Staff writer for USA Network’s “Suits’
Erica Lipez admits it: As a kid growing up in South Portland and attending Cape Elizabeth schools, she “really loved TV.” Little did she know that she was prepping for her career.
Today, Lipez is a writer for the USA Network series “Suits,” a comedy-drama about a fictional law firm set in New York City. In addition, the play she wrote during graduate school, “The Tutors,” was produced off Broadway last June. At age 30, Erica Lipez is living the career she dreamed about, and most of all, she’s grateful.
Writing for “Suits,” which just wrapped up its third season, “is a little like a team sport,” Lipez says. “‘Suits’ is really fun. It has great characters and you get to know the actors,” she says.
And it’s different from the typically isolated activity of writing.
“We go to the office every day where we do something called ‘breaking stories.’ We outline them on big cards we put on the wall,” Lipez says. “Then when it’s your episode you go away and write. It’s really intense.”
Intensity is nothing new to Lipez. A 2005 graduate of Harvard, she completed a master’s degree in dramatic writing at New York University in 2009. Living in New York her first year after graduate school, “working five different jobs and writing at night,” Lipez got her first break when her manager shared a play she’d written with a television producer in Los Angeles. The play, “Bottled Up,” was set in Maine, but had similar themes to the show being produced. “Lone Star” was about a man living a double life, one in small-town Texas, the other in a big city. A meeting with the show’s creative team and producer in New York had her “as nervous as I’ve been in all my life.” That was a Thursday, and she was offered the job at the interview. Starting date? The next Monday.
“I left lunch and went and bought the cheapest, biggest suitcase I could find, packed up my whole life, and was on a plane to LA that weekend,” she says. “It was definitely one of the craziest moments of my life and I’m just so grateful to the folks at “Lone Star” for taking a chance on me.
“The first job is always the hardest one to get,” she says.
And although ‘Lone Star,’ which aired on the Fox network, was canceled after two episodes, the “Suits” position followed.
“I was lucky to land at the show,” she says. “I work with great people; they become like family.”
Growing up immersed in the legal profession just might help her with the “Suits” law firm setting, she acknowledges. Her father is a judge, her mother and sister both lawyers. “I may take some of that knowledge I ingested and use it,” Lipez jokes.
Lipez’s successes aren’t limited to the television audience. She says she experienced one of those “pinch-yourself moments” when a play she wrote while at NYU was selected last spring for an off Broadway production. Entitled “The Tutors,” it was one of just two plays chosen for Second Stage’s 2013 Uptown Series, which features early-career playwrights.
The play is set in 2007 and tells the story of a group of friends in New York City who are trying, without much success, to launch a Facebook-like social networking site. The three friends pay the rent by tutoring wealthy prep school students, “and their life as tutors takes over,” says Lipez.
“It’s about life in the mid-20-somethings: dreams and disappointments and navigating friendships,” she says.
Lipez herself worked as a tutor in New York, and she was a Harvard student during Facebook’s inception.
The production was directed by Thomas Kail.
“He was a really great person to work with,” says Lipez. The production also happened to take place in the middle of the “Suits” commitments. The pace of flying back and forth from Los Angeles to New York was one “I don’t highly recommend,” Lipez says.
“It was really intense. But it was two jobs I really loved, and I was grateful even when I was very tired.”
Lipez says that although Los Angeles “is a great place to be for work, Maine and the East Coast are never far from my heart.”
“I really like weather and seasons and rain and snow,” she says. “LA is relentlessly sunny.”
“There’s no place like Maine,” she says. “It remains the best place I’ve ever been.”
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the play she is currently writing is set in Maine during the time of the 1998 ice storm. She says she’ll come back to the state to write during the “Suits” hiatus later this fall.
Whether it’s in California or in Maine, Lipez’s goal is to write. Today a television show and play, tomorrow perhaps a film, she says, and then, someday, maybe her own TV show.
“I’m very happy to be a working writer.”