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Spotlight on Kevin Kirby

By • Aug 15th, 2006 • Category: Interviews

Listen to our interview with Kevin Kirby [MP3 28:08 8.1MB]. Kevin is directing Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest at Castaways Repertory Theatre in the October. Auditions are this week.

Mike: Welcome to the ShowBizRadio Spotlight on Kevin Kirby.

Kevin: Hi, thank you very much for talking with me.

Mike: Thanks for coming. We were looking at the resume you gave us. It shows you’ve only got about three years worth of experience, but you’ve got lots of different things on there. Tell us how you got started doing drama.

Kevin: In high school I was in the drama club. Or actually in junior high. Then when I went off to high school I decided not to be in theater. So twenty years go by. My daughter’s in college and she called to tell me thaat she was changing over to being a theater major. I said, “That’s great!” I can kind of live vicariously through you as you do your different theater things.

Coincidentally when I came home I had a postcard from Prince William Little Theatre for auditions that very night. So I went with my son and we did the auditions. My son tells me very frankly that I was just horrible. The worst part was when I wasn’t actually talking I was making facial expressions trying to react to what else was being said and he said it was just very horrible. But that was how it started.

Luckily they cast me in a role as a G-Man where I just come on and yell at everybody and leave. So I never have to stand there and react to anybody so it worked out pretty good for that play. It was actually kind of cool, too, because there were a lot of special effects and that sort of thing. So I actually ended up doing some fireworks and some other special effects for the show. Miraculously I was nominated for a WATCH Award for Excellence in Special Effects. That was in my very first play. So that sort of hooked me there.

Mike: Yeah, Laura actually tried out for that play, too. She was at NoVa Woodbridge and they had to try out for a play as part of the class. We actually saw you perform in that.

Kevin: That’s very cool. The whole audition process, I mean, I just love going there and seeing the different actors with their different takes on the characters. Even if I hadn’t been cast and I recommend this to the general public. Go to the auditions and try out. Then also look at what other people do. It’s really fascinating when you actually go see the show: who actually got cast and how they either got better from auditions or changed. It’s a really interesting process.

Laura: Do you prefer acting or backstage work?

Kevin: One thing I really enjoy doing the acting, but when it comes down to where there is going to be a review or something like that, I’m not very competitive. It’s almost like I’m used to doing stuff around the house or, you know, everybody says, “Oh, that’s great. Or you did a good job.” I really don’t want the positive criticism. So in that way it’s kind of hard doing the actor and waiting for the reviews.

Luckily I’ve typically gone under the radar where they talk about a few of the actors. And then they say, “The rest of the cast some were good and some were not so good.” I can just presume that I was one of the sort of good ones. The backstage stuff is also very fascinating. None of the local community theaters have very much money. Whenever you try to do a special effect it’s just improvisation from what you have around the house. I do a lot of stuff with rat traps and things like that. It’s a lot of fun.

Mike: I’m looking at your resume and it shows three different shows where you’ve done set design and then you’re also doing that for the Unexpected Guest coming up in the Fall. So tell us about the process of set design. How does that work?

Kevin: Actually the first time I did set design was again sort of accidental. I was stage manager for Steel Magnolias and we had a production meeting. The director was sort of showing the idea he had for the set and we discussed that a little bit. So I’ve always been a little artistic. I was sketching out what he wanted and they said, “Well, you’re the set designer.”

In my job I do electrical designs and I use some CAD software. I actually used a drawing software package to draw the set. I always do things with a little bit of flare. I actually did it where I actually drew little cartoon characters and then I put the heads from the movie Steel Magnolias on it so that we could move the characters around on the set and move the furniture around like a little virtual doll house to figure out how we wanted it. That was just really interesting how it went together.

For this play, it’s very much like the set they describe at the back of the playbook. But I did put a little bit of extra flair in it knowing the limitations of our stage. One of the things we have to do which always adds an extra challenge is that Castaways particularly always does very elaborate sets that look very substantial and heavy duty and real. But at the end of every night, the downstage part of the set has to be moved back behind the midstage black drape. So everything has to be disassembled and moved. That was one thing, too. Having done different parts of the job. Being the stage manager for Steel Magnolias, I had to move the parts that had to move. For this set I’ve sort of decided that the things that are downstage need to be on wheels and need to be light. Something that if I’m drawn upon if I have to do it myself I can roll those things back out of the way for a little bit.

