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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...

Aug 31, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 978: Barbara Kahn

Portrait by Seth Ruggles Hiler

Barbara Kahn

Hometown: near Philadelphia, in Southern New Jersey, the half a state that should have seceded from the Northern half, unlike those treasonous rebels of the 19th century.

Current Town: New York City. (I believe that when you have lived in a location longer than the number of years in the town where you were born, you should be able to claim it as your hometown.)

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m researching and writing a historical drama, set in Amsterdam during World War II, about a group of artists—musician, poet, composer, sculptor and others, both gay and straight—who formed a resistance group against the fascist Nazi occupation. Inspired by a true events.

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

A:  In my ideal world, people would see the value of the arts, especially theater, how it is vital to the well-being of people along with food, water and a peaceful planet. My second choice would echo Nijinsky, who wished for a theater where the poor would be let in for free and those who could afford to pay would have to wait their turn.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Bob Sickinger, my first professional acting teacher, who taught me, a teenager, how to be a professional in the theater and who added organic, method skills to my earlier technical training.

Ellen Stewart, who produced my first play, co-authored with Ray Hagen, at LaMaMa. I still remember her introduction to each of the 12 performance. She rang her bell and proclaimed, “Welcome to LaMaMa, dedicated to the playwright and all aspects of the theater.”

Barbara Barondess, former Broadway and Hollywood actor, author, designer, philanthropist, friend of Garbo, Harlow and Monroe, who befriended me and mentored me. She inspired me with the Torch of Hope Award from her foundation, previously given to August Wilson, Terrence McNally, John Guare, A.R. Gurney and other theater artists.

Bob Dahdah, legendary director of Off-Off Broadway, a friend and advisor. He introduced me to Crystal Field at Theater for the New City.

Crystal Field, founder of Theater for the New City, who has kept a non-profit theater alive in New York City for nearly half a century. She brought me into the TNC family. Among the 30-40 new American plays produced annually at TNC, Crystal has produced my new full-length plays every year since 1994.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Almost any, but if forced to choose, I’d say German Expressionist as represented by Brecht. Perhaps it’s because my grandmother was a real “Mother Courage” bringing her children, including my father, safely from a war zone to the U.S. via Cuba. Someday maybe I’ll write her play.

I would also add musical dramas to theater that excites me. I’m not very successful at attempting expressionist plays, but I’m very proud of the book and lyrics I’ve written for a number of historical musicals.

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

A:  Since I coach playwrights (and actors) at all levels of expertise and experience, I have lots of advice. What has worked for me: I joined two peer groups early on—the Women Playwrights Collective and Village Playwrights. I learned from each how to both give and receive critique and how to ignore what doesn’t resonate with me. Some beginning playwrights rewrite after every comment, whether from colleagues, friends or strangers at a reading. I tell them to trust themselves; they are the best critics of their own work.

As far as getting your work produced in NYC, I recommend volunteering at a theater whose play selection feels like a good fit for you. Become part of the theater’s family. I volunteered at Theater for the New City for almost two years before my first play was presented there. I also recommend being better than I am at scouting submissions and following through by actually submitting your work.

Q:  When not writing on a computer, what’s your go to paper and writing utensil? When on your computer, what’s your font?

A:  Summer is my research and writing time. I bring my research material, a yellow tablet and a black felt-tip pen to my “office” at a public access pier on the Hudson River. I’m a terrible procrastinator if I try to work at home. I blame Turner Classic Movies for that. When I type up what I’ve written by hand, I usually am able to clarify, expand or cut and paste changes to the structure. I use Word with Calibri as the default font and keep forgetting to ask someone more tech savvy than I how to change it to Arial or Times Roman, my preferred fonts.

Q:  Plug: 

A:  The play I am currently writing will be produced at Theater for the New City in April 2018.

Q:  Additional comments:

A:  I am the daughter of a child refugee from European war. My father’s legacy has inspired all of his four children. My siblings have careers in social service and human rights activism. I write plays about oppression and injustice—racism, antisemitism, misogyny and homophobia. Many of my plays retrieve the people and events of the past that have been omitted or distorted in popular culture and bring them to the stage. Writing plays is my primary method of resistance.

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