Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kelly McAllister's "Burning the Old Man" Goes to Prague

Burning the Old Man, the play that won the first New York Innovative Theatre Award for Best Full-Length Script, and subsequently was published by NYTE in Plays and Playwrights 2006, has just made its European debut at Divadla Na zábradlí in Prague, Czech Republic.

You can get all the details at Divadla's website, which is in Czech: http://www.nazabradli.cz/.

Kelly McAllister, the author of Burning the Old Man, was interviewed by two students at the Higher School of Journalism in Prague, Czech Republic, and he has passed the interview on to me to share with all of you:

1. Why did you use a festival of Burning Man as one of the themes? Have you ever visited that festival?

I began writing this play after reading an article about the Burning Man festival, and about how at the end of the festival each year there is this gigantic bonfire where people bring things they want to be done with – like if they just got over a relationship, they might bring something that represents that – a photo, a gift, a love letter – and throw it on the fire. The desire to be done with the past struck me as very interesting, and also very universal. So I got this image in my mind of two brothers trying to get to that fire – and not being able to do so.

Also, I find the whole neo-hippie culture very interesting. I grew up in California near San Francisco, and so have had a lot of experience with the whole hippie experience. I like hippies – they are funny, and sad, and poetic, and absurd. Like the characters in the play, I have not yet been to the festival.

2. What have inspired you to write the play Burning the Old Man? Is it true that it is closely connected to your father's death?

Yes and No. I believe that all writing is autobiographical – indeed, that any form of artistic expression is autobiographical. How can it be anything else – we are telling the world who we are whenever we take the time to write something down, or paint a picture, or compose a song. My father died a few years before I wrote the play – from a bad liver that was the result of alcohol abuse, which is a sort of suicide, I suppose. And there are certain parallels between the dead father in the play and my own father – but it’s not a play about my experience with my father’s death. There are starting points when writing, and then there is the story that follows. When I write a play, there always comes a certain point during the writing where the characters take over – and whatever idea I began with doesn’t matter anymore – now the story has become it’s own being, and I am taking dictation from the people in that story.

When I began writing this play, I just had the image of two brothers stuck in the middle of the Nevada desert, desperately trying to get to the festival before it ends so that they can fulfull their father’s dying wish and put his ashes in the bonfire.

3. Thanks to the Boomerang Theatre Company, Burning the Old Man won a few awards. How important is that company to you?

Tim Errikson, who runs Boomerang Theatre, is an old friend. We met in the late nineties when I played Astrov in a production he directed of Uncle Vanya in a small theatre in New York City. A few years later, I started writing plays, and Tim formed the Boomerang Theatre Company. Tim came to all my shows – and always was very supportive. When he asked me to write a play for his company, I said yes immediately. I’ve written two shows for the Boomerang Theatre Company – Burning the Old Man, and Fenway: Last of the Bohemians – which I wrote with my wife, Lisa Margaret Holub. Tim also directed my play Some Unfortunate Hour for hope theatre, inc. as part of the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival. And I am in the process of writing a screenplay with several other writers called “Places” that is slated to be the first film the Boomerangs produce – so you could say they are fairly important to me.

4. What does it mean to you that your play will be presented in the Czech Republic? In the theatre where Vaclav Havel worked in the 1960s?

It is wonderful for me personally to be produced in Prague. This is the city I got married in, during the summer of 2006. There is something wonderful about how theatre is embraced here – something that I wish happened more in the USA. And Vaclav Havel is a hero of mine – when I found out that the theatre where the play was being produced was the same theatre he worked in, I couldn’t believe it.

5. What will be interesting for a Czech audience?

I hope all of it. The characters, the story, the whole thing. I never really know what will be interesting for an audience – I just try and write things that are interesting for me, and so far that seems to work pretty well.

6. Did you control a translation of your play? How? Are you satisfied with the work of Viktor Janis (the translator)?

I didn’t really have anything to do with the translation – I was approached by Dilia, they showed me the resume of Viktor Janis, and I said “yes, that sounds good.” That was it.

7. Would you come to see the play?

I would love to come see the play- hopefully that will happen.

8. I just have to ask one more thing. Is the anthology Plays and Playwrights highly acclaimed in the U.S.A.? What does it mean to your professional life?

Plays and Playwrights is a series of anthologies that comes out each year, and is published by the New York Theatre Experience. That organization, more than any other, has greatly helped my career as a writer. They also run the web site nytheatre.com, which is dedicated to reviewing all theatre in New York City, especially smaller theatre. They came to my first play, Last Call, and gave it a wonderful review, which helped turn the show into a success – it sold out, added performances, and won the Excellence in Playwriting Award from FringeNYC. Martin and Rochelle Denton, who run the organization, approached me later and asked if they could publish Last Call in Plays and Playwrights 2003. I said yes, and began a long, happy relationship with them that continues to this day. Being published by them lead to being published by other organizations. The Plays and Playwrights series is dedicated to new writers, with the express purpose of getting them in front of more people. I think it is one of the most important anthologies American theatre has at the moment. Burning the Old Man, which won 2005 NYIT award for Outstanding Full Length Script, is in the 2006 edition.

I would just like to add that to me, it is very exciting to think that there are people thousands and thousands of miles away from me, reading and rehearsing my play about two brothers stuck in the middle of the desert. There is something quite unreal about it, and quite magical.

Check back next week for photos from the Czech production of Burning the Old Man!

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