Stories From the Past, Reflections on the Present, an Interview With Joan Kane

Interviews

By Allyce Morrissey, Staff Writer, All About Solo
 
Joan Kane (director, writer, performer, producer) founding artistic director of Ego Actus Theatre Co. Selected Directing: “Sycorax” at HERE, “Play Nice!” at 59e59 Theaters, “I Know What Boys Want” at Theatre Row, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” in Oslo, Norway, “Kafka’s Belinda” Prague Fringe Festival. She also directed “Safe” and “what do you mean” at 59e59 Theaters and Edinburgh Festival Fringe where she received 4 star reviews for each. Joan was awarded Best Director in 2016 United Solo Festival. Joan was named one of the 2011 People of the Year by nytheatre.com in honor of her contributions to the NYC independent theatre scene. Her shows have been nominated for 61 awards, winning 21. Joan has directed plays and readings at The Lark, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Urban Stages, Nylon Fusion, Articulate, Workshop Theatre, Abingdon, Oberon, Broadway Bound Theatre Festival, Actors Studio, Sam French Short Play Festival, and T. Schreiber Studio. Joan graduated from High School of Performing Arts (LaGuardia), Neighborhood Playhouse and has an MFA from The New School for Drama and an MS in Museum Education from Bank Street College. Joan is a member of Dramatists Guild, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
 
Allyce Morrissey: I understand you wrote this play at a playwriting symposium in Italy. How did that physical distance contribute to your writing something so tied to where you are from?
Joan Kane: I wrote the full‑length play to be performed by 15 actors while I was attending the LaMama Playwrights Retreat. I have attended the LaMaMa Directing Symposia five or six times. I have been thinking about writing this play for a long time and I knew I needed a quiet, supportive environment to write “Almost 13.” Under the guidance of Branden Jacobs‑Jenkins, I was able to complete a draft of my script. There was a reading of it at LaMama in New York, which helped me get some perspective on it. It is such a personal story to me that I decided I needed to present it as a oneperson show before I am ready to put it on stage with a large cast.
 
To what extent is this play autobiographical?
Heidi Schreck said, “One of the most important things a woman can do is tell the truth about her own life.” “Almost 13” is my story about growing up poor in 1960s Brooklyn. The characters are based on members of my family and people who lived in my neighborhood. It is a memory play inspired by “The Glass Menagerie” and “A Member of the Wedding,” in which a grown person looks back on their childhood memories. I want the audience to step back in time with me to a place then called South Brooklyn, 5th Street at 5th Avenue. It is 1969 and the Vietnam War was raging. I lived through that era, but I did not come through unscathed. Tragic events broke parts of me in ways I could not understand at that time. I later saw an exhibit of Kintsugi ceramics and realized they were a metaphor for my life. The broken clay bowls, repaired with gold, became more beautiful than the originals. I had been broken, but eventually healed up stronger.
 
Why does now feel like the right time to tell this story about a girl coming of age – both for you, in your own life, and at this moment in history?
As an artist, Akira Kurosawa’s quote has influenced me greatly: “The role of the artist is to not look away.” We live in a time when racism is very present in our leaders and the media. I cannot just sit back and watch this overwhelming bigotry and hatred go unquestioned. I want to put it under the microscope and ask: How can we change this? How can we grow to a higher level of consciousness and understanding? The character of Sis in “Almost 13” is a victim of hatred. She discovers that it is possible to overcome brutality, heal and grow into an adult. Personally, it took me many years to heal from witnessing a violent act, an act so dreadful that I often have to remind myself that there is good in humanity. “Almost 13” is my examination of violence and how it has changed my life. I believe we need to see stories that show it is possible to overcome brutality.
 
If you could have anyone in the world come to see your show, who would it be?
The people whom I would like to see at my show are those in positions of power. They need to see the results of acts of violence that are imbedded in our culture. They can do something other than spew hatred and violence. I also think “Almost 13” is for a wide audience, young and old. I especially want people who have been through traumatic experiences to see it because there are messages of healing and hope, that one can still live and be productive in spite of pain.
 
Who were the most influential people or sources in your writing process?
I have been fortunate to have some amazing artists encourage me to write and perform “Almost 13.” At the LaMaMa writing retreat in Umbria, Branden Jacobs‑Jenkins encouraged me to continue developing my story. At the end of our retreat he told me, “The world needs to hear your story, this story.” When I was back in New York City, David Diamond, who is the Artistic Director of the symposia and writers’ retreats, included “Almost 13” in a staged reading series of the plays at LaMama in New York.
 
The writer and dramaturge Catherine Filloux has been instrumental in shaping the structure of “Almost 13.” Bruce A! Kraemer, my director and partner, listened to multiple drafts with patience, always asking pertinent questions to push the plot forward, create clarity and hone the characters’ voices.
 
What is the most challenging part of performing this piece? What is the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of this process so far has been finding ways to give a distinct voice to each character. There are at least 15 different points of view in this story and I sometimes struggle to crystallize the differences. I feel very rewarded to be able to bring to an audience the story of overcoming an obstacle that I have experienced very early in my life. The reward is to be able to turn the cracked pieces of my life into emotional “gold” through the art of presenting their journey.
 
You have experience as an actor, dramaturg, producer, and writer, but the bulk of your career has been as a director. Does this piece that you wrote and perform mark a departure from directing or a synthesis of your experiences?
“Almost 13” is definitely a synthesis of my experiences. This is not the first solo show that I have written and performed. I wrote a solo show about the female pirate Mary Read and performed it in a festival setting. I then transformed that solo show into a full‑length play performed by six actors and several puppets. I directed that piece in a festival in Brooklyn. I am taking the opposite approach with “Almost 13.” I first wrote it as a multi‑performer full‑length play that I am now reworking to be performed as a solo drama. I feel very comfortable on a stage. I started my artistic life as an actor. I attended the High School of Performing Arts, now called LaGuardia, where I studied method acting and later went on to the Neighborhood Playhouse, where I studied with Sandy Meisner and Bill Esper. In both schools I acted in a variety of dramas and comedies. Eventually I joined Actors Equity, SAG and AFTRA and acted in shows and films.
 
How does it feel to know you’ll be onstage rather than directing at this year’s United Solo Festival?
I am very excited to be invited to the tenth anniversary United Solo Festival as a writer and performer. I am also directing in the festival. My company Ego Actus is producing “Moonage Daydream,” written and performed by Mary Monahan. I developed and directed this show in 2016, winning the Best Director Award in the festival. The show has been invited back as a Best Of selection. I’m psyched to once more be able to present David Bowie’s message to our world. I believe it will be somewhat healing for many of the pains that trouble us today.
 
Almost 13
Written and Performed by Joan Kane
Directed and Designed by Bruce A! Kraemer
Tuesday, 9/24 at 7:30PM
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
New York City
 
ALLYCE MORRISSEY is a dramaturg based in New York City. She holds an MA in Dramaturgy and Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in English from Villanova University. She also works in entertainment advertising.
 

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