Friday, September 07, 2007

A new play from Ken Urban

Ken Urban is a playwright and director. His plays have been produced and developed by Moving Arts, Lincoln Center's Directors Lab, Soho Rep, Rude Guerrilla, Annex Theatre, Luna Stage, kef productions, Son of Semele Ensemble, and others. He is one of the hardest working writers I've come across, and certainly one of the more interesting thinkers. Ken took my questions via email. Turn around time? Snap.

LH:Why Eskimos?

KU: I had the title for this play for a long time kicking about in the back of my head. I was supposed to be writing another play but the title and the Eskimos wouldn't leave me alone. I kept seeing big big Eskimos that looked liked diseased Yetis. The kind of thing you'd see
on an episode of Doctor Who. Or some kind of goth Teletubbies. I kept seeing those Eskimos so I knew they had to be in a play.

LH: You recently finished your Phd, started a new position at Harvard and yet continue to produce new plays at a startling rate. How do you do it?

KU: Well, I guess I work all the time. But it doesn't feel like work since I love it so much. My time at Rutgers really trained me to juggle way too many balls and now that my teaching job is just a teaching job: no administrative responsible, no teacher training, nothing but teaching
a few times a week, I find I have more time. But don't tell my employers that. I want them to think I'm overworked and underpaid, which I am, of course. Plus, finishing that degree was like being cured of a terrible disease. Not having that hanging over my head, it feels even better than coming out. It's like a great feeling of liberation. Now I never have to write anything like that again if I don't want to.

LH: I know you are a fan of Sarah Kane and British theater in general. Is there a difference between contemporary British and American theater?

KU: I would say that American theater tends toward the sentimental in a way that British theater doesn't. I'm not sure that's always true, but generally. American theater, though, doesn't have the shackles of naturalism to the same degree as British theater. American theater
still has a pretty active avant-garde impulse and that never really took hold in British theater, even while Sarah's plays moved in that direction. The biggest difference between the two right now is the culture of new play development. Here, when you write a new play you expected it to have multiple readings, some workshops, some more readings, before anyone even takes a chance on a production. And some great plays never even get produced. In British theater, you write a play and then it is produced. They don't believe in developing a play to death. That is a very good thing.

LH: Do you have a favorite play?

KU: I have so many and they change all the time. Right now if you put a gun to my head and asked me that, I'd have to say, Spring Awakening by Wedekind. Or maybe Cleveland by Mac Wellman. Or maybe Kroetz, Through the Leaves. Kane's Cleansed. You should just shoot me because I could keep going on and on.

LH: Are you familiar with Canadian theater? Daniel MacIvor, Sally Clark, Morris Panych?

KU: Not as much as I want to be. I like MacIvor's work a great deal, and The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson was a play that I really loved when I first read it. There was something very cold and helpless about that play that appealed to me a lot. But you should tell me who I should be reading because the sad bane of New York theater is that we don't see enough international work especially from Canada and Latin America.

LH: You are the founder of The Committee Theater which also produces your plays--are you also developing other new plays?

KU: Yes, we have a new play of mine in the pipeline called The Awake, which Judson Kniffen is going to direct in 2008. We also going to do a reading festival of new plays in 2008 and so when Eskimos closes we will start reading plays for that. We did readings of new work by
Caridad Svich and Crystal Skillman for the last one, and there's a number of play I'd like the directors to consider for our next one, including a play by an Iranian writer.

LH: Are you a fan of the Fringe Festival scene?

KU: Listen. The Fringe in NYC gave me my first show in New York so for that I'm grateful. But I'm not sure the Fringe in its current incarnation is really all it could be. But I still think it is a great way to get a show on in New York and to get to know folks. I still have friends that I met when I did the Fringe in 1999. For that alone, it is worth it.

LH: What advice do you have for young playwrights?

KU: Don't wait. Have the mentality of an indie band. You want to put a show, put on a show. Don't wait for the official theater world to come knocking because they won't. Do it yourself. There are ways to do it. Meet directors and actors. Go see theater as much as you can and meet
people. You like an actor and think you would like to work with her, tell her. Grab coffee or beers. It is really a great time to be in the theater. Yes, there's no money, and yes, nobody cares. So what? Do it for the art. I know that sounds incredibly naïve, but that's how I
feel today. You have to believe in yourself. There is so much rejection that comes with being a writer, you got to be strong and to be strong, you need friends and lovers that have your back.

By Ken Urban
Directed by Dylan McCullough
A man and woman in trouble. A lost cell phone. Spam-speaking Eskimos. A dark comedy about life after anti-depressants.

Sept 8th to Oct 1st • Friday -- Monday
w/ an additional show on Thu Sept 27
The Linhart Theater @ 440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street (across from the Public)
All shows at 8PM, Tix: $18

To buy tickets, go to
or call 212 352 3101

Andrew Breving
Melissa Miller*
Carol Monda*
Michael Tisdale*
Sets: Lee Savage
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Lights: Thom Weaver
Sound: Elizabeth Rhodes
Special Benefit Performance
Saturday Sept 15th
Tix: $30
Featuring a panel discussion moderated by playwright Caridad Svich and a reception with the artists.

(* appearing courtesy of Actors' Equity)

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