Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 308: Kait Kerrigan
Hometown: Kingston, PA
Current Town: New York
Q: Tell me about your show going up at Goodspeed.
A: My writing partner Brian Lowdermilk and I have been working with producers Beth Williams and Broadway Across America on a 5-person musical called The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown for several years. Goodspeed is the next step in the process. It's not a full production. It won't be reviewed and it won't have an official opening so we'll get a full month of performances to play and fine-tune. We begin performances on August 4th and run through August 28th at the Norma Terrace Theater - which has a turntable so I'm thinking we'll make use of that.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: 2011 is pretty crazy. We just released our first album (Our First Mistake) and we're in the process of doing a concert series in New York called "You Made This Tour" - which is named for our fans after they raised 35K on our kickstarter campaign. We're also going to the MacDowell Colony to work on a new musical about the Irish Republican Army based on Shakespeare's Henry IV and then I hop out to Northern California to work on a production of my play Imaginary Love.
Q: Tell me about Primary Stages' ESPA. What can a student in your class expect?
A: You'd probably get a better answer from some of my students. I have a lot of students who have taken my classes three and four times and they're really progressing. I think the most important thing I can offer as a workshop leader is deadlines. The difference between being a writer and not is pretty simply the ability to finish something so I force that on them. Once you know you can finish something, the whole world opens up for you. In fact, I'm restructuring my first-level class to reflect that. The final product of my first level class is a treatment for full-length musical. But I want to create a mid-point deadline that has them each write a 10-minute musical. I kind of kick my students' asses. Otherwise, I wouldn't be earning my paycheck, but I try to create an environment where the critique is always constructive.
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'm going to tell you the first story that comes to mind. When I was three or four, I got really interested in god. My mom was agnostic, my grandmother was a lapsed Catholic, and my grandfather - who took me to church on Sundays and fed me pancakes afterwards - was Protestant. I was a very literal kid and I started asking my mom a lot of questions about where people come from and how God made us. I think my mom probably talked to me about science and, like, cell formation. But I was really preoccupied by the idea of how bones got inside skin. I couldn't understand how God (or anyone) could put the bones inside without there being seams. A couple weeks passed, and I came running into the dining room. I was so excited. I show my mom the palms of my hands. I said, "Look! I found the seams!"
I guess the reason that story comes to mind because I get really stuck on things I don't understand, things I can't name. Honestly, it doesn't even matter if I name it incorrectly. The naming of it, making something feel like it makes sense, is all that matters. And that's sort of what writing is for me.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I wish theater gave audiences more credit. I also wish there were a more porous relationship between theater and popular culture. That's two things...
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I met Sondheim when I was 14 and I asked him to sign my cd. He told me that I was the only person under the age of 40 who knew who he was. I was devastated and I almost wrote him a letter to tell him how wrong he was. (As I said, I was a pretty literal kid.) Lynn Ahrens and Steve Flaherty were mentors of mine and Brian's and I think they were some of the best teachers I ever had.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I think the most exciting thing is when a play or musical HAS TO BE a play or a musical. I also love mongral forms, which is probably why I love writing musicals so much. I love when pieces attempt to stretch the boundaries of what has been done before. BRIEF ENCOUNTER, THE BURNT PART BOYS and VENICE are the shows this year that really moved me. In the not too distant past, pieces that really moved me include THE FOUR OF US, RUBY SUNRISE, CAROLINE OR CHANGE, CLYBOURNE PARK, LOOKING FOR THE PONY, and THE SEVEN. But probably the most exciting piece of theater that has happened in the past couple years was documented in film EXIT THROUGH THE GIFTSHOP. That film changed the way I view art, commerce, theatricality, and the age old plot twist.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Finish your drafts. Don't be afraid of rejection because you will be rejected. But often the people who reject your first play or musical, remember your name and are excited to read the 2nd one you send. And then, sometimes they're moved by your second piece and they commission your third.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: THE UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SAMANTHA BROWN is at Goodspeed from August 4th through August 28th. We also have concerts at Le Poisson Rouge on Feb 7 and March 27 and another concert at the Canal Room on Feb 28th. And my play IMAGINARY LOVE opens at the Hapgood Theatre in Antioch, CA on June 3 and runs through the end of the month.