Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Kevin Kirby and Fragile X

By • Jun 8th, 2007 • Category: Interviews, NVTA

Listen to Mike talk with Kevin Kirby, director and playwright of Fragile X [MP3 12:43 3.6MB]. Fragile X will be performed at the NVTA One Act Festival on Saturday, June 16th, at the 1:30 matinee.

Mike: Hi, this is Mike with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking to Kevin Kirby. He is directing the Faquier Community Theatre entry into the NVTA One Act Festival. The show is called Fragile X. Thank you very much for talking with me today, Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you very much for talking with me.

Mike: The name of the show you’re directing for NVTA is called Fragile X. Tell me a little bit about that. That’s a strange title.

Kevin: Fragile X is something that is new to me as well. Fragile X Syndrome is one of the leading genetic causes of Autistic behaviors and also of mental retardation. It is caused by a fragile part of the X chromosome. That’s where the name come from.

Mike: So you built a one act play around that concept?

Kevin: One of the characters has Fragile X Syndrome. He’s an adult in his 40’s. It’s mostly about life and family, but there is one character that has this particular situation. It’s also about his mother who has been caring for him for the past 40 years and her plans for what to do with him now that her health is starting to fail. She’s trying to find the caretakers and think of other situations for him.

Mike: So is this all focusing on the family and her decision?

Kevin: This is all about sons and daughters and family and role of caretakers and putting those sort of responsibilities on each other. Some things that people really face in this situation. As part of researching this play I actually contacted three mothers who have children with Fragile X Syndrome in various stages. One lady has two children in their 40’s who had Fragile X and she had to figure out what their situation was going to be. Then there is another mother who has younger children, and then one mother who has a son who’s 19. They all had to make decisions about what sort of long term care, whether they would be at home, whether they would go to a group home, or some sort of residential facility.

Mike: Were they encouraging to you for writing this story about this syndome?

Kevin: They were very enthusiastic. I sent them a first draft of the play. It was kind of rewarding to me that in all three cases they wrote back and asked if I had a son or sibling with Fragile X Syndrome because the things that you describe in the play are exactly things that we’ve gone through in our own personal life. This was very nice for me because I had not experienced that directly. I had never heard of that syndrome until I started researching the play.

Then they went through and helped me fine tune the characteristics of the character. All of them have had to face this situation. What’s best for the child and what’s best for the family. They’re all in different stages of trying to face that. Whether they want to keep the child at home, whether they want him to go out on their own and be away from home or be away from home in some sort of residential facility or a group home. There are a lot of emotions and feelings of responsibilities there. A lot goes on when you have to make those kinds of decisions.

Mike: So does the play take place in an evening or does it take place over time?

Kevin: The play is forty minutes running time and that’s forty minutes of actual life. We even make a point of that at one point we say “You’ve only have this much time left.” That’s the running time of the play. It’s set in real time.

Mike: Has that been challenging getting a lot of emotions worked out that quickly?

Kevin: It’s almost like, sometimes when you’re possibly traveling in the airport or something and you pass somebody in the airport and all of a sudden you’re thrown into their life. You see the situation going on. For that brief amount of time there you’ve got a window into their relationships and their conversations. That’s kind of what this is. At the beginning of the play it’s like your sort of eavesdropping on a situation that’s going on here at a very pivotal point in all of these people’s lives. Then at the end of the play it’s like your plane’s come and you’ve left. You’re not exactly sure, but you wonder what’s going to go on with them. You’ve sort of had that insight into the forty minutes of their lives.

Mike: Who are the performers in the show?

Kevin: I’m actually very happy with my cast. I have Maryann Sullivan who plays the daughter. Patty McCort plays the mother. Greg Crowe plays Kenny who is the adult with Fragile X Syndrome. Erin Dicaprio plays the local lady who come in to be the caretaker. Actually, Patty, Greg and Erin were in a play Gas ‘N’ Go last year at NVTA. They all won awards for their performances. Patti won for best actress. Greg for best supporting actor, and Erin for best supporting actress. Maryann didn’t perform or have a show in NVTA last year. In the prior year she actually won for best director for a show she directed.

Mike: So no pressure on you now, right?

Kevin: I’ve done things at NVTA and I’ve never been nominated or won anything so I’m hoping this will elevate me to their same status.

Mike: Is this the show that you had talked about when we interviewed you last Summer that you had worked on at community college?

Kevin: Katie Helper had suggested I take a class with Katherine O’Sullivan at the Northern Virginia Community College. As part of that class we had to write a ten minute play. I wrote a ten minute version of this play. The rules for NVTA is that the show has to be at least twenty minutes long and not to exceed an hour. I took that play and reworked it because it’s quite a challenge to get all that emotion and cover the topic in minutes. This gave me the leisure to sort of open that up a little bit more. Add another character. Give a little more background and show more of the arc of the emotions and the feelings.

