APRIL'S FOOL at FringeNYC 2014
An Interview with Kelly McAllister
Indie Theater Now asked Kelly McAllister a few questions about his play April's Fool.
What has been the development process for this play? How many drafts? Has the play changed incrementally, bit by bit, through collaboration/rehearsal/workshops – or do you write a draft, mount it, and then go away and rewrite?
April's Fool initially came into being as part of a writing contest called Rough Writers at the excellent theatre program at the Fine Arts Center of Colorado Springs, which is run by Scott Levy. The contest was as follows: write a new play, short or full length, based on one of three artworks. The art pieces were a charcoal sketch of an apartment called "Don't Get Too Comfy, Pal", a porcelain axe, and a photograph of a modern, non-traditional family. I was drawn to the sketch first- which depicted what to me looked like your typical actors apartment in NYC- and had this enormous, ugly chair in it. And across the sketch were written the words "Don't Get Too Comfy, Pal". I don't know why it spoke to me, but it did. And I saw someone breaking into that apartment, and learning the hard way not to get too comfy with anything in this life- and once I saw that in my head, things kind of took off. Usually, that's how things start for me when working on a new project- I see one image, or character, and this whole other world opens up. Kind of like a dream- you see all these things in your mind, and they all make sense and belong. Then I just start writing down what I see and hear. Among the things I saw: a costume party with everyone dressed as fools and jesters; a horrible April's Fool trick; and a pinball machine. As I wrote that first draft, the porcelain axe showed up and became an integral part of the story. As I wrote, I realized I needed a figure from mythology to show up at the party- and so posted a question on Facebook asking for people's favorite mythological characters. Bronwen Carson, who is directing the show, came up with The Norns- the goddesses of fate from Norse mythology- and that was perfect. I finished that draft, the play was one of the winners selected to be in the Rough Writers Festival and given two readings. I took what I learned, and did some re-writes. I entered that version into FringeNYC 2014, it got in- and then did some more re-writes, particularly regarding the ending. I often find the last big piece of a show later in the process. In Last Call, it was the hide-and-seek scene in the graveyard; in Muse of Fire it was the ride to the beach. In April's Fool, it's the Mad Tea Party in Central Park.
What do you as a playwright learn from collaborators, such as actors, directors, designers, and stage managers? What do you learn from reviewers and critics?
I learn a ton. Every person who comes into contact with one of my plays teaches me something. Of course, some people have greater influence than others- but every reaction tells you something- every laugh, yawn, roll of the eye, and tear. I am so lucky to be working with the cast and crew we have assembled for this production. Bronwen Carson gets this play perfectly- having a director understand the tone and soul of a play is rare and wonderful. We have had some amazing conversations about this play, and that has been instrumental in putting this version together. Craig Nobbs, who is producing April's Fool, has been so helpful- he's an old friend and fellow playwright who I worked with on several projects in the late '90s. Reconnecting with him has been one of the highlights of this whole project. Actors are great at helping you hear what is redundant, and what works. And reviewers and critics are great at letting you know what impact your work has on someone who hasn't been working on the play for a month or more. Good reviews are of course wonderful, but bad reviews are equally useful- if they're well written. I think you must be able to take something from every interaction someone has with your work. At least, I must.
Are readings helpful? If this production is a staged reading—what do you hope to get from the process? If this is a full production, has the play had staged readings, and if so, were they beneficial (and how)?
Readings are very helpful. They let you hear the dialogue out loud, let you gauge what lands, and what doesn't- what is overstated, and what isn't clear. The cast and crew of the readings at the Fine Arts Center of Colorado Springs were outstanding, and really helped my see the world of the play even clearer. The cast and crew of the original reading were: Nick Henderson, Jessica Parnello, Crystal Carter, Matthew Wessler, Michelle Sharpe, and Brooke Wallinger.
What has been the biggest change in this script since you started writing it?
The ending is very different. Originally, the last scene took place a year after most of the events of the play, and was your standard happy ending, with everyone learning a valuable lesson. Now, the entire play takes place over a 24 hour period, the ending is much darker- but to my mind, much more intriguing, exciting, and- for lack of a better word, right. In particular, the fate of the character Jaypes has completely changed- and gives the final moments of the play a punch that I am hoping will stay with folks long after they leave the theatre.
Do you ever hate any of the characters you write? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What do you do about it when it happens?
Never. I love each and every character- they're my children! I've written lots of unsavory characters- who can be mean, nasty, and stupid. But I think most of us have that capacity in us- in fact, I think all of us have that capacity. And people who mess up, act in ways they shouldn't, and all that, are usually the most interesting characters. Eddie in Burning the Old Man, Kristen in Last Call, and Jaypes in April's Fool all do some nasty stuff- but I love them. They're just sort of lost and confused and need some help- maybe a lot of help. I like to write about broken people, desperately trying to mend themselves but clueless on how to do that.
posted October 6, 2015