Mike: How much flexibility do you have for the author of the script has given as suggestions and the actual implementation of a set?

Kevin: Sometimes a playwright just writes the words. Like Shakespeare pretty much just wrote the words and didn’t say much at all for stage directions and you’re totally open for what the set to be. In this particular version of the script, they’re very specific about the person moves here to here and this happens and there’s a window here and to the right of the window there’s another window. I’ve decided just to go with that. And sort of stick exactly with the script for that staging. But just put a little bit of spin on it. Some things are still just suggested. It’s suggested that he was a big game hunter. I have some different little African artifacts and things that I’m gonna have around to sort of suggest that he was an international explorer and adventurer.

Laura: You said you recently took a writing class. How did that go and what kind of things did you learn from that?

Kevin: That was actually very great. One thing I’ve noticed is that I always try to put everything together. In the theater you always keep coming back to the same people. They all interlock. It’s almost like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon type thing. My very first play that I was in, I was in with Katie Helper who has written a lot of plays, a lot of one act plays. She’s an award winning writer in different play writing contests and also for the NVTA One Act Festival. She suggested I take this writing class that she’s taken more as a work shop to get feedback on what she writes.

So I took the writing class. It’s like a lot of other things. I wrote my very first play. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The other students came in and read it. They were nice, but they were, “this was really, really bad.” You need some really major conflict here. Everybody’s too likable. At first I was just going to throw that one away because it was exactly the way I wanted it. But then I really took to heart what they said. It was very positive criticism. I went back and rewrote the play over and over again. And really added in that conflict and things that really make the audience care about these characters. Had them go through some major dramatic arc and some really big obstacle they had to get past. The people in the class really liked it. I submitted it to the school literary contest and I won third place for the very first play I ever wrote.

Ultimately I’d like to write something for the one act festival. Sara Joy Leboweitz and Deb Crawford and Katie Helper. They’re sort of in my little clique of theater friends. They’ve all written some very good things. So I’d like to come up, probably not be at their level of expertise, but try that out and see what it would be like.

Mike: What’s your favorite play and why?

Kevin: That’s kind of interesting. A lot of the plays I’ve been in, I just wanted to be in a play. I didn’t particulaly like the play. That’s one thing. I talked to my daughter who’s a theater major and also my son a lot. We talk about the plays. And I’m like, “Well it’s always so slow in the beginning. You don’t know what’s going on.” And my daughter said,”Well, yeah, that’s the way plays are. You don’t know what’s going on. It builds up.”

For this play, The Unexpected Guest, I knew I wanted to direct and this opportunity came up. I wasn’t really familiar with this play. I went ahead and said I want to direct it. So I started pursuing that. It worked out great because I really love this play. It’s just got a real good way that it progresses through the script. I really love the words, and it has very clever word usage, and I like the way the plot progresses, and it doesn’t have any characters who just have two lines. They come on and you never see them again. Everybody has their own interesting little characteristics and their moment in the play. This is probably one of the plays I like to best from what I’ve been in and associated with.

Mike: So do you know anything about the process that Castaways uses to choose plays? Were you involved with that at all?

Kevin: Oh, the way they choose the plays? I know they have a play writing committee that goes out and they read various plays. There are plays that they are familiar with. I was associated with that just a little bit for the one acts. It was the same group of people. We went out and read some different plays to see what our takes were on that. But I think if you just really a good way of doing it.

For Castaways I think they made a really good decision. They didn’t want to be really avant garde right now. They wanted to sort of look at the demographics of their audience and do something the audience would really want to see. I think that really worked out well for the Odd Couple. People were familiar with the TV show and maybe not that familiar with the play. Neil Simon is the crowd favorite. In all of the Agatha Christie plays there is a certain following that would come just because it’a Agatha Christie.

I know they’re doing Twelve Angry Men, which is one that maybe you’ve heard of, but you haven’t seen and it would be good to go see. Then the play after the Unexpected Guest is A Streetcar Named Desire, which is one that everybody’s heard. You always know the Stella part. I can’t really say that I’ve seen the movie. I’ve seen parts of the movie. So I’m really looking forward to seeing that play so I know what everybody’s been talking about since the play first came out.

