Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spotlight On...Kathryn McConnell

Name: Kathryn McConnell

Hometown: Fairview, Montana

Education: I have a a BFA in Drama from the University of Oklahoma

Favorite Credits: There are so many! I had the incredible pleasure to work as dramaturg on Dylan Lamb’s Alligator Summer a couple years ago, and with Squeaky Bicycle’s other Resident Playwright, W.M. Akers, on three hilarious plays -  Tales of Love & Lasers, Pop Dies in Vegas, and Cary’s Chainstore Massacre (the latter with Sanguine Theatre Company). Squeaky Bike has given me the opportunity to work with brilliant playwrights like Christina Gorman, J. Boyett, Michael Burgan, Jane Miller, and of course our Resident Playwrights. Outside of Squeaky Bike, I’ve had a great time working on festivals like Manhattan Theater Source’s EstroGenius Festival, West Village Musical Theater Festival, & Bad Theater Fest, and as Assistant Director of Dana Leslie Goldstein’s Daughters of the Sexual Revolution a couple years ago at Workshop Theater. Honestly, a better question is whether I’ve done any work that I don’t love!

Why theater?: I have no choice! I remember the first time I did any real directing in college, it was like I was finally speaking my native language for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I know now just how far I had to go back then (oh, so very far), and even now I’m fully aware that it’s something you really can’t completely master…but really, that’s part of what I love about it. In theatre, it’s not only okay to explore, collaborate, and even fail, it’s essential.

Tell us about Squeaky Bicycle Productions: If were to break down what Squeaky Bike is really about, it comes down to two main values: The first is that we feel theatre is best when it’s created through real collaboration - we work with incredible artists, and each of them brings something to a production that no one else has. We would be crazy not to take full advantage of those resources. So, we do our best to create an environment where they feel comfortable speaking up and taking risks. The second is that we want to do work that challenges us and the artists we work with to push ourselves artistically, and challenges our audiences to think or see things in a new way. I think the shows we produce have been evidence of our dedication to that. When Squeaky Bike started in 2010, my co-founder Brandi Varnell and I were just planning to do one show. By the time we opened it, we knew we’d only just started. Now, more than five years later, each project we take on is bigger and riskier than the one before - I have to say I’m pretty proud of how far we’ve come.

Tell us about Ten Ways On a Gun: Ten Ways is a meta-theatrical dark comedy in the absolute truest sense of the words. Tommy Freely buys a gun because it feels like a way to get control over his life. Then, when his girlfriend makes him get rid of it, he gives it to a coworker who makes the extremely capitalistic decision to timeshare it. Suddenly it becomes a talisman of sorts to everyone that comes into contact with it, and the issue of control becomes realer than Tommy imagined. Jessica Person, an actor and director (and dancer, and dramatug, and…) hears…well, most of Tommy’s story, and develops a terrible play about it. What you’ll see when you come to Ten Ways on a Gun is Jessica’s second attempt, after she learns the rest of Tommy’s tale, and how it and her initial failure in telling it changes them both. The play takes on topics like gun ownership, the need for control, mental illness, and even existential crisis with reverence, and also with a ton of humor. It’s hysterical, it’s insightful, and it’s gutsy. I can confidently promise that it’ll make you laugh, and you may find yourself coming down with a case of Feelings before it’s all over, too.

What inspired you to direct Ten Ways on a Gun?: One of the greatest powers theatre has is to teach and promote empathy - and as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. In the case of Ten Ways, I see an opportunity to tell a story about guns in a different way than the ones we hear and see far too often these days. Where the news outlets give us facts about these tragic events, we’re doing something more: we’re showing all sides of this story, and in doing so we’re putting real human faces to each one. If what people say about our media desensitizing us to the realities of gun violence is true (and I’m inclined to believe it is, to an extent), then this show is an example of how we can help re-sensitize. I love this show because it’s hilarious and it’s so smart, and I especially love it because I think it’s our responsibility in the theatre to remind our audiences that there are people behind the events they read about, and Dylan’s done an incredible job of presenting examples of those people, in all of their glory and darkness.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: All of my very favorite shows share at least one quality: they’re all smart. I’m a great big nerd, and I love work that challenges my brain while it’s touching my heart. Of course, that looks different depending on the show - I love the musical and tonal complexity of Sondheim, the intricate balance of comedy and sincerity of McDonagh, and the straight-up academic style of Stoppard. Mix those things with a moving story, and I’m hooked. Now, that said, as nerdy as I can be, the the way to really know if I love a show is if it makes me cry. And that doesn’t mean it has to be sad - as long as the play takes me on a real emotional journey with three-dimensional characters, I’m guaranteed to go on that journey, too. And when it pays off, you can bet I’ll be crying like a little baby.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I’m on a big Martin McDonagh kick right now. I would die to work with him. Well…I mean, I would prefer not to literally die, which I guess is an important distinction to make when referencing a McDonagh play. But, you know, if that’s what it takes, I might consider it…

What show have you been recommending to your friends?: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Hamilton. They are both, quite literally, revolutionary (forgive the pun). One friend I saw Curious Incident with asked what I thought the tech budget was for it, and I responded “I don’t know, I’m not sure what the going rate on magic is these days.” As for Hamilton, well…I’ll get back to you with all the reasons it’s wonderful after I’ve listened to the soundtrack about 15 more times.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I’m not sure who would play me, but I’m pretty sure Cameron Crowe would direct it, because the only thing that speaks to me as much as theatre is music - I think he would just get me. As for a title…a friend recommended “The Snark Whisperer”.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: It feels like a copout, because I’ve seen the recording of it so many times, but I’m gonna say the 2006 revival of Company. Every time I watch it or listen to the cast recording (which happens a lot) it destroys me in the most wonderful way. I can only imagine what it would have been like to experience it in person.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Oh man….as a feminist it’s really hard for me to admit this, but every time I hear a song by 3OH!3, I get too distracted jamming out to turn it off.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A much more anxious and less empathetic person. I realize you probably want to know what industry I’d be working in instead, but I’ve really never had a plan B…

What’s up next?: Squeaky Bicycle’s annual Reading Lab is coming in December! In preparation for that, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a West Coast playwright, Joan Bigwood, on a great new play about the peculiarities of life in the 21st Century. We’re also reading submissions for a second play to include in the Lab, which is one of my very favorite parts of the process. I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what we choose!