Ashland New Plays Festival stages reading of 'NOW THIS'
Local playwright, author, teacher and Shakespeare scholar Scott Kaiser talks about his play, "NOW THIS," with Mary Silva of the Ashland New Plays Festival.
ANPF will present a staged reading of Kaiser's play at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 23, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. Directed by Sara Becker, the reading features a cast of 14, including Kaiser, ANPF artistic director Kyle Haden, several actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a few visiting artists. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at Paddington Station or at the door. See www.ashlandnewplays.org for information.
"NOW THIS" takes a compelling look at the destructive influence of consumerism on American society. It follows the troubled and troubling characters of the fictional town of Purple Mountain, where young Joey Adderall takes us on an unforgettable ride through his final days of a life while coming apart at the seams — and his fatal response to a place where everything is less than he wants and more than he needs.
Kaiser, director of company development at OSF, talks about the play, his motivation and his history as a professional playwright, author, actor and teacher.
MS: First of all, I'd like some background — a bit about where you grew up and where you've lived and worked, your educational experience, and what drew you to life in the theater. Anything in your life that you feel contributed significantly to your taking this direction.
SK: Like so many theater people, I struggled to find a niche for myself in high school, but the theater kids accepted me with all my awkwardness and quirks when no one else would. So I stuck with it. As a teenager, I did summer stock all over New England. In my 20s, I earned three degrees in theater, which, to be honest, is a bit ridiculous: a BA from the University of Michigan, an MFA in acting from the University of Washington and a voice-studies degree from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. In my 30s, I joined the artistic staff at OSF. And now I'm in my 50s, and still at it.
MS: What might you have done for a living if you hadn't gone into the theater?
SK: When I was a young man, I wanted to be an architect. I've always loved looking at buildings and learning about how they were designed and constructed. And to this day, when I see a bit of unfamiliar text — a poem, a speech, a play — I look at it the same way I look at a building, peeling back the facade in my mind to examine the foundation, the framing, the walls, the stairs, the doors.
MS: After directing, acting and overseeing the work of other actors, when and why did you begin writing plays of your own?
SK: My first full-length play was a four-person adaptation of the Huck Finn story narrated by Frederick Douglass called "Splittin' the Raft." That play enjoyed a couple of professional productions — one at the Marin Theatre Company and another at People's Light and Theatre Company in Pennsylvania. The script was developed in collaboration with a handful of actors at the festival in what I proposed and piloted as "the 12th slot model" back in 1998, which has since become the Black Swan Lab for New Works.
MS: What motivated you to write "NOW THIS"?
SK: Years ago, the characters in this play starting talking to me in my sleep, so I began writing down what they had to say to me on little scraps of paper. Eventually I'd collected hundreds of scraps of paper — words, phrases, speeches and dialogues — written out in complete darkness in the middle of the night. The material on all those scraps, after a great deal of shaping and polishing, with some guidance from the poet Dylan Thomas, became this play.
MS: What is it that you hope people will think about or take away from the play? What one thing would you like people to be thinking about when they leave the performance?
SK: I'd be pleased if people would become more conscious of how American consumer culture affects nearly every aspect of their lives.
MS: "NOW THIS" draws a strong connection between consumerism and gun violence. How would you describe this connection?
SK: I won't pretend to know what goes on in the hearts and minds of individuals who choose to carry a weapon to a public place and slaughter fellow human beings. But this country has a serious problem with guns, and I believe the root cause has something to do with a consumer culture that incessantly promises that love and contentment can be bought.
MS: How do you feel about having "NOW THIS" chosen to be read by the Ashland New Plays Festival? Even though the play has already been produced, what new or different aspects do you think this reading might bring to the play?
SK: Purple Mountain, the small town depicted in "NOW THIS," has a lot in common with Ashland, so I'm very pleased that the play, at long last, will be read here in my hometown, and by a fantastically talented group of actors.
MS: You've been a longtime Ashland resident. What do you like about life here? What drives you crazy? What do you do when you're not doing theater-related stuff?
SK: I travel a lot for work, which is a privilege because I get to see how other people live in this country. And life is much tougher out there. So it's always good to come home to Ashland, where life is slower, where we enjoy tall trees and open space and clean water and fresh air — precious things that, sadly, millions of Americans don't have in their lives. So I do a lot of walking, many miles every day.
MS: Is there anything you'd like to add that I haven't asked?
SK: If you miss "NOW THIS," you can see my newest play, "Shakespeare's Other Women," in 2017 at Southern Oregon University.