Why eight? 8 is a good number. 8 is a GOD number...its infinity standing up. And, of course, why not?
Paraphrasing Ezra pound; "Writers are like scouts for the tribe; They survey the human condition and then report back."
Kevin's reportage has quickly become top notch and can be painful both for the audience and the writer.He doesn't flinch from his critiques of society or from its critiques of him, but his writing covers the gamut. He writes high school comedy productions for the whole family and stinging sailor-talk philosophy on the modern condition.
He also helps me with my resume from time to time...not in order of importance of course.
What can you tell about your latest project?
I’m developing this play of mine DREAM OF PERFECT SLEEP. It’s had readings around the United States and in the UK, and there’s a theatre in London that has talked about programming it. It’s won a couple prizes, and there’s a well-known dramaturg in New York who wants to do more directing. We’re shopping the piece around. It feels like the play’s right on the cusp of a big season, with maybe three or more productions all at once, which would be great. Then again it could all fall apart, and nothing could happen until 2017. The theatre gods are fickle. All gods are fickle. That’s part of the “god” job description, I think.
And I’m finally beginning a new piece, about a female hacker who gives up a child for adoption and then has second thoughts. It’s going to be about our desire to spy and our secret need to be spied upon. It used to be that most people wouldn’t feel real if they weren’t seen and heard. Now it’s not enough to be seen and heard. We need to leave a trail of seeing and hearing. Future historians will know us by our trail of digital slime. People need to write about this. But it’s not easy. Slime is embarrassing. This godawful need to be witnessed… to have hundreds and hundreds of our “friends” know when we’re “in a relationship” and how nice our holiday to Jamaica was… is embarrassing and childish. But there it is, and it rules the day. If people on the vanguard aren’t writing about it, we’ll never understand it. And if we don’t understand it, we’ll never tame it. Maybe we never will. But for myself, I know I need to figure out what it is about human nature that giddily sacrifices dignity on the altar of this lemming-crawl off the cliff of social media.
How do you think your plays reflect your world view?
I’m not an ideologue. There’s no “ism” to which I ascribe. All my plays are different, because I don’t have to prove what a big feminist I am, Marxist I am, progressive I am, friend of the whales I am, deep thinker I am, etc. I’m not trying to prove anything or move the political football for anybody’s agenda, although that’s a great way to get noticed and have your play staged. My advice to playwrights just starting out is to pick a topic the NPR/New York Times set will cream over and write about that. Give them what they want. Congratulate them for following the news. Then once the door’s opened a crack and you’ve gotten a fellowship or whatever, write about your own shit. Nobody remembers Shakespeare because his plays were so topical. Anything people will be doing thirty or fifty or a hundred years from now will transcend this banal fetishism of theatre as a kind of journalism or editorial chamber for the perpetually indignant Left.
I’m a little old fashioned. I don’t really devise work. I write the voices in my head in the hope that actors will say what I hear in front of strangers, and maybe pay me to be distracted or engaged for ninety minutes. There’s nothing really revolutionary about that. This storytelling desire goes all the way back to the ancient campfire, where the weird guy who maybe couldn’t hunt all that well would earn his keep and get women to notice him by making shadow figures or telling a story or casting bones or whatever. I’m that weird guy from North Dakota with a laptop and a huge fucking chip on my shoulder.
My big kick lately is a dramaturgy of the audience. The audience is there in the theatre. Playwrights should either cast the in an implicit or explicit role or give them a clear job to do. Even if you’re attempting a really broad comedy, the audience has a job: laugh. In more ambitious work… when you’re really trying to make ritual art… you can do things with a live audience that are impossible in any other media. Peter Shaffer is a master at this. EQUUS is one of my favorite plays. I’ve never seen a production, but the film is outstanding, and the moves he makes in the opening monologue are a study in how to arrest an audience and involve and implicate them.
You’re living in NYC currently. You've lived in London England, Austin Texas, and Saint Paul Minnesota. How does environment affect your writing?
I don’t know what a New York play is going to look like for me. Place isn’t the most important thing in my work. Of my more mature work, I’ve written a play explicitly set in North Dakota (WOLF CRY WOLF) and another explicitly set in Arizona (COYOTE), but my other pieces are in kind of a broad “anyplace.” My most recent play is an adaptation of a Russian folktale, called VASILISA MOST LOVELY, that’s set “once upon a time.” I’m not being glib there, either. Time kind of bleeds and melts in that play. It’s pure storytelling. The best single paragraph of writing I’ve ever done is in that play. It’s a stage direction describing a sound that Vasilisa hears which her doll cannot. It’s the bluest scene I’ve written. Blue and white with gold. It’s hard to describe, what I see when I think about that scene. This is why we work with designers and directors.
