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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...

Oct 8, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1001: Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

Hometown: Nowhere, U.S.A. My family moved up and down the East Coast while I was growing up, and I've never had a true “from” place. In first grade, after a dramatic jump from Massachusetts to a small town in Georgia, there was a period where I’d say both youse and Y'all. Sometimes in the same sentence, much to my parents’ delight, I’m sure, “Hey youse guys, Y'all have to see this!”

Current Town:  Astoria (Queens, baby!)

Q:  Tell me about “All I Want is One More Meanwhile...”

A:  “Meanwhile…” is a comic book in theatrical form centering on Perfectra, an artificially-engineered superhero. Twenty years ago, she was impervious to flaw because, well, she was a robot. Today, having chosen the ability to give birth over power and perfection, she’s just Jane — a real woman battling the bathroom scale, plantar fasciitis, and a strained relationship with her grown daughter. She’s also being sniffed out by Canius, a canine-controlling criminal and former fanboy who never let go of his deep personal betrayal over Perfectra’s sudden disappearance.

Originally produced as part of The Brick's Comic Book Theater Festival in Brooklyn, its currently receiving its Midwest premiere at Otherworld Theatre in Chicago, a venue dedicated to the performance of Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I’m honored to have “Meanwhile…” be the company’s first production in their new theater space.

“All I Want is One More Meanwhile…” was in large part inspired by intergalactic badass Carrie Fisher. In her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, she talked about being haunted by the Slave Leia costume. How these men who once thought of Leia every day from the ages of 12 to 22, or as one fanboy clarified, “Well, four times a day…” were now betrayed and angry at Carrie for committing the unforgivable crime of not “looking the exact same way for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Nathan Pease, directing Otherworld’s production, put it beautifully calling the play “a sly look at what it is society is really asking of women and how ridiculous it all is. It challenges toxic fandom the concepts of modern femininity while telling a story with a heroic amount of heart and humor.”

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Grading a million papers for my college classes, finishing up a grant proposal for No, YOU Tell It!, trying not to sound like a dumbass in this interview, and keeping panic at bay over how behind I am on rewrites for my first book.

Q:  Tell me about No, YOU Tell It!

A:  Nothing informs your story like hearing someone else perform your story! That is the guiding principle behind No, YOU Tell It!, a nonfiction series with a twist: Each participant develops their own true-life tale on the page and then trades scripts with a partner to present each other's story on stage. It started in 2012 as an experiment. While I was getting my MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairleigh Dickinson, I gathered some friends to swap stories. The goal was to strengthen the writing on the page but also deepen empathy as the story partners literally step into each other's shoes on stage. The audience reaction was so positive after that first show, we decided to keep going, developing No, YOU Tell It! into a regular series and, later, podcast.

For each installment the NYTI creative team, Erika Iverson, Mike Dressel and myself, work with a group of four storytellers — past participants include authors, actors, playwrights, songwriters, poets, dancers, educators, technical writers, advertising executives, comedians, and more — as they draft and revise true-life tales inspired by a theme. In about a month, participants go from strangers to collaborators as the full group all works together in a creative writing workshop setting. Once the stories are paired and swapped, each storyteller receives a one-on-one rehearsal session with a member of the creative team to work out how to best embody their partner's story, giving it little theatrical oomph on stage.

Producing the live shows, we’ve found that storytellers are often far more concerned with doing their partner’s story justice than how their own piece is going to turn out. Mixing up participants from different disciplines also allows everyone involved to “check their credentials at the door” and focus on the stories that need to be told. One of our fabulous alums, Ellie Dunn, helped us make this short video about what we do: https://vimeo.com/202678301.

My introverted side often wishes I could install a small screen on my forehead and just play the video whenever people ask me about No, YOU Tell It! at events, or conferences, or say an interview…

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

A:  Perhaps because my mind’s still on Georgia, the story that first pops up is when I lost my faith in Catholicism. I was in second grade. If you ever get the opportunity to go to Catholic school in Georgia… Don’t. What sticks most in my memory is the series of nuns with carts who rolled up to our classrooms to teach music, art, or religion. The art nun demanded that we use the yellow crayon when coloring in the exposed skin of the figures depicted in our Big Book of Saints. It didn’t matter if you owned one of those super Crayola boxes and wanted to give tan, brown, peach, or, God forbid, the flesh-colored crayon a spin. She dictated that we only ever use yellow.

