Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 44: Kyle Jarrow

photo by Lauren Worsham 

Kyle Jarrow

Hometown: Ithaca, NY

Current Town: New York, NY

Q: You're one of those people who is always working on twenty things at once. You write plays, music, musicals, you're in three or four bands and now you've started a publishing company. Tell me about this publishing company. How did this come about?

A: Several years ago, my friend Jeffrey Dinsmore (“Jeffrey” D for short) was one of the founders of an indie publishing company called Contemporary Press. They concentrated specifically on pulp fiction and crime stories — and they published quite a few books, with an impressive amount of success. Then a few years ago that company folded, and so Jeff was looking for a new project. He approached me and another friend, writer Clay McLeod Chapman, to see if we’d be interested in working with him on starting a new publishing venture. Awkward Press was the result. The idea is to focus on publishing imaginative, story-based fiction, and to do it in an affordable format with an eye toward design. Really treating books as an art object, but trying to do it without making them too expensive.

Q: What else are you up to now? You have a play or musical in the works?

A: I just got done workshopping a new musical at Williamstown that I wrote with Nathan Leigh, called THE CONSEQUENCES. We’re doing rewrites now, based on what we learned at that workshop, and hoping to do another workshop this fall and move toward a production in the spring. Meanwhile, I’m preparing to do WHISPER HOUSE, another musical (this one I wrote with Duncan Sheik) at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. That opens in January.

Q: How is writing a musical different than writing a straight play?

A: There are two main differences, it seems to me: One, in a musical you’re able to go more deeply into character’s thoughts and feelings. Songs allow you to have characters sing directly to the audience about what they’re feeling. In a straight play, you have to work in a more round-about way to show this kind of inner life. The second difference is that musicals tend to be a more collaborative process. Even if one person is writing book, music, and lyrics (which I’ve done on a few occasions) there’s still an arranger involved, and a music director in addition to the director. Having more people involved in the creation process can be challenging, but ultimately I think it ends up being more exciting.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I like theater that surprises me. Far too many of the new plays I see are traditionally structured pieces about upper middle-class white people with dark secrets. There’s a place for that, absolutely, and plays like that can be amazing, but they’re hardly surprising. I like to see a wider range of subject matter and more experimentation with form. I like to be made to think about things I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: The theater industry is a fairly conservative industry, in my experience. Probably because of the generally geriatric age of the core audiences at many theaters. This can make it frustrating when you’re first starting out and you’re trying to make a name for yourself. The best (and most fun) way to get started is to band together with other likeminded peers — actors, directors, designers — and get your work produced. Even if it’s on a very small scale, you’ll learn things from seeing your plays produced that you’ll never learn from reading them on the page. And through these productions you’ll gradually build a name for yourself, on your own terms. You won’t be dependant solely on the whims of theater literary departments.

Q: Plugs here and links for the publishing co, your bands, anything else:

Check out my new band Super Mirage! We have a record coming out in January. The publishing company can be found at And my website, that has more on all the crap I do, is at

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