Oliva, JudyLee 1952-

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OLIVA, JudyLee 1952-


Born November 24, 1952, in Oklahoma City, OK; daughter of Wilford Phillip and Irlene (Claxton) Lee; married Milo Bruce Oliva (a marketing and sales director), August, 5, 1977. Ethnicity: "Caucasian and Chickasaw/Cherokee." Education: East Central State University (Ada, OK), B.A. (cum laude), 1975; attended San Jose State University, 1976; University of Oklahoma, M.F.A., 1983; Northwestern University, Ph.D., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: Playing tennis, power walking.


Home and office—10250 Waterside Oaks Dr., Tampa, FL 33647. Agent—c/o Dramatists Guild of America, 1501 Broadway, Suite 701, New York, NY 10036. E-mail—[email protected].


Freelance playwright, actress (including title role in the musical Te Ata), lyricist, and director of plays at academic, community, summer stock, and professional venues. Oklahoma Theater Center, instructor in acting and directing and guest director, 1981-82; Arena Players Repertory Company, New York, NY, instructor and member of company, 1984-85; New Actors Workshop, New York, NY, adjunct professor, 1996-2000; dramaturg at Clarence Brown Theater, 1994, and Native play festivals at Illinois State University, 1994, 1995. State University of New York—Old Westbury, adjunct instructor in acting, 1984; State University of New York—Stony Brook, assistant professor and guest director, 1984-85, adjunct professor, 1997; Northwestern University, teacher of playwriting classes, 1987-89; Northern Illinois University, assistant professor, 1992-96; University of Tennessee, assistant professor, 1992-96; University of Oklahoma, guest artist and instructor, 1996; University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, guest artist and instructor, 1997; Chattanooga Community College, artist-in-residence, 2002; guest speaker at other institutions, including Tennessee Tech University; also taught gymnastics, dance, and creative dramatics at Tinker Young Men's Christian Association and Furman/Gray School of Dance; teacher of speech and drama at public schools. Florida Cocker Rescue, volunteer.


Dramatists Guild of America, Association for Theater in Higher Education (founding member) Native Writers Circle of the America.


Winner of Agnes Nixon Playwriting Competition, 1987, for See Jane Run; grants from Exhibit, Performance, and Publication Expenses Fund, 1994, 1995; Angie Warren Perkins Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching, and Phi Beta Kappa Award for outstanding creative research in the humanities, both University of Tennessee, both 1996; winner of IMOLA playwriting contest, musical category, Five Civilized Tribes, 2000, for Te Ata; first-place award, play division, National Writers Association, 2002, and Deep South Playwriting Competition award, both for On the Showroom Floor; Allece Garrard Best Play prize, 2002, for 99 Cent Dreams.



(With others; and codirector) Sidewalk Scenes, produced on tour of New York cities, 1984.

(And director) See Jane Run, produced in Evanston, IL, at Struble Theater, 1988.

Te Ata (musical), produced in New York, NY, 1996.

The Fire and the Rose, produced in a staged reading in Oxford, OH, 1998.

Pasture (produced in a staged reading in New York, NY, 1998), published in Lamia Ink.

On the Showroom Floor, produced in a staged reading in Sussex, NJ, 2000, then in full production, 2002.

Face in the Mirror, produced in Denver, CO, 2000.

Woman in the Drum, produced in staged reading, 2000, published in Lamia Ink.

99 Cent Dreams, produced in a staged reading in Sussex, NJ, 2001.

Spirit Line, produced in workshop, Oxford, OH, 2001.

Other plays include Crow on the Cradle; Mark of the Feather, published in Anthology Theater 100, 7th edition, Ohio State University (Columbus, OH), 2001; Park View Café, a.k.a.; Angel's Light; Call of the River; and Fading Alice and the Sandhill Crane (one-woman show).


(Editor and contributor) New Theater Vistas, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1996.

Te Ata's Gift: The Story of Princess Te Ata (juvenile), Lee & Low Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to books, including David Hare: Theatricalizing Politics, UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1990; Casebook on Howard Brenton, edited by Ann Wilson, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1992; and Essays in Theater Education and Multicultural Democracy: Teaching Theater as Though Our Society Depended on It, edited by Bruce McConiche, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1996. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Theater History Studies, Theater and Religion, Theater Topics, and Theater Three.


Spirit Trail, a one-act play about Navajo weavers; Dead Mice, a play about three sisters growing up in Oklahoma; Aunt Rema's Debut, a play intended to "expose the hypocrisy and humor of community theater in the south"; research for American Women, a play about four actress who are portraying four famous American women; research for a children's book series on notable Native Americans.


JudyLee Oliva told CA: "My artistic vision is one of 'poetic theatricality.' I like to create productions that have a lyrical rhythm along with a creative use of visual images. All my plays incorporate poetry and music. I like to use music to underscore as well as accompany, much like is done in film. I 'hear' my plays and see a particular movement much like a ballet, so I style my plays with great care for detail. I want all elements to work 'in sync.' My goal is never to just tell a story, but rather to show it, make the audience feel it, help them 'see' it, not just on a literal level, but on a metaphysical one as well. I liken this whole approach to Native art, where images are layered one on top of the other, to create one story and several stories.

"As my writing has developed, I have moved away from realism into the realm of poetry, metaphor, and sometimes even surrealism. I like to explore the magic of the stage, depending on the amount of technology that is available in a given space. I like to see an object 'morph' from one thing to another, as in The Fire and the Rose, where, for example, a desk 'grows' into a pulpit as we watch. Often such vision requires significant use of lights, sound, set, music, et cetera. However, I have also learned that theaters can't always accommodate my large, expansive vision, so lately I have strived for a kind of simple spectacle, simple theatricality. I believe I have achieved this idea most successfully with On the Showroom Floor, where I call for suggestive use of set pieces; where the daughters at one point become the new cars that their father sells; where we move in and out of time and reality with the slightest suggestion.

"I write poetry and have a dance background, so both influence my work. Though not all my plays deal with the Native experience, I am most interested in writing about Native people—their history, their stories, but for a mainstream audience. I grew up in Oklahoma, so I also have those sounds running through my head—the language, the accents, the word choices, the sky, the land. My education has afforded me valuable skills in research and scholarship, and I have that kind of writing to my credit. Often such erudite and seemingly academic influences have profoundly found their way into my plays via intelligent characters and philosophical explorations of such issues as spirituality versus religion.

"I hold a master of fine arts degree in directing as well as a doctorate, so I often direct my own plays, but I believe that theater is a collaborative art, and I like having a team of people working on my plays. My plays are an extension of myself. They reflect my need to feel deeply, they are playful, they are creative, and they are honest. Probably my greatest gift is the ability to capture the most common experience and theatricalize it on a stage so that the audience can identify with it, while at the same time be entertained and visually and aurally stimulated by how I use the set and properties and music and language to spin a tale, whether it is the story of one family or an entire nation, one person or the people of several nations.

"I was approached by a children's book publisher to write a book about the subject of one of my plays, Te Ata. This has opened up a new genre for me, and I expect to write more in this area in the future.

"My creative writing teacher in college always said to write about what you know, so most of my plays and stories are based on people I know and especially about southern living."