Gates Leonard ’25 discusses her play Pearls for Spurs, for which Leonard had a staged reading at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club following her Field Work Term internship.
By Mary Brothers '22
When Gates Leonard '25, now in her first year at Bennington, looked back at the play she had begun writing as a sophomore in high school, she figured there would be a lot of things she wanted to change in it.
“I thought I was going to go back and have to reorganize and extend it. But when I read it, I felt good about it, so I didn't end up changing all that much– I did have a lot of spelling corrections, though,” said Leonard.
Leonard was revisiting the piece because she was doing her first Field Work Term experience at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York City where, in addition to her intern duties, she was having a reading of her play, Pearls for Spurs.
“One of the things they had me do [at La Mama] was be an in-house artist. Whenever I didn't have errands to run or something to do for them, they'd have me just continue writing. So I got to finish up the play there,” said Leonard.
Leonard, who attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, began playwriting due to her interest in drama.
“I was in the drama department, and we were doing things like two person scenes. Some of my classmates were looking for scenes and I thought, maybe I can write something for them to do,” said Leonard. “One of the last scenes of the play was the first thing that I wrote. My friends ended up doing it in a class, and I just continued working on it.”
Gates worked with her father, theater director Luke Landric Leonard, to find actors and put on the first official reading of her original work. Fellow Bennington student Christian Ashley ‘25 read for one of the roles.
The play is described as “an ironic, dark comedy exploring grief, mental health, and maturation after a family’s attempt to hit the reset button on life” and chronicles a family of a mother, her three children, and her sister moving from Texas to Florida and living in an RV.
“This story is the last day that the whole family is a unit,” said Leonard. “As it goes on, each character drifts away and at the very end, there is no family. But it's funny. There are other silly characters, and everybody has their own trajectory and life that's outside of the RV.”
“It was really exciting that people thought it was funny. It was so good to see that people enjoyed it, and related to it and thought that it was worth taking an hour to come see,” said Leonard. “It went really well– we had some people donate so we can try to make it an actual production.”
Leonard drew upon both her imagination and her personal experience for the play.
“This was inspired a lot by my own family– my mom's side. A lot of the characters embody a little bit of that,” said Leonard.
At Bennington, Leonard studies mostly animation and film, as well as Japanese.
“I really want to direct and produce my own films. I'm trying to make a full feature-length animation with music and mixed media,” said Leonard. “It’s a big project, and I don't know how it's going to go. I have written some of the music for it and some of the scenes, but it's something I’m still working on.”
As she thinks about her future at Bennington, Leonard is most excited by the prospect of taking more writing classes and connecting the different areas of her studies.
“I do really want to take a screenwriting class, because I've been hearing so many good things about the faculty member [Manuel Gonzalez],” said Leonard. “It's interesting how [at Bennington] students can take so many different classes and intertwine them. I've been able to incorporate all the different things that I've been working on—like taking tidbits from a science class that I've learned and putting them into my stories, and then taking my stories and putting them into my animation class, and then mixing my animation with what I did in my film class. It can all work together.”