NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - For a career that has spanned nearly half a century, two-time Emmy Award-winner Dorothy Lyman feels like she is now exactly where she wants to be.
The actress, director and producer, who playfully refers to herself as the “oldest emerging playwright in America,” credits the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls with helping foster her evolution.
Lyman’s “Gladstone Hollow,” which was performed at the Schoolhouse this past summer, was inspired by her 16 years living on a farm in Upstate New York. She refers to this period of her life as “extreme empty-nest syndrome,” a time when—her children grown and out of the house—she turned her back on her career in the arts and chose to live in a rural community of dairy farmers.
“I raised my own livestock, made pies for the Saturday market and roasted corn for every community day in August,” she said.
In this pastoral setting, Lyman had room to stretch her artistic mind. She began writing plays and testing the appetite for them at community theaters. Bram Lewis, artistic director of the Schoolhouse, was present at a workshop production of “Gladstone Hollow” in Manhattan and approached Lyman with an opportunity.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if you know, but I have a little theater in Westchester. I have an opening in June, and if you want to do your play, you’d be welcome to come up there,’” Lyman said. “And it was a wonderful feeling to be validated like that.”
Validation has never come easy to Lyman in an industry that has historically confined women to very specific boxes. Roles for women, particularly women over the age of 30, were few and far between throughout her career. When Lyman joined the Director’s Guild of America, only nine women were doing camera for television. Until about 10 years ago, a woman had never been nominated for a Tony Award for directing.
“I made it my personal mandate to create roles for women, and older women specifically,” she said.
Lyman noted that many of the great roles that have been written for women in theater have been written by men.
“I think people should stop reviving old plays written by men and try to find some new stuff,” Lyman said.
“Soft Landing,” a play Lyman wrote about two old women who want to go to the moon, is one such play she hopes the theater community—and specifically the Schoolhouse—will embrace. For Lewis, the play is just the kind of work and the playwright is just the kind of professional he wants the Schoolhouse to be known for.
“We are trying to feature new work that nobody has ever seen,” Lewis said of the Schoolhouse’s mission. “And Dorothy brings the honesty and her amazing mind and talent. And she loves hard work, which, at the end of the day, is what the greats have.”
It seems like the perfect match: a small professional theater that bills itself as the place where things begin and a woman who has earned her place as a soulful playwright. Lyman maintains a serenity about it all that can only come with years of life experience.
“All I can do is try to do my work the best way I know how,” she said. “I’m alive. My family is healthy; I’m healthy. I just couldn’t ask for more.”