Mike: Was that hard going from a ten minute show and expanding it?

Kevin: The original creating of a ten minute play was the first play I had worked on. This is still really my first play. This is an expanded version of that first play. I had a lot of material, but in the ten minute format you really want to get it down. It’s almost like writing a short story. You want to get at one precise emotion and do that in one clean stroke. Unlike a big epic novel where you can fill in a lot of details. This was a nice transition where I was able to bring in a lot of material I wasn’t able to squeeze into the first version into this version and give you a better feeling for who the people are and what they’re motivations are and what their goals are in life.

Mike: Was it difficult for the actors to get into their roles for this?

Kevin: That’s one nice thing. This is actually only my second time directing. My first time directing the actors would come up and say, “This dialogue that Agatha Christie wrote, we don’t want to say it this way.” I felt like I can’t change her words. That’s something that she wrote. We worked with that together to try to make those words sensible. Here I didn’t have that leisure so when they came in and said,” We don’t really like the way this is written or this could be better here.” I could say well let me consult with the playwright, oh that’s me. Let’s work on that.

It was actually a very collaborative process which I really enjoyed. The actors really got into it. They knew it was important to me, and I think it was actually important to them, too. They really are into their characters and they have a really good feeling of what their characters would say and do and how they would react.

The first version that I sent out to the actors with to say please be in my play was twenty page long, which in that format equates to twenty minutes. It was the minimum to be in the show. As we talked about it and it evolved the play is now forty minutes long. It’s forty pages long. It actually doubled in size based on collaboration with the actors and their thoughts and what they needed to be able to reach that emotional pitch.

Mike: Has it been hard on them doing a lot of this work and then only being able to perform it one time?

Kevin: They all are sort of seasoned experts now where they’ve done it before. That is really difficult. Actually in their case, since their show also won for best show and best ensemble and a number of other things. They went on to perform at VTA as well. Maryann and her production she went on to VTA as well. Technically they got to perform more than once, but we’re only looking at right now. We’ve been rehearsing twice a week for a couple months now. That’s a lot of effort to go into for one performance.

Mike: Is there anything that you learned that you would do differently next time now that you’ve got a writing and directing gig at the same time under your belt?

Kevin: I wasn’t really planning on directing this one. I’ve only been doing community theater for four years. I’ve actually ended up doing everything. I’ve ended up directing and being a stage manger, designing the set, and being an actor. This is my first time writing the play. I really didn’t want to direct it. I really just wanted to be the writer and hand it off and see how that would be. Then I really had a feeling of what my dream cast was going to be. So to ensure that I could get Erin and Greg and Patti and Maryann, I sort of asked to be the director so that I could make sure that I got them in the play. I’m quite pleased about that.

But it is tricky. I know a lot of times people don’t want that involvement where they either write it or direct it, but they feel they can’t do justice to it by doing both. Just last night we were having a conversation about some dialogue and I said, “Well, don’t you think it should be this?” They said yes, but the writer wrote it this way. Oh well, let’s just ignore what the writer said in that particular case. I’m sure he meant this. So it actually has worked out really well.

Mike: So the show is being performed at NVTA on the 16th, a Saturday, at the 1:30 session.

Kevin: One thing I’m very happy about that is that two of the mothers I had contacted are actually planning on attending with their sons who have Fragile X Syndrome. When I first wrote the show I did it from research on the Internet and books. But I didn’t have any personal connection. Last weekend we were corresponding and they said they were taking their sons to a Special Olympics softball game. I went to the softball game last weekend. The schedules had gotten messed up where by the time I got there when I thought they were actually going to start the game, the game was over. The Special Olympics team was there on their own. I got to hang out with the guys and we talked for about twenty minutes until the bus came to pick them up and their caretaker showed up.

It was a very amazing situation. I was so happy at how I was accepted and we were able to communicate. A couple of the gentlemen had Fragile X Syndrome, there were some people with Down Syndrome. They had a whole gambit of different levels of ability. They all were sort of unified in that they were just really nice and real accepting and had just a great spirit. I think that’s part of the theme of the play. It is about perfection and differnt concepts of beauty and perfection. That is discussed quite a bit. It was kind of net to see a real life version of that with those gentlemen I got to spend a Saturday with. It was pretty cool.

Mike: Well, I wish you all the best for this. I hope it turns out really well.

Kevin: Well thank you very much.

Mike: The show is being performed at NVTA on the 16th, a Saturday, at the 1:30 session. Thank you very much for talking with me today, Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you.

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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.

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