It was in her Greek great-grandmother’s Sheepshead Bay kitchen that Stacie Vourakis got her first taste of high drama.
As her projaja washed the spinach for spanakopita or performed other mundane household tasks, she would gleefully dish the neighborhood and family dirt with her two elderly sisters.
The curiously quiet child feigned indifference by staring out a window while actually devouring the trio’s every word or gesture.
It didn’t really matter that she didn’t understand everything they were saying in their native tongue; she knew what they meant.
It was a family recipe that would feed the Somers resident’s hunger for words the rest of her life.
Vourakis admits she is always tuning in to strangers’ conversations, especially in restaurants, so much so that her loving husband once jokingly gifted her with one of those devices that lets you hear stuff from across a crowded room.
Vourakis, who has had plays run in New York and London, is once again getting the chance to invite other language lovers to the table.
This week her dialogue-driven play “Ozone Park” will be performed as part of the Hudson Theatre Guild’s 2018 NYSummerfest.
It will be presented on Thursday, Aug. 2, and Friday, Aug. 3 at 6:15 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 5, at 8:30 p.m. at the guild’s theater located at 441 W. 26th St. in New York City.
It is being directed by Justin Baldridge, a longtime acting teacher who has been involved with more than 20 shows. He hopes to open and run his own theater company one day.
The full-length play’s plot focuses on the suspended-in-aspic relationship between two Queens sisters, one of whom feels ensnared by physical disability and the younger woman, her caretaker, who feels she’s “kinda missed the boat” and is starving for a new life.
Things become more fraught with tension when a love interest enters the picture.
Feeling trapped is a theme that also powers Vourakis’s novella, “The Ice Storm,” a chilling tale of a young woman who is snatched off the street during an ice storm by a serial killer, and forced to care for a baby, as part of his sick bid to form a family.
Set in a particularly “icky” part of Jersey City, the story was partly inspired by the time Vourakis herself was stranded while trying to navigate an ice-slicked hill one winter.
Vourakis was literally “hanging like a kitten, on a fence,” when a stranger came along and rescued her.
“He was very nice, and drove me home, but what if he wasn’t?” she recalled with a shiver.
Then it might have been a different story indeed.
Although she liked to write and participated in her high school’s drama club as a teen, Vourakis knew her family wasn’t too keen on her pursuing that kind of not-so-lucrative career.
“It was risky,” she said in a recent interview on Cosmos95 FM, a New York City-based radio station.
And so, she went to Columbia University where she earned two engineering degrees.
Along the way, she also got married, acquired a degree in fine arts, and went to work in her chosen field.
Roots of all writing
Greece was the birthplace of drama as we know it. Its origins can be traced to the ancient playwright Aeschylus who wrote a piece featuring two actors and a chorus, symbolizing the common people or the gods.
The other side of Vourakis’s family tree is firmly planted in Ireland, another country known for producing great storytellers, such as James Joyce.
“Perhaps it’s genetic, that I had no choice (but to write) ‘cause I’m Irish AND Greek,” she says.
A pregnant pause
As a young adult, Vourakis began to take post-graduate courses at Columbia at night in playwriting, poetry, non-fiction and short fiction.
It was on Christmas Eve when she and her husband were sipping coffee and eating sticky buns at an Ikea store that they got the happy news that they were expecting.
In the third year of the writing program, Vourakis pressed on with her studies despite being “just huge.”
“I was waddling everywhere,” she recalls.
She graduated with a master’s in playwriting in June, and gave birth in July.
Vourakis credits Edwardo Machado, her mentor at Columbia, with providing the guidance and support she needed to go on with writing.
He was, she says, a very “generous” teacher who “bent over backwards” for all of his students.
He lives in Los Angeles and the two still stay in touch.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today … so I either thank -- or blame -- him,” she says, laughing.
Hungering for more
Vourakis took some time off while the twins were tiny, eventually going back to engineering jobs for the steady paycheck.
Life at home and at work was good, but deep down, Vourakis admits, there were times she felt a tad bored.
She was writing, but found it isolating and yearned to connect with other folks who were, as she put it, “on the same page.”
Then she got wind of a free writing course at her local library.
“The operative word being free,” she says.
Led by Linda Spear, a former journalist and an author, the class on writing memoirs seemed intriguing.
Spears soon sensed that Vourakis was further along in her journey than many folks in the library class. She invited her to take part in a private group at her home.
It was there that Vourakis began to branch out into fiction by exploring the horror genre.
Spear started to read “The Ice Storm” in installments to her other students and the thrills and chills it elicited spurred Vourakis on.
It began off as a short story and simply “got longer and longer,” she says.
Upstaged no more
Though writing is tough, Vourakis has no regrets.
There are still fewer women than men seeing their names in lights on the proverbial marquee, but things seem to be moving in the right direction, she says.
Women in the film and theater industry have tended to be too humble, more willing to “take a back seat.”
This unnecessary reticence is something Vourakis says she is checking herself on more and more.
“I’m trying very hard not to be like that. I’m doing what I want,” she explains.
It helps her to break through that “fourth wall” of insecurity or shyness by remembering she’s not getting into playwriting only for herself.
She’s doing it for the actors, directors, and other folks who make it all happen on stage.
“As soon as I think of us as a group all those fears go away and I’m able to get out there and do what I need to do.”
Know how to go
To order tickets, visit https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3457088.
To check out the festival’s website, go to http://newyorktheaterfestival.com/ozone-park.
For the play’s Facebook page, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/184923502363682/?ti=cl
The link to Facebook event promotion is https://www.facebook.com/events/263295347588813/?ti=cl.
To reach the Guild, call 212-760-9800.