I think that’s sort of what they go through and then also we have to look at who comes in and auditions for our plays. A lot of times it will be mostly women who are coming in to audition. Sometimes it may be women who come in who are over thirty or something like that. That worked out really well for Steel Magnolias where it was an all female cast. I think they met the demograhics of the women who came to audition. We had thirty-nine women all very talented come audition for that play. So that was really a good mark.

The Twelve Angry Men might be a little different, but they always seem to go out and get who they need. There are actually different variations of that play, too. There is also Twelve Angry Jurors which can be mixed. And then there’s also I understand Twelve Angry Women. I don’t know that I would want to be around twelve angry women.

Actually as a side note for being the stage manager for Steel Magnolias, I had a little bit of trepidation if I had made the right decision because the process when you’re auditioning is you send evrybody out into the lobby to go through and read the lines and come back in. That’s the way they do it at CRT often. So there are all these women all these southern accents all over the place. I’m like the only guy standing out in the lobby. I don’t know if this is so great or not. It actually ended up being a really wonderful experience there and that worked out well.

Laura: What are you looking for for auditions as far as Unexpected Guest goes?

Kevin: Actually when you interviewed Sara Joy, I kind of agreed with what she said. I want to see a lot of people come so I can sort of have different people to pick from. I’m kind of handy in that whatever I have around the house I kind of improvise something together with it. So whoever show up for auditions. If eight people show up they’re in the show and the show is cast. I’m fairly open there.

I have an idea of my dream cast of actors that I’ve worked with before or seen that I’d like to do it. But not everybody, you can’t have all the big stars in every one. And then I was just sort of thinking of the ranges of people that I’d want. I’m not really hung up on race or necessarily age a long as it’s believable to the audience between all the characters. I think really a lot of it’s going to be on just the charisma of the actor and how they embrace the characters and then how they interact with each other.

In reading this particular play, even the unlikable characters in the play I really like because they have personality and character. People who mostly work behind the scenes in theater or have never even acted before, I’d really like to see them come in and audition, too and see what it’s like. Everybody’s sort of even where it’s cold reading from the script, it’s not like something you memorize. Just sort of see how the process works. Maybe we’ll discover somebody and we’ll have the next big star in our play.

Really looking at the character and getting into the charcter’s mind and then what you can bring to that from your own personal experience. Since it’s community theater it’s going to be a collaborative process. I hope to have an epiphany while I’m watching people audition. Say, “well, I hadn’t thought about that character being a female or someone like that or someone that age, but I can really see how that makes a lot of sense.” and see how they all go together in the ensemble. I’m kind of asking everybody to come.

You don’t need to have an English accent. We don’t have any sword fights or juggling. All the audition forms always have you write down what are your special talents: juggling, singing, dancing. I auditioned for Our Town as Doc Gibbs. I couldn’t imagine singing and dancing and juggling as Doc Gibbs. I’m just telling people up front you don’t need to know how to juggle or sing or dance or do an English accent for this play.

Mike: Are you doing it set in Britain like it’s written?

Kevin: I think it’s going to be set a little more nebulous here. You can probably assume it’s in America. Or it’s just Americans in England. So we’re sort of skirting a little bit where it’s at. That’s consistent with the script. I really want to stick with the script word for word. Again that’s something that the playwright wrote and I don’t feel, in my particular case as the director, that I should alter any of that stuff. My job is to adapt it for our audience. The play was originally on the stage in England in 1958. It was set at that present time.

I’m actually going to bring it up more or less to the current day. But I’m not going to be very blatant about it. I’m not going to have big screen tv’s, cellular phones, and pc’s or anything like that. It’s going to have sort of a set in the modern day, but it’s actually going to have more of a 1930’s sort of feel. I want to go for the film noir type thing. I think the language that Christie wrote in the play actually goes very good. You can see where it would sound right with an English accent. But then it also works out really well for cadence like in a Humphrey Bogart type of movie. A lot of the lines you can see Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorrie saying back and forth with heir very unique delivery. If you look at those films. The words that they use and the way the words are used and the way the words are put together aren’t like normal English that you hear, but they make sense in that universe. That’s kind of what I want this universe to be. It’s kind of like a mix between CSI and the Usual Suspects and the Maltese Falcon all sort of rolled into one.

Mike: One of the most important characters in the play is dead the whole time he’s on stage. You and I had chatted a few months go about doing that as maybe a dummy or doing it a a real person. What have you decided about that?

