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K COMMA JOSEPH

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Kirby Fields
October 19, 2012

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
My dad was a director, so I have always been around theater, but the first time that I actually considered playwriting as a serious pursuit was when I was in graduate school at the University of Kansas. I was in a PhD program in English and approaching my oral exams, when I volunteered to help with a unique theater company on campus--English Alternative Theater (unique because it was housed in the English department rather than the theater department). They specialized in producing student-written shows. I started as an usher, then worked as a stage manager, and then one spring break when I should have been studying for my exams I wrote a play, and that was pretty much that. I had always had an uncomfortable relationship with literary criticism for a number of reason, not the least of which being that I always felt more closely aligned to the writer than to the critic, but this was the point at which I resolved to stop writing about other texts and to instead start creating my own.

What was the last show you saw that really excited you, and why?
I saw a reading of an excerpt of a play called "Terminals," by David Mitchell Robinson, in Washington DC recently, which I thought was really brave. The play takes place entirely on an airplane and, because that's not challenging enough, incorporates time travel. I admired the hell out of it because, for me, those are two potential deal breakers. For me, a sentence that begins "I've got an idea for a new play that incorporates air- and/or time-travel" ends with "so I'll just move on to the next idea," but Robinson accepted them as challenges rather than hindrances. The play certainly requires the audience to remain alert, but it also rewards them if they do, and it reminded me that, provided an idea is well executed, there is nothing that the theater can't sustain.

In your own words, what do you think this show is about? What will audiences take away with them after seeing it?
K Comma Joseph is about surveillance, paranoia, bureaucracy, GPS, Gitmo, the Patriot Act, waterboarding, Kafka, sex, totalitarianism, browsing histories, security, and the difference between "off" vs. "of." But it's mostly about whether our real selves are those that we project in social circumstance or those that we reserve for our private moments. I want people to leave the theater having contemplated some of the darker elements of American society, and I want them to have a good time doing so!

People who like which of the following recent Broadway shows would also probably like your show: THE BOOK OF MORMON, ONCE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, CLYBOURNE PARK?
Clybourne Park. Like Clybourne Park, K Comma Joseph is inspired by canonical source material to create something new and relevant.

Theater is a necessary ingredient in democratic societies. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
The only honest answer here is "I don't know." The best way to get at it is probably to contemplate a non-democratic society and then envision how it would be improved by a free theater, but I'm nowhere near smart enough to do justice to that kind of thought experiment. What I do know is this: Writing for me is figuring out. I don't write because I want to express a given thought about a subject; I write because I want to find out what I think about it. It's discovery. It's exploration. It's raising questions without necessarily providing answers. It's inquiry. This strikes me as being an important component of the democratic process: forming an opinion and then testing it in the world. I guess what I'm saying is that our democracy wouldn't necessarily be strengthened if everyone went to a play, but it might be if everyone wrote one.