Twenty years ago, Kevin Boggs left the small Appalachian town of Jonesborough, Tennessee for the big city. His transformation, as he has described it, “from yokel to local” while working at the café Afterwords in Dupont Circle has inspired his new solo Fringe show, & Afterwards, which plays at Warehouse.
Many will recognize the bold white ampersand on the show’s main image — its design is owned by Kramerbooks, which runs Afterwords. But Boggs created the hour-long show by delving beneath the brand, back into his memories of being a young’un fresh off the bus.
“Jonesborough had no red light. No fast food joint. A few thousand people. So the show is about that culture shock,” he says as we sit at the Tent. “It’s a coming of age, boy-meets-world kind of story.”
And it’s been getting good reviews. Boggs is proud. “I’ve never done a piece like this before. I’ve been thinking about it and planning it for a few years. But before this I’d never done a solo performance that lasted than ten minutes.”
Taking a class recently with Speakeasy DC, he explains, helped pave the way for a full-length solo show. Some of the stories that make up & Afterwards Boggs has told before, in others forms, on the Speakeasy stage. But now that they’re all together, he learning to trust how the larger collection of stories has taken shape.
“I hit these pockets of time, during the show, where I know exactly what’s going to happen,” he says. “Certain stories are really set, and I just get into the groove. Then I have to hit a transition and jump right into another story. Sometimes I’m surprised, when I finish the final story and the show’s over, that it all fit together.”
All of the stories are based in Kramerbooks’ & Afterwords. “I knew I wanted to tell stories with a common sense of place. Each story has its own frame, its own meaning, as it stands alone. But together they tell the larger story of what it’s like to show up to DC as a country boy and get a fast education working in a restaurant. That first year felt like getting a graduate degree.”
A degree in what? Everything. Anything. The larger world, and the transformative power of the people around you.
“We all have people who are influential in making us who we are. Pushing us, stretching us, exposing us to something new. Especially when we thought we already knew everything. I think that’s a universal feeling, and I want people who see the show to remember that time in their own lives. For me, this was a magical time, when everything in life felt possible. When I had a chance to reinvent myself. It was important to me that I got a chance to remember that sort of wide-eyed wonder. Sometimes you forget the times when you’ve felt that.”
A full-length show makes sense, then. This would be a lot to tackle in a seven-minute gig at Speakeasy.
“Longer shows like this are difficult, though, because there are hundreds of options for how to do it and put it together,” he points out. “Usually, when I have a seven-minute story to tell, I have a small narrative and a couple of choices to make about how it’s told. But when you have an hour to use, it can be a little overwhelming at times.
How did the show find shape?
“Well, I got really overwhelmed at one point because I was trying to force the show to be about something that it probably wasn’t. And when I let that idea go, the show spoke for itself. It could breathe and become what it wanted to become. That was a surprise.”
“I definitely wrote a lot of stuff I didn’t use,” he adds. “I killed a lot of babies, as they say. In most cases, what I cut out was just anecdotal information… things that were important to me in my memory of my experiences but that weren’t necessarily universal or interesting for audiences to hear.”
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Walking that line can be awfully tricky. Who can really know in advance what other people will find interesting about your own life?
But that doesn’t seem to be the main question for Boggs. “Part of what I learned at Kramer’s was to have the courage to say: I’m just going to jump in and try it. That’s ultimately why I left Kramerbooks to pursue an acting career. And then when I found storytelling I realized that I liked scripting and doing my own stuff. I had no experience self-producing, so that was a big learning curve for me. I was overwhelmed and frightened by it sometimes. But I fought through it. And now I want to come back and do it again.”
& Afterwards has been a big confidence boost, then.
“Yes. I went into this summer thinking: I want to do a one-man show, and then I’ll be done with that. But no, this will probably lead into other one-man shows. I’d like to find a way to do this full time. Once you do something you work hard at because you really love it, it’s hard from then on to do things that just pay the bills.”
But that boost came only with some hard work and reflection, Boggs says. “I kept asking myself: Who am I to think that I can stand onstage for an hour and say something that anyone else wants to hear? I guess the question I was asking myself was: so what? And it’s a good question. Whatever I was talking about, I needed to be able to answer that question: So what? The show needed to have some sort of larger truth to it that other people could relate to.”
Good reviews came in. Audiences showed up. Now it’s time to look for future chances to do this show, and others. “I have more ideas on how to make this a fully-developed show that I can keep doing in the future,” he says. “And also, there are some themes and stories that I tossed out of this version and didn’t use. I can see ways of bringing those stories into other shows. I’m going to do more of these.”
But one night at a time. First, off he goes around the corner, into Warehouse for another round of café confessional.
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