‘Well, it’s because of the kind of mother you are,’ and that has nothing to do with addiction, or whether your child does it. And the shame for parents is tremendous.”
Recovery was later translated into Greek and performed at Teatro Non Verba in Greece.
Party? is her newest play, and made its debut at the Little Theatre in January. Lucas says Party? is essentially a comedy about toxic relationships.
The production process for Party? took shape over Zoom amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Lucas explains, as she held readings and discussions, each time rewriting the show based on feedback.
Much like her other two plays, Party? follows three generations of the same family, talking about marriage. An elderly couple in their late 70s, a middle-aged couple in their 50s, and a young couple in their 20s are all featured in the show, and Lucas explains that the man in the middle-aged couple is a “verbally abusive narcissist.”
“People laughed, but a lot of people came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I was married to a man like that,’” Lucas says. “People brought their friends who they thought were in toxic relationships, because they wanted them to see it and maybe recognize how they were being abused.”
With Party? slated to move to New York City in 2024, Lucas is already hard at work on a screenplay entitled After Heaven, inspired by her grandmother who “died … and came back.”
“When she came back, she felt she’d had a direct experience of God, and that now she had to be the hands and feet of God,” she says. “In some ways, my grandmother became a nun while living in a home with four daughters and a husband.”
The movie follows three generations of women in the wake of an accident that leaves the youngest woman in a coma, leading her mother to reveal that her grandmother is not, in fact, dead. Instead, she had a similar experience, isolating her from the rest of her family.
Lucas says the screenplay, like her plays, seeks to highlight what she sees as an under discussed topic. The story will move from the stage to the screen because Lucas says she believes the best way to tell it is with visuals, as opposed to language.
Having had her plays performed around the world, and having been part of countless performances, Lucas has unique insights into what makes theater special.
“I love the relationship between the audience and the piece of artwork,” she said. “It is collaborative, the set designer has his idea, the lighting crew has their ideas, the costume person has their ideas.”
She says playwriting is particularly interesting because of how casts and crews interpret her work.
“Theater is really difficult, and if you come to playwriting from a regular writing background, it can be very very frustrating because the actors are going to interpret your words maybe in ways you did not intend,” she said. “The director — it is in their hands once it gets to them. They could do your play where everybody is naked on Mars — which is not your idea at all!”
She continued, “[If] you think everybody is going to do what I wrote — get a different career, because that’s not what’s going to happen. You have to be flexible and happy to collaborate.”
After such a full career both on and off the stage, theater is not just a job for Lucas. It is a part of her.
“I don’t think there ever is any me outside of theater,” she said.