Jun 29, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 203: Kirk Lynn
photo by Rino Pizzi
Hometown: San Antonio, TX.
Current Town: Austin, TX.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Focus. Patience. Prayer. Magic. Honesty. Sobriety. Being a good husband. Being a good friend. Reducing the amount of time between my mistakes and my apologies. Calmness. Anger management. Time management. Reading. Staying ignorant.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH is a commission I’m working on with my friend and longtime collaborator, Melanie Joseph at the Foundry Theatre. It’s intended to be a performance constructed entirely of questions. What is money? How did I get into so much debt in my 20s? I’m just about to have my first child and I want to ask what I should teach her about money and value and addiction. Melanie is wondering about retirement savings, the global economy and, in general, how much is enough.
THE ANIMALS is a more traditionally narrative play about a middle-aged couple deciding to live like wild animals within the confines of their home. This means living without electric lights or alarm clocks, going to bed when they’re tired, waking up when they’re hungry, and attacking one another whenever they’re overcome with sexual desire. I think it’s pretty funny and really sad. I want it to feel like Uncle Vanya feels to me: wild, unworkable, holy and true.
I’VE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY is a western operetta I’ve been making with my company, the Rude Mechs, for several years. Peter Stopschinski composed the music and wrote some of the lyrics, Lana Lesley and Thomas Graves are co-directing the piece. We just met a new animator, Miwa Matreyek, thru CTG in LA and it’s nice working with someone new. It’s nice to get to know someone. It gives us all a chance to be new to one another. We’re all going to see the A-TEAM tonight at the Alamo and afterwards we’re going two-stepping at the Broken Spoke. Join us, if you get this in time.
THE WRESTLING PATIENT is getting a new draft this summer. It is a play I was commissioned to make a few years ago about the life of Etty Hillesum and I still haven’t got it right.
THE METHOD GUN has to go back into rehearsal because we can’t have an open flame on stage on the East Coast tour this next year because of the fire caused by that rock band, Great White, in 2003 at that nightclub in Rhode Island.
Q: How do you and Rude Mechanicals work together?
A: The artistic directors are just about to go on retreat. Madge Darlington, Thomas Graves, Lana Lesley, Sarah Richardson, Shawn Sides and me. We do it at least once every year. We talk a lot. And usually we swim and play ping pong. We discuss what we’re in love with, what we’re reading, what we’re looking at, the plays and performances we’ve seen, the music we’re dancing to these days. We also talk about what we want to do, what skills we want to learn, who we want to talk to, where we want to travel.
We try to find common areas of interest and then it’s simply a matter of creating a container for all those interests and desires. Ideally the container is a great evening of performance that people will pay money to see.
I think it’s important to say that we don’t vote. We work by consensus. We either agree or we don’t. In that way you could say that there’s never any compromise. There’s an awful lot of love and patience in a group of fairly bizarre and strong personalities.
Each performance is created in an entirely different manner. It’s beautiful. I honestly believe we’ll be making theatre together when we are 90 years old. I pray for that. I pray they do, too.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I used to go to the barbershop with my dad on Saturdays and spend the first part of the day watching cartoons in his little booth while he cut people’s hair. When the good cartoons were over my dad would give me a little job, sweeping or picking up trash from the back lot for a dollar. When I thought I was finished I would come get my dad and he would inspect my work. I almost never passed the first inspection. Not because my dad is especially tough, but because I was (and am) really impatient to get my dollar. Usually I would work just a little longer and then my dad would relent and I would take my dollar down to Winn’s, which was a five and dime, and I would buy something to play with for the rest of the day. I remember once buying a pad of paper and a pencil so that I could be a private eye and keep track of clues. For lunch we would go down to the Royal Pharmacy. Everyone there knew my dad which I thought was really cool. Then we would work a little more, my dad cutting hair and me looking for clues. At the end of the day my dad would sweep up and I would hold the dustpan and then we would go home. Typing it up now it sounds to me like I grew up in the 50s in the middle of the 80s in a small town in the middle of San Antonio, TX.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I am casting a magical spell over all true theatres to protect them from experts. The moment an expert enters a theatre, or the moment someone becomes an expert while inside a theatre, he or she will be transported to a classroom, or a lecture hall, or a marketing firm, or anywhere in the world where an expert is truly needed or desired. This magical spell will ensure that only novices, beginners, children, wild animals, lunatics, lovers, penitents, addicts, hobbyists and deeply dedicated artists can be in the theatre. The mystery is in exile in the presence of an expert. It’s only in the presence of a student that the mystery can reveal itself. I may never get to be in a textbook, but as long as I get to stand beside my best friends in presence of the great mysteries once or twice a year for as long as we can manage, I’ll be happy. I think people try to sound like they really know what they’re doing because they’re scared or embarrassed or desirous of more acclaim. That’s why I do it. But those times when I really manage to place myself in pursuit of what I don’t know, what I don’t have, what I’ve failed to accomplish or understand, what I need, what I can’t live without, what I’m dying for the lack of—those are the times when I’ve really been true to the infinite possibilities of live performance. I wish all experts would disappear from my life. Just casting this spell is probably enough to qualify myself for removal from the mystery for a good long time. I’ll have to earn my way back by disagreeing with myself, being embarrassed, ambivalent, regretting that I ever said anything.
I don’t know that I would change anything about the theatre.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Young Jean Lee, Annie Baker, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, Anton Chekhov, David Greenspan, Melissa Kievman and Brian Mertes, Terry Galloway, Dayna Hanson, Gaelen Hanson, Deborah Hay, Paul Lazar, Dario Fo and Franca Rame, Bruce Nauman, Jo Brainard, Jay De Feo, and Richard Huelsenbeck. That’s who came to mind.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I learned a lot from a Double Dagger show I saw last year in Austin. At very same moment the band let this wild punk rock get loose from their instruments, the lead singer rushed forward and started touching the faces of the crowd really tenderly and sweetly. At the end of the night they sang this great song, “Vivre Sans Temps Mort,” which ends with the lines, “There’s no way we’re going to die tonight. If we shout loud enough they can’t turn out the light.” It felt like the leader singer was casting a spell of protection over the audience and I’m still alive, so maybe it worked? It was one of the best pieces of performance I’ve ever seen. I’d like to make a piece with them someday.
I generally love dance theatre. 33 Fainting Spells (back when they were together) and Big Dance always. I love bobrauschenbergamerica. Rubber Repertory did a show in Austin called THE CASKET OF PASSING FANCY in which 500 offers were made to the audience and when you heard an offer you liked you raised your hand and they performed it for you, or with you—everything from being buried alive, to spending the night in a flop house, to an act of true love and devotion.
I like new work. For me, the canon is just a history of the avant garde. Everyone is always trying something new.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Keep starting out. Don’t become an expert. We need what you know. We’ve barely begun to explore the theatre. We know almost nothing about it. Produce your own work. Craft is essential, but don’t confuse it with art. Risk complete failure and embarrassment. You have nothing to lose.
Q: Plugs, please:
MARY-ARRCHIE THEATRE CO PRESENTS
CHERRYWOOD: The Modern Comparable by Kirk Lynn
Directed by David Cromer
JUNE 24 until AUGUST 8, 2010
BURN LAKE by Carrie Fountain
Available from Penguin Books
Winner of the National Poetry Series