Kevin: Actually in my job I’ve got some loyal people that have always come out to see everyone of my productions. Like the very first one where I only had like twenty words. They came and they watched me and they’ve been to every show since then. My former boss actually helped build the set for Steel Magnolias and he’s building the set for this play. There’s another lady who has come to see all my productions who I’ve talked into doing sort of an assistant stage manger behind the stage stuff. And then there’s another person in my office who is a singer and that sort of thing in DC, but has never done any acting. He said he was interested in it and he said, “I’ll be the dead guy.” The dead guy’s in the opening scene and then I’d like for you to help with stuff behind the scenes and he said sure that’s fine.

And I had thought about trying to do a kind of gimmick for marketing, to go to the different radio stations, and maybe their sidekicks that they send out to do stunts and stuff. Tell them that they could have them in the play, either be like “Who in DC wants to see these people the most?” or “most wants to see these people dead?” But I figured that was kind of gimmicky.

So I’m just going to let him be there, and he’s not a dummy. I thought about doing the dummy, and then having a big gaping hole in the head. My first vision of this was going to be more like Sin City, and was going to be a little uber-violent. I’m still doing it stylistic, but I decided I didn’t want to make it like that. I wanted to make it more consistent with what you expect when you see Christie, but still a little more stylistic and modern and brought up to date. So that everyone would enjoy it, the real Agatha Christie fans, and the people who like CSI, apparently a bunch of people. Something that the husband and the wife and the children would all want to go see.

Laura: What part would you want to try out for?

Kevin: Of the parts, the Unexpected Guest seems like it would be a really cool part to play. But I think I that person needs to be a little more dashing than I am, so I might not be able to do that. I think Inspector Thomas is a really good role. And this really isn’t like detectives you see in some plays. It’s a little bit deeper. And then also I’m looking at some subtext below which is actually written there to bring out some interaction between the characters and make them a little more sympathetic too.

So I guess maybe Inspector Thomas would be all right. I like Sergeant Cadwallader but that I see being a little bit younger person. They are really hard working and professional but a little bit goofy. And I think that probably describes me. I think being a hard working professional but a little bit goofy would probably be about right.

And then also maybe Henry Angle, who is one of the really cool characters. I kinda see being like Peter Lorre, maybe a mix between Peter Lorre and Anthony Perkins type of person who is really creepy and sort of sinister, I think that would be a really neat character part to play.

I’m too old, but Jan Warwick who plays the young man in the play I think is going to be a really exciting role. I hope we really have some good actors come out and audition for that. The play was written in 1958, so the words that they say in there is “He is what you call retarded.” And I don’t think he is really retarded, which covers a lot of things. If you actually go through and read the script and his characterizations, I think a doctor would say that he most likely has Asperger’s syndrome, which is more like a very high functioning autism, where he has good language skills and everything, but his social skills aren’t quite there. It’s like that part of the brain doesn’t work quite right. And I think that could be the scene stealer of the play. I’m really looking forward to seeing who comes up for that character.

As much as six months ago I started going out to the writing out to the community colleges, and the other colleges in the area and the local high schools, trying to identify somebody who might be like that. Be able portray that role, because I think it’s going to be really special. I tried this a couple times, but I decided not to do this. Where I’m at a play and I see somebody who is about 19, and is enjoying the play, and is obviously a theater type person. But you feel kind of weird going up to someone “How would you like to be in a play?” So I decided not to go that route.

But I have put the word out, I’m really most interested in seeing who shows up to audition for that role. It would be easier and most consistent to leave that character as male. It’s sort of a long standing thing that sometimes females can play younger males as a male. I might do that if that can really be convincing. Or I could just make the character female, with only very minor changing of things, but I think I’d really rather that character be male. On the other end, for the sergeant and inspector, I almost would rather see them be female. I don’t think you’d have to change anything in the script, not one word of dialogue. But I think it would bring a different element to have those characters be female and being the police officers in charge. So that’s kind of the way I’m leaning, but again it depends on who shows up.

Mike: And when are auditions? What preparations should people do? Do they need to go buy a copy of the book or anything?

Kevin: Auditions are Thursday August 17th, from 7:30 to 10. And then again on Saturday August 19th from noon to 2:30. It’ll be cold readings from the script. And what we normally do is we’ll print out what are called sides, which are some pages out of the script. We’ll pick people out, who said they were interested in particular characters, send them out into the hall, let them practice, get a feel for each other and how they want to deliver the dialogue. Then they come back in on the stage and do it for me and whoever else is in the audience at the time.