I know Minnesota’s a great place to write because of the quiet and the long winters. New York is too damned expensive, and because of that you have to dig into other pursuits (unless you have family money, of course, and who has that… anyone who does keeps it a secret anyway – I don’t). I don’t mind working, but the rent’s too damned high. Ahh well.
Austin was a particular experience because I enjoyed the benefit of a Michener Fellowship, which is more or less singular in terms of the MFA and what it allows a writer to do. You have three years to just take classes, bask in the sun, drink too much, and write plays. It’s such a boon that it really has the potential to ruin people, because once you taste that leisure, the transition out can be a rough one. The novelists really have a shot to sell a novel and go nova right out the gates, but playwrights have a tougher row to hoe commercially. Not that I’m complaining. I love the theatre. The reward is the practice, and the community (really). When you find your people and really make something together, there’s nothing else like it. Of course you have to wade through heaping rivers of bullshit to just have the chance to be in a room with people to make the work, but that’s because humans put barriers around anything that’s really worthwhile and holy. Theatre is, and the work of the playwright is so magnificent and strange… we deserve to flogged for even aspiring to it, for having the gall to call ourselves that. It’s total lunacy really. I love it.
I know you have dozens, but off the top of your head what is your favorite line of poetry that you didn't write?
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him
What's the biggest misconception people have about you?
I suppose there’s a preconception that anyone who’s in the theatre is a liberal. I am not. Neither am I a conservative or whatever. I’m independent. I’m on a fellowship right now with the National Review Institute here in Manhattan, which is fascinating. It’s a joy to be surrounded by die-hard Republicans. I’m fascinated by that milieu and the way they think and behave. I was raised Catholic. There are certain Catholic values I still retain. It informs the way I see the world. I understand metaphor and ritual and appreciate these things as a way to access metaphysical truths. We’re all going to die. I’m not just a piece of meat, and neither are you. Let’s discuss.
I studied history and philosophy at Minnesota and got my fill of proto-socialist politics and Marxism (“progressivism” or whatever). I’m really interested in conservative politics right now and have been since the thought police students at UT Austin’s Theatre Department tried to “ban” David Mamet from campus back in 2010. He writes about this in his great polemic “The Secret Knowledge.”
Someone gave us advice at grad school that went like this: “In every rehearsal room, someone is going to be the asshole. Your job is to not be the asshole.”
I’m aware sometimes I’m the asshole. Other times I’m a goddamned gentleman. Sometimes you need to be both.
Just a guess, but I suspect Shakespeare wasn’t always easy to get along with. Wilde. Chekhov. Nobody remembers a great artist for being nice and cuddly (okay, maybe Wilde was cuddly). Though that doesn’t mean because you aspire to greatness you have carte blanche to run roughshod over people. Unless they’re acting like total idiots. Which happens.
What question do interviewers never ask that you wish they would?
The last one. Really.
Also, “Why do you write plays?” is a pretty good question. I’m also interested in peoples’ influences outside the theatre. It’s so cliché to spew the names of playwrights you admire. Tell me what music you like… what other art… the last best novel you read. More, better ideas are going to come into the American theatre from other places than the theatre itself.
“You know, I wish people would write more plays deconstructing the nature of performance!” said no actual member of the theatre-going public, ever.
What music is in your heavy rotation right now?
Mastodon’s The Hunter and Crack the Skye are so great. I’m seeing them when they come to New York next. The story of Crack the Skye and what they were working through there is great. It’s an amazing piece of theatre… like a radio play or a metal opera. There are some things metal can do as an idiom that don’t happen anywhere else. I love that it’s so geeky and strange.
Everything Cocteau Twins. When I die, play “Pink, Orange, Red” 10 times at my funeral. I’ve been listening every week to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine for over 15 years now, and the album has yet to become less sexy. I looked at the Wikipedia just now and see Rolling Stone gave it 3 and ½ stars of 5. There’s a special place in music journalism hell for whoever gave it that rating. What a tool.
What superpower would you have and why?
Telepathy. You could dump her before she dumps you, which would be pretty satisfying. And you’d never wonder whether somebody actually likes you or is just putting up with you because you’ve written a shit hot play.
Any thing you'd like to share… websites, info, promotions, etc...?
I build websites with a great agency in Manhattan: http://e9digital.com. I’m in two writers groups right now: Page 73 and Bookshop Workshops. More about all this and my plays is at http://kevinkautzman.com. I tweet at http://twitter.com/kevinkautzman.