Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
Unfortunately, due to an injury, Mr. Shanley wasn’t able to answer all my questions fully, but he did tap out a few sentences in between getting fixed back up. We wish you a speedy recovery, John! His director, Lori Kee, and actor, Ivette Dumeng, have stepped in to help round out the experience for us. It should be noted that Ivette is a director herself, and has a doublebill playing in the PCTF – Mata Hari and Marina.
CP: Hello to all three of you, and thanks for bringing Tennessee to PCTF! I learned about Planet Connections when I interviewed Glory Kadigan, the artistic director last year. I was thrilled to discover a person and an organization that so seamlessly married theatre and support for social change. Did you know about that part of PCTF’s mission when you chose to work with them?
JPS: I did Tennessee with Ivette Dumeng of Nylon Fusion. Afterwards, Ivette told me about Planet Connections, and suggested we do the play there. It sounded worthy to me and here we are.
CP: Ivette and Lori, tell me, what is it like working with THE John Patrick Shanley on a new play?
ID: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Shanley a few times over the past several years. Aside from being a very gifted playwright, he is also quite a talented director. Let me tell you, he really hurls himself into his work; nothing is ever casual. He’ll do rewrites on the spot, and he goes where he needs the character or the story to go, without sentimentalizing the work. It’s pretty spectacular. When John came to see our very first rehearsal of Tennessee he gave me a piece of advice: “You are saying this for the first time. You know none of this.” I shrugged a little at first but- oh boy- later did I truly appreciate hearing those words! It was a humbling experience.
LK: I’ll second that! Working with Shanley has been an amazing experience. He came to our first rehearsal, he listened and did some rewrites to the end of the play. He is very warm, open, and gracious to us all. He was also at all the performances.
CP: It’s always so great when the playwright and director work together well. John, you’ve worked with theatre directors from all levels -Broadway, to Off, to Off-Off, to Regionals. What is it that you desire most in a director that you work with?
JPS: Directors who are joyous often have the most to contribute, I’ve found. It’s a matter of spirit. The director’s spirit is the helium a play craves.
CP: What a great statement. I just may have to ask to borrow it for the blog!
CP: Ivette, what do you think attracts playwrights to the ‘Indie’ theatre world? What are the advantages of working in the OOB arena for playwrights?
ID: The OOB arena is like a laboratory, you come in and you experiment with the work. It is a place where new ideas are born and start to grow. We all want to be on Broadway but the work only gets there once it has been tried and tested. I believe that is why John entrusts his plays to us. I think it is rather beautiful.
CP: John, there are playwrights out there who “made it big” and then never looked back at their OOB and OB roots. In stark contrast, you seem to move easily between all levels of theatre. Why do you still keep your finger on the pulse of “indie” theatre?
JPS: Specifically because I love small theatres and putting up plays for short runs with no press. I love doing theatre for theatre’s sake, with no commercial consideration.
CP: Lori, you’ve directed this play before, what excites you the most about participating in the gala and transferring to another venue?
LK: This is the third time that the three of us -plus Dustin Kerns, who is our other actor- have had the pleasure of working on this play. After the Nylon Fusion premiere, Tennessee was presented as part of a collection of Shanley’s new short plays: A Woman is a Secret in the Labyrinth’s Barn Series last December. The biggest difference with this new venue will be the opportunity to add more elaborate design elements to it. It is, of course, also a chance to find more in the text and go deeper, since as a team we have been with this play for more than a year, we have grown and things have changed in our lives so maybe new things will open up.
ID: Also, performing Tennessee at The Signature Theatre is exciting in itself. It is a powerful play and working to fill this new space is a something I am looking forward to. And so glad to have Glory Kadigan hosting! Tennessee has a very special place in my heart, and it is a role that I have learned so much from already. This is yet another opportunity for me to explore it and grow.
CP: Lori, Tennessee is billed as an “occult adventure” – can you tell us more? What was it that drew you to the play?
LK: Well, what is more “occult,” more beyond normal human comprehension, than our true selves? That desire to know oneself, and the struggle to actually be aware and present is what drew me to the story/play.
CP: The PCTF gala benefits Safe Horizon – how do you feel about the connection between theatre and social change?
LK: I know theatre can be a powerful way to encourage change both for the actor and audience. Change can happen when one becomes aware of or can empathize with the struggles of others. I think what Planet Connections does is fantastic! I am very honored to be a part of this gala benefiting Safe Horizons.
JPS: I’m honored to be a part of this effort to be of service to others, and to do what I do.