When Lebow came to Atlanta in 1962 with her two children, she wanted to provide them with theatrical experiences like her mother did for her. So she sought out the “most exciting and original children’s theatre in Atlanta,” which she found at the Academy Theatre. Lebow began bringing her children there regularly, having birthday parties at the theatre, and volunteering to paint sets.
She was also interested in writing plays for kids herself. Her own children would help with story endings, she says. “I’d tell them the story and then ask ‘what do you think happened next?’” Lebow showed Frank Wittow, the Academy Theatre’s founder and artistic director, part of a children’s play she had written, and he invited her to participate in a developmental workshop.
Lebow was the only writer in the workshop with about a dozen actors, and they all collaborated in the writing of a play. She would write scenes, which the actors would perform, and their performance would give her ideas about how to develop the play further. Or, sometimes, the actors would improvise, which would stimulate her to write more scenes. This process led to “I Can’t Help It,” the first play of hers that the Academy produced on its main stage. Lebow says “I felt like I was going around with constant sunburn — it was like my nerve endings were sore because of the exhilaration of writing.”
Lebow says she felt creative in every sense because her third child was born during this time. She explains that she was able to work at the Academy with her baby, who would sleep during the play’s production. The only time Lebow could write, however, was the middle of the night when she knew she would not be interrupted. She’s been writing ever since, although she says her surge in productivity occurred when her youngest was in high school. Lebow has had about thirty plays produced—around twenty for adults, ten for kids.
Lebow’s association with the Academy Theatre has continued in one form or another ever since. She teaches playwriting at the theatre, and she has written a number of Academy human service project plays. For example, Lebow has used the theatre’s community outreach exercises to write plays with special populations, such as women in prison, people who are homeless, and people in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. “The work that comes out of these collaborations is marvelous,” she says.
Currently, Lebow is working on two new plays: The Empress of Eden and Cobb County Stories. The Empress of Eden takes place on a remote island on the eve of World War II where a group of expatriate Germans are striving for mastery over their “New Eden” and over each other. In her Cobb County Stories project, which is still in the formative stages, Lebow plans to portray the diversity of Cobb County’s citizens.
The exhilaration of writing has never left Lebow. “The more I write, the more fun it gets,” she says. Playgoing is still a thrill for her too. Lebow says, ”One of the things I love about New York is to be in a restaurant in a theatre area and see it clear out right before curtain time. There’s a feeling of excitement in the air, the sense that it’s an important occasion. It’s great.”