It Started With A Phone Call - Director Kristin McCarthy Parker on kumrads
It started with a phone call. I had just moved to New York a couple weeks ago and was grabbing a beer with my older brother and his girlfriend, both NYC veterans of at least a decade. We were at High Dive in Park Slope, munching on popcorn, when I stepped outside into a chilly February night to take a call from Nick Abeel, a college friend who had started up Sans A Productions with some fellow Evansville alums. They were organizing a reading of Christina Watkin’s play,kumrads won’t. Had I read it? He’d send me the latest draft. Was I free in March? Would I be interested in directing the reading?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
Christina and I knew each other from the University of Evansville, too. We had lived together in a ramshackle house with frequent plumbing issues, fondly known as SoHo. Though in height we may be complete opposites, we have more in common than one could possibly imagine, including the “4” we both scored on the Enneagram test we gave ourselves in the SoHo living room. I’ve been lucky to have Chris as a friend and colleague over the years, and owe a number of positive artistic experiences to her involvement in them as an actor, director, and now, writer. Chris began writing kumrads won’t after college, and has since moved to Chicago, gotten her master’s degree in social work, and is generally kicking ass. I wasn’t four pages into reading the draft Nick sent me for the reading before I laughed out loud at a line of dialogue that was just so thoroughly and utterly Chris.
It’s that response drew me to this piece in the first place. Chris has always had an uncanny ability to read people, to penetrate unflinchingly into the core of your being and then quickly change the subject, like she had just asked you about the weather and not your innermost fear. After seeing play after play of “slice of life” dramas that were little else than clever, it was refreshing to read such an intimate portrait of two human beings that actually probed into all the messy parts of our humanity. When I wasn’t laughing, I was experiencing an ache that I’ve since come to identify as loneliness, and which—as Chris so artfully explains in her recent posting—serves as the foundation of this play.
When we finally got into the rehearsal room together for that reading in 2012, two things were readily apparent: 1) The chemistry was there for an amazing theatrical partnership. 2) This play was ready for a production. Under the auspices of Sans A, our brief rehearsal transformed into a well-attended, somewhat magical reading. kumrads won’t had had private readings at the University of Evansville and Steppenwolf Theater, but this was its first sizable audience, and their quiet attentiveness—that “leaning in” quality—was a testament to the power and intrigue of Christina’s writing.
It wasn’t until almost a year later, long after feedback from the reading had been heard and incorporated, that I had the crazy idea to submit the play to FringeNYC. I quickly contacted Christina with one of those “So what do you think about this?” emails, and was thrilled when she gave the idea her blessing. I was just about to start Bears, and had a mini-panic attack when I realized the my first day of rehearsal fell on the same day as the FringeNYC deadline (also Valentine’s Day). When it rains, it pours. We weren’t told of our acceptance to the festival until late April, at which point I was promptly inundated with paperwork, deadlines, and the sinking realization that every aspect of administration and production was going to land squarely on our shoulders. After careful consideration, we decided to independently produce, i.e. not affiliate ourselves with an existing theater company (or invent one of our own). The decision came with its own set of challenges, namely the need to assemble a team of people who could carry out the responsibilities typically delegated within a company’s existing structure. Christina recruited our dear friend Taylor, a Chicago jack-of-all-theater-trades and media wunderkind, while I recruited Nick, who started it all with a phone call and has since become one of my most trusted collaborators.
We quickly set to work creating an enormous to-do list of sorts that has continued to grow on the daily. The upstart nature of FringeNYC—the rapidity of the process and lack of monetary resources—is as thrilling as it is terrifying. The festival concentrates 200 shows into three weeks of performances, giving artists and audiences alike the opportunity to see as much theater as they can for incredibly cheap prices, creating buzz around plays and theater companies that might otherwise not register on your radar. A major draw for us is the technical sparsity and text-focused nature of the festival, in which a quirky, intimate play such as our own can really spread its wings. FringeNYC comes with technical challenges, too. I’d be lying if I said we knew exactly what we were doing 100% of the time. However, like any established company would, we’re surrounding ourselves with good people whose experience and work ethic are a constant inspiration to us.
Our creative divisions have a fair bit of overlap, which not only feels possible, but necessary given our personal investment in this project. If we were still at our alma mater, these varied interests and overlap would have made us “theatre generalists.” Taylor, for example, has blessedly assumed responsibility for our social media presence and graphic imaging, handling our various account and updates like a pro. Christina has taken the reins for our fundraising efforts, in addition to being our muse and artistic voice. Nick took charge of casting and a variety of other production details, and will soon be responsible for designing our sound. I spend my days visiting and revisiting that giant to-do list, which includes everything from press deadlines and publicity to technical specifics to dramaturgy.
Despite these numerous responsibilities, what I find most exciting about this process is that we’re all united under the common vision of this play. Regardless of the physical distance between New York and Chicago, there is a powerful common denominator of our little group: our fervent belief in the beauty and relevancy of this script. We hope you’re even half as excited as we are, and look forward to keeping you up-to-date throughout the process with blog entries, videos, and updates from the rehearsal room.
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