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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Nov 18, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 891: Kev Berry

Kev Berry

Hometown:  Rockville Centre, New York

Current Town: I sleep in Rockville Centre, but do everything else in New York, New York.

Q:  Tell me about Nora Goes 2 Space, Motherfuck*r!:

A:  Nora Goes 2 Space, Motherfuck*r! is a 1950s-set solo drag adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that uses text from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan to provide a contemporary queer critique of the housewife and her role in the home yesterday and tomorrow. We’re also using a lot of late 20th Century lady rock music, and these creepy housewife etiquette videos from the ‘50s to enhance the world of the play.

It’s a badass little play that I’ve been working on for almost a year. I’m on staff at 3-Legged Dog Media + Theater Group//3LD Art + Technology Center, and had the chance to workshop the play there with my director Patrice Miller, in June and July as we prepared for a two-night presentation of the piece at The Tank, as a part of their PrideFest this past July. Then, I was offered the opportunity to present the play in a bare-bones production for 2 weeks at 3LD. We’re going to do 13 performances for a VERY intimate house, including a midnight extravaganza performance.

I’ve never had the opportunity to present my work on this scale, so I’m teetering back and forth between crippling fear and overwhelming elation. I’ve also only recently come back in to performing my own work, so this rehearsal process has really been a crash course in learning how to be onstage again. It’s been really great, and I’m learning so much about the way I relate to an audience and about how the work itself relates to an audience.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Too much.

I just finished the first act of my next solo drag play, called Babytalk, the first act of which is a verbatim transcription of this notebook my mother kept when my sister and I were children. It tracks the funny and profound things we said as we discovered language and the world around us. The notebook also traces her breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, and ultimately, decline towards death, and the funny and profound things my sister and I had to say about that. The second act of the play is going to “fill in” the rest of the notebook through an original song cycle I’m creating. The songs will deal with memory, grief, death, and the profound and funny things I’ve noticed about the world as I’ve grown up and become my own person. I’ll be performing the show in an elaborate gown made of VHS cassettes and a wig made of the tape from the insides of those cassettes.

Also working on Fabulous Creatures, a comprehensive theatricalized history of the gay rights movements that will eventually be 10.5 hours long; continuing to tweak my play (i heard) ANNA KARENINA (wanks w/ a toothbrush); writing a very fucked-up adaptation of the world of the Peanuts called You’re an Existentialist, Charlie Brecht! {thank you thank you robert wilson thank you thank you}; and developing my next cabaret called Kev Berry Presents Frances McDormand at the 2011 Tony Awards, which should be going up next spring.

I am always tired, and I don’t sleep enough, so I am working on ways to find more time to sleep.
I also walk everywhere in this goddamn city, so I am working on ways to stretch out my legs at night before bed.

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 was raised pretty Catholic. Church every Sunday, Confirmation in seventh grade, altar boy, all of that. Then I went off to college and became liberal scum, and stopped going to church. Anyway, for my First Holy Communion in second grade, I asked a family member to buy me this little toy theatre from the Lillian Vernon catalog. It came with a wooden stage, a double-sided backdrop printed on glossy oaktag, and 20 figurines: three knights, a king, a queen, a jester, a prince and princess, a wizard, a witch, and all of the other denizens of the fairy tale world. Maybe a milkmaid? None of them had eyes. I started creating these little shows for them, written in soft-cover composition notebooks. I had full scripts, with light and sound cues, and little songs, and usually a big finale number. I’d stage them on this weird toy stage, and sometimes film them on this little handheld camera I had. The first one that comes to mind was called Rutabaga LIVE! and I’m not sure why LIVE was a part of the title because it’s not like there was something else it was based on. I think it was essentially the story of Phantom of the Opera if it were set on a cruise ship and also written by a child. These little plays I’d make in my bedroom, along with theater classes I was taking at our local rec center, are the foundation of my love for theatre, even if I’ve grown way bigger than the two.

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

A:  Money. I wish artists making theatre were paid more, I wish artists making theatre had to pay less, I wish the bigger theaters in the city were willing to take risks on playwrights and directors they’ve never heard of but who make damn good work, I wish playwrights weren’t required to have an MFA to get the right people’s attention, I wish tickets were cheaper, I wish tickets were free for playwrights if they show up right before curtain and there’s an open seat. I wish it were viable to make a living as an artist in New York. I think that’s kind of how a lot of people my age are feeling.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Taylor Mac.
Everyone at The Tank.
Sean Graney and The Hypocrites. Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle, and everyone at Punchdrunk. Lucas Hnath. Ann Liv Young.
Stephen Sondheim.
Tony Kushner. Michael Bennett. Stephen Karam.
Dave Malloy. Bob Fosse. Pasek and Paul.
Everyone at The Bushwick Starr. John Cameron Mitchell.
Everyone at Ars Nova. The Frantic Assembly.
Justin Vivian Bond. Nico Muhly. The Brooklyn Gypsies.
The cast of Shuffle Along. The entire cast of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.
Bart Sher. Sam Hunter. Rachel Chavkin. Ivo van Hove.

And my teachers at Skidmore College: Eunice Ferreira, Will Bond, Carolyn Anderson, Ari Osterweis.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that’s unbelievably big.
Taylor Mac’s a 24-Decade History of Popular Music, the marathon, changed my life and completely altered the way I see theatre.
Sean Graney and the Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic, a 12-hour adaptation of all 32 Greek tragedies into a single narrative, is my favorite play ever. So beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking.
Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, back in 2013-2014. I saw it in 10 times while I was on my semester abroad in London, and still wasn’t done with it. I saw it on my first night abroad, and my last. Their Sleep No More also excites me, but something about The Drowned Man and its 1960s Hollywood sex appeal really grabbed me.

Theatre that’s verbally gymnastic.
Lucas Hnath’s A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.
Anything by Sondheim.
So much of Target Margin’s work.

Theatre that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
Theatre that pushes you away with its relentless grotesqueness, but your eyes are glued.
Theatre that makes you stop breathing.
Theatre that makes you second-guess everything you thought you knew.

Theatre that’s effervescently and relentlessly fabulous.

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

A:  What advice do they have for me?! I feel like I’m just starting out. Probably because I am!

I guess three things have kept me going:

1. Fight like hell for your work. You’re your work’s greatest advocate.

2. Keep writing. I quit for a LONG time after one of my mentors gave me the single note “This is a bad play.” Fuck that. Keep writing until someone sees what you’re doing and fucking gets it, man.


Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see Nora/Motherfuck*r! Tickets available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2666889

Donate to Nora, motherfucker. We need your help! IndieGogo here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nora-goes-2-space-motherfuck-r-christmas-feminism/x/15142082#/

Support everything The Tank does: http://thetanknyc.org. They’re my artistic home and have welcomed me into their family. Send them love, see their shows.

And, if you’re reading this on, or before November 17 at 8pm, I’m doing a monologue as a part of a Rapid Response evening at The Tank. Do it up. Join us. Make change.

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