It was the nun in charge of religion, however, who ruined so much more than the joy of coloring the day she rolled into my second-grade classroom. Before then, I’d been on board for anything Catholic. An old man shoving every animal in the world, two-by-two, onto a big wooden boat, sure, why not? Too bad he forgot the unicorns. Virgin birth? Sounds better than this weird “sex” thing my older sister’s friends keep whispering about in the back of the bus. Letting small round wafers of Jesus skin dissolve on your tongue? You got a better way to spend a Sunday?

Yep, I was all in until the day the Cart Nun taught us about Limbo. Babies who have the misfortune of dying before they are baptized, which is the only way to be freed from original sin, cannot go to heaven. But, being babies who have yet to commit personal sins, they don’t go to hell either. Limbo, the Cart Nun taught us, is this non-place filled with lost souls that exists somewhere in between. The notion of an ethereal plane filled with un-baptized baby ghosts scared the ever-living crap out of me. But the Cart Nun didn’t just teach us about Limbo. She also instructed that if we were ever to witness a car accident where a baby was thrown from the vehicle (my child’s mind might have embellished that last part), it was our moral duty to perform an emergency baptism right there on the road, in case the infant hadn’t been baptized yet.

And by we I mean me. I’m sorry, but that’s a lot of f$%king pressure to put on a seven-year-old. I had nightmares for weeks about sprinting down a dark gothic road toward a car wreck, picking up a limp baby body, spitting on its forehead (yeah, I definitely added that detail), and reciting the “in-a-jiff” baptism prayer the Cart Nun taught us. Then, one day, after stress-eating an entire box of cookies during a long car ride, a simple thought freed me.

Limbo is bullshit.

I thought those exact words too because, thanks to my teenage sister and her friends, I knew ALL THE WORDS. Limbo was bullshit. The fact that babies could be denied entrance to heaven because their still-soft heads hadn’t been dunked in holy water and prayed over, followed by cake, was moronic. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought this because according to the “Pope Closes Limbo” in The New York Times, Pope Benedict XVI officially gave Limbo the boot in 2007. But in second grade, my “ah-ha moment” that Limbo was B.S. made me question, what else isn’t true? I didn’t stop believing in God the day, but I stopped blindly buying into the party line the Cart Nuns were selling. They couldn’t be right about everything; I had a coloring book filled jaundiced Saints to prove it.

I’m not sure what this story says about me as a writer or a person, but it certainly speaks to one of the reasons I made my home in NYC; I’m a terrible driver and hate being in cars. I stick to the subway or walking whenever possible.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  No one has influenced or inspired me more than the short time I spent after college in the Berkshires working as an education artist/director with Kevin Coleman, Jonathan Croy, and everyone in Shakespeare & Company’s Education Program. Their annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare, which just celebrated its 30th year, is a triumph as it brings together over 500 students from 10 high schools for a nine-week celebration of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s no better way to experience Shakespeare than by watching these kids scream for each other as they transform into Shakespearian rock stars on stage. The collaborative, non-competitive spirit of the Fall Festival continues to inform my work as an artist and is a tremendous driving force behind No, YOU Tell It! Above all, my goal for the series is to create a space with the same kind of warmth and levity that invites people to come together and celebrate each other’s stories.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?
A:  Unsurprisingly, the intimacy and stakes of one-person shows thrill me. Along with Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, one of my first and best NYC memories is seeing Lily Tomlin in the 2000 revival of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. She went up on a monologue in the middle of the show. Breaking character, she stepped out and talked right to us, explaining to the audience that she’d been trying out new material and joking about how it obviously still needed work. Then, taking a swig water, Tomlin disappeared as she slid right back into character and the show went on. Both parts were pure magic.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A:  Have your words read out loud whenever possible. Even if you organize a night where you bribe friends with pizza to come over and have an informal reading. Also, if you set a reading up before finishing the script, it’s a great motivation to get it done!

Q:  Plugs, please:
A:  All I Want is One More Meanwhile… is playing at Otherworld Theater (www.otherworldtheatre.org) in Chicago until Oct 27th, tickets and times at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/all-i-want-is-one-more-meanwhile-tickets-47979239196

LISTEN to the No, YOU Tell It! podcast, featuring switched-up stories from our live shows. http://www.noyoutellit.com/category/podcast/

You can find us on most podcast platforms including iTunes and Audioboom. Please subscribe, and if you could take a minute to rate, review, and share our podcast, you’d be my superhero!

Along with the live shows, we design and teach collaborative No, YOU Tell It! workshops that focus on trading true-life tales as a camaraderie-building experience for all involved. Want to host a “switched-up” storytelling workshop at your school, office, or organization? Email me at noyoutellit@gmail.com.

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