An Interview with Kevin Mullins, Undesirables Playwright

TWBW7PosterWe hope you can join us on Thursday, May 23, when we’ll be reading Undesirables by Kevin Mullins upstairs at Trident Booksellers & Cafe as part of our There Will Be Words program! Take a moment to get to know the playwright below and get psyched for our next TWBW!

What was your first theatre memory and why did you decide pursue it?
It was in second grade when my father took me to see a friend in a production of The Hobbit that the Watertown Children’s Theatre was doing. I begged my father to sign me up as we were leaving. I’ve been hooked ever since.

How did you get started in playwrighting?
I started out trying to write a novel, but I kept getting bogged down in having to describe everything. I was already doing a lot of acting and in a dramatic act of frustration said “Well, that’s what set designers are for!”

But the reason I kept writing plays is that theatre is a collaborative art. That’s what’s most important to me. It’s more than just words on the page. It’s a blueprint that tells my collaborators what they need in order to do the play. The trick is in only telling exactly what they need. No more. No less.

If you weren’t a playwright, what would you do?
Good question! I have no clue.  I’ve always been very political and I’ve often been called a political playwright. If not theatre I probably would have studied in the social sciences and done some type of leftist organizing. There have been times in my life where I have thrown myself into political work, but theatre has a gravitational pull that just sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. Part of the reason all of my plays deal with social issues is an attempt to make up for not dedicating myself fully to some lost cause.  

Any specific questions you want answered? What should we as audience members look for during the reading?
I’m a huge nerd. I tend to write plays that take place in worlds that are not our own. So worldbuilding is a HUGE thing for me. My main question would be does this world make sense? Can you imagine it? At what point did things about the world pull you out the story?

When did the idea for Undesirables first pop into your head? What experiences have influenced its development?
It was my thesis play at Carnegie Mellon University. I had been trying to write another play that I thought was going to be my thesis play and I was stuck in the mud with it. It was during the summer of 2011 during the whole debt ceiling “crisis” and a massive heat wave.  I decided that I would take a few days off from the play and picked up a book to read while sitting in front of the air conditioner.

The book was Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti. It’s about how climate change is having an effect in places and conflicts as far reaching as the war in Afghanistan to the drug war in Mexico. If we don’t change course, it’s going to trigger massive migration. In some aspects it already has. There’s a decent chance that we’re going to have something akin to climate apartheid, where the wealthy live in gated communities with guards and the rest drown or starve. The book scared me to death and it, added with the craziness of the right wing, coupled with the fact that it was 110 outside in the shade made me write with a furry.

At CMU I felt like the play was put through the ringer. When the play originally ended they all arrived at the house. Then it took place in or around the house. As a result of the CMU production the whole story is confined to