Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 661: Lucas Kavner

Lucas Kavner

Hometown: Plano, TX

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about Carnival Kids.

A:  It's about a Southern guy moving in with his son in Manhattan. I had the idea after seeing a dad doing laundry in my apartment's basement and his son was showing him how to use the machines, how to get a laundry card. The whole scene really stuck with me.

In my play the dad used to be a touring musician but stopped playing in his 20s, and he comes to New York City with only a vague job lead and the desire to spent time with his kid. Instead, everyone ends up falling down far stranger rabbit holes.

It's also about sex.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a Sloan commission through E.S.T that I'm working on through the summer about the invention of chewing gum in Staten Island. A bunch of TV/Film things are in various stages of development, some of which I'm working on with my friend Nick Jones, another writer who has appeared on this very site.

Acting-wise I'm probably heading back on tour with this Stephen King/John Mellencamp musical I've been working on for about 3 years. This'll be the fourth iteration of it that I've been a part of.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  In 8th grade I moved to Plano, Texas from Los Angeles, California and struggled to make friends. I was angry and weird and said "dope" a lot, because everyone in California said "dope" at the time.

About halfway through the year our Texas History class was assigned a video project about the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 and I took it very seriously. I found costumes, wrote a detailed script, really tried to make the production values stand out. Our group got close during the filming and they became some of my first friends in Texas.

When we screened the finished video for the class, it got an amazing response. Kids laughed! I felt great. But our teacher gave us a B-minus because we took "too many liberties with the history" and the group with the boring PowerPoint video got an A. After class I flipped out at the teacher and got sent to the principal.

In retrospect, I really have no idea what this says about me. Maybe I was far too passionate about the Whiskey Rebellion.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  We all say it, but affordability is just The Biggest Thing. If the people who actually LOVE theater, who are active members of the community, can't afford to see it, that's such a profound problem.

The affordability thing ends up playing into so many other things, too. Because when only old, rich white people can afford to see new plays then the plays have to cater to the old, rich white people. And that often leads to very boring plays.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  McDonagh's The Pillowman had a major impact on me early on. I had a rather life-altering experience working with Amy Herzog and Tamara Fisch on 'After the Revolution' at Williamstown. I love Kenneth Lonergan and Kneehigh and the Mad Ones. Sarah Burgess is a playwright I hope we'll be seeing a lot in the coming years. Also that Arthur Miller guy is cool.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Shows about real characters, rather than ones with Overarching Macro Messages in neon letters. Genuinely funny plays excite me, as do things I would never think to write myself -- L'Effet De Serge at Under the Radar from a few years ago always comes to mind. It was so simple: just a guy bringing some friends over to test out his weird inventions. But it was so endearingly honest and fun. When it comes down to it, I just really want to be entertained.

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

A:  Put up your own stuff. There are so many opportunities to do it -- apply to the Fringe, to Ars Nova's ANT Fest, for a slot at a comedy theatre. There's really no excuse for not putting your work up in NYC, if that's what you want to do.

See/do improv. There's a weird disconnect between the improv and theatre communities here, which I think should be bridged. Improv is often meant for comedy and comedy alone, but the best improv is also weirdly moving. Some of the best scenes I've ever seen onstage have been on improv stages, and I think it can really inform one's writing.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Carnival Kids runs June 5-28 at TBG Theatre. The wonderful Stephen Brackett directs. I also have a play for teens running this weekend at 52nd Street Project. They're the best.

And I perform made-up musicals with Hello every Friday night at 9:30 at the Peoples Improv Theater.

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