Kathleen Akerley, Artistic Director of Longacre Lea, has two plays debuting in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival: Bones in Whispers opens August 12 and Night Falls on the Blue Planet opens September 3.
She has written and/or produced Pol Pot & Associates, LLP, Goldfish Thinking, Something Past in Front of the Light, and The Oogatz Man (Longacre Lea); Theories of the Sun, and Tyrant (Sideshow Theatre); Feet, 1,952 Miles, and Banquo’s Dead, Jim (Source Festival); several plays for eXtreme eXchange, Hope Operas, and Round House’s Heyday Players.
Why are you a playwright?
I started life on track to be a fiction writer — I wrote short stories in grade school and a novel when I was fourteen (I still have it: it’s hilariously derivative and the blunders make me laugh/cry but my mother said at the time that my dialogue was sophisticated and natural so perhaps she saw Playwright coming before I did).
I still have some things I’m working on in those formats, but I started writing plays because I was frustrated with fully verbalizing the reality I was experiencing/expressing. I wanted some of the reality to intersect the story in an energetic way. Playwriting is three dimensional.
What type of theatre most excites you?
‘Excited’ is a great choice of word. There’s a ton of theater I accept, somewhat less that I respect, still less that I admire.
To get to actual excitement is rare and lovely — I can’t be excited by theater that’s visibly/audibly working to educate, or to over-simplify: basically any theater that’s walking directly towards me, and has an opinion about who I am. I can’t be excited by exposition, or story-telling that merely confirms expectations, or that thinks it only needs either physical discipline or verbal dexterity but not both (but I can be excited by good acting in any of those otherwise unexciting contexts: Aubrey Deeker single-handedly and in a single beat made an entire show worthwhile for me once).
WOMEN’S VOICES THEATER FESTIVAL
BONES IN WHISPERS
August 12 – September 6
Longacre Lea at
3801 Harewood Road, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Details and Tickets
NIGHT FALLS ON THE BLUE PLANET
September 3 – 27
at Anacostia Playhouse
3801 Harewood Road, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Details and Tickets
The most excited I’ve been as an audience member in the past few years was seeing MR. BURNS at Woolly: a text with a near-perfect blend of the recognizable and the wholly original handled by an artistic team that absolutely avoided being outré for its own sake while still being wonderfully theatrical. And I get excited when a play or production earns its ending: Strange Interlude at Washington Shakespeare Company (now WSC Avant Bard) about ten years ago was a standout in that regard.
What starts a play moving in your imagination?
Boy does that vary from play to play. Tyrant got going in my head because of having to throw out a ripped contact lens (contact lenses make no appearance in the play at all!), and thinking about the other lens of the pair and the risks of being part of a pair, being rendered obsolete because you’re not seen as an individual, which got me over to human ownership of other humans. Goldfish Thinking was straight out of a dream I had while I was in grad school, and the fact that, for whatever reason, Chairman Mao used to show up in my dreams pretty often. Theories of the Sun had two separate origins that ended up working together in the same play: the Red Hot Chili Peppers line ‘the sun may rise in the east at least it settles in the final location,’ and sitting at a fancy dinner having this drunk woman named Barbara absolutely dress me down for not liking Tennessee Williams.
The Oogatz Man, easily my most autobiographical play, was inspired by my frustration that the things that seem real to me are often impossible to communicate to others or are clearly not shared by others (including my laughable conviction that heavy metal contains engaging truths).
Describe your writing day, do you have a favorite writing place?
Writing place also varies from play to play, and I have rearranged my room in between plays because one corner is more suited to the current work than the last writing corner. I wrote portions of Bones in Whispers in a blanket fort in the dark living room. Also choice of music is — I’m sure this is quite common — important. Fortunately no play has yet depended for its life on me listening to jazz, but it was weird spending several months listening almost exclusively to Shakira and Jethro Tull.
How did you choose Night Falls on the Blue Planet and Bones in Whispers to debut at the Women’s Voices Theater Festival?
Night Falls on the Blue Planet was not actually submitted to the Festival. It was part of Theater Alliance’s Hothouse series, with a public reading in February of this year, and Colin decided it was an apt fit for the Festival. He called me to tell me their choice and I was several feet off the ground for the rest of the day.
Bones in Whispers was created almost entirely in response to the first play of the Longacre Lea evening (How We Died of Disease-Related Illness by Miranda Rose Hall): Miranda was the playwright selected by our reading committee for the Festival, but it was a one-act so I decided to write a companion/response piece. The themes she brought into the room allowed me to explore some of my own interest in our tangled relationship with our own faults.
What female playwrights have influenced your writing?
I’m not sure I’ve been particularly influenced by playwrights in my voice (although of course we’re not always the most objective judges of what got in when), much less female playwrights. I’m conscious in my thinking of the presences of Terry Gilliam, E.M. Forster, and Joss Whedon — all of whom are markedly not women — but in fact one of the reasons I started writing plays is that I was running out of existing texts that I like. I admire Anne Washburn like crazy, but I started writing before I found her. Let’s face it: I’m just an arrogant, insular lover of my own voice.
What’s missing from theatre today?
I stared at this question for a while and decided that my answer would be: nothing. If you want to see it, it’s out there somewhere. Maybe what’s missing is a sense that some things should go missing, she said ratcheting up the snark factor.
What are you working on now?
So what I’m working on now is my ticket out of town before the townsfolk with torches show up for that last question. But I’m also working on the next Longacre Lea film script — we’re provisionally looking at our second project being a film version of Night Falls on the Blue Planet. Hooray for passing the Bechdel Test!
If I weren’t a playwright, I would be
. . . a much worse director.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I’ve been ridiculously fortunate in my collaborators.