So you in theory really don’t need to study the script. We don’t need any prepared monologues, you don’t need to bring a headshot. What we usually do is when they first come in, is we’ll snap a quick digital picture of them, and print out a little quarter size, like a passport picture on the form they fill out. so we can put the faces together with the resumes. You don’t need to bring in a completed resume, there are places on there where you can write down what your theater experiences are on the form.

The book is available, there is a novelization of the play which is basically just the play if you were inclined to skim through that. And then also I have a good amount of information on a web site I’ve put up for the production which you can link to from the Castaways web site, which is www.castawaystheatre.org and then the very first thing there is a link off to the web site I’ve built for this production where you can get a feel for what I think the characters should be and some characterizations there. Then I’ve even done some silly things, where I took the Yahoo avatars, and made little avatars for all the different characters. But I say there on the web site that you’re kind of limited to making good looking twenty year olds, so I don’t want it all to be good looking twenty year olds, I want a lot of diversity in size and ages.

But that gives you a general feel. And then I’ve also got another little part where I just have pictures of people that if I had my ideal cast, I’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio as Jan, I probably won’t get him. Sean Young as Laura and I can’t imagine getting her; so Peter Lorre, who is no longer with us for quite a while, so I probably won’t be able to get him. But I think that’s a good place to sort of explore around on the web site and you can get a feel for what the show is going to be like.

Mike: And where are auditions?

Kevin: Auditions are going to be at the theater, which is in the Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building, at 15941 Donald Curtis Drive in Woodbridge.

Laura: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Kevin: I guess one thing is really a lot of people have been really interested in the film noir aspect of the setting and the set. We are going to do a lot with the lighting there, where there will be the characteristic things from the old gangster movies, shadows and the long silhouettes, that sort of thing. And that’s actually not just for the visual effect, but it’s also very consistent with the script and what the play is about.

I guess one term they use is an Italian term for that sort of artistic style. Which is chiaro scuro, which is bright and dark, the light and the shadow. Scuro means obscure, or unknown. Chiaro means light, or obvious. That sort of the way it is with the script since it’s a mystery. Something seems very obvious and out front, but there’re really not what they seem. And so the truth lies somewhere in the shadows. So, this play takes you into the shadows to try to reveal the light and see what the answer really is. And you’re really not sure until the last lines of the play about really what it is that you’ve seen.

I think it’s going to be, almost like a Sixth Sense type of reaction at the end, where you go back and you look at the play, and you go Ooohhhhh, yeah, that makes sense now, how did I not see that? And I think that’s part of that whole artistic style is that a lot of the real weight of what the play is about is in the shadows, not necessarily in the light. It also works out good because I know in some of your reviews for this particular venue, since it’s a government facility, we can’t move some of the lights. So there are big black holes on stage. So I think here we’re going to actually be able to embrace that a little bit.

We’re going to have some lamps, and that sort of thing on the floor. Actually I’ve put a lot into this particular play where not only my design in the walls and the set, but actually all the furnishings and everything since we have a pretty tight budget, I went ahead and bought for me. So they’re in my living room right now. So for this production I’m just going to have an empty house while all of my furniture and all the curios I have are on the stage. I want an international flair, so I’ve gotten a number of lamps that look sort of middle eastern, or Indian. They have little freely-dangles on them, look like upside down fezzes, which isn’t necessarily my taste in the way I would do my house. I think it will be good for the play, it makes my house interesting too.

Mike: We’ve been talking with Kevin Kirby, this has been the ShowBizRadio Spotlight.

Laura: And now, on with the show.

This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/1773.

started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

2 Responses »

  1. The first round of audition on August 17 went very well and I was very impressed by the large number of people who showed up. I’m excited and humbled that so many very talented people are interested in making this show a success (including the web famous Laura of Show Biz Radio). The next round of auditions is on Saturday August 19. As soon as we have assembled the cast I will post the cast list at http://www.theunexpectedguest.8m.com and I very soon will post the actors bios and pictures on the web site. Check in there to keep up with the progress of the show.
    Thank You,
    Kevin

  2. Follow this link to watch a conversation with Kevin Kirby. This interview was done as part of Comcast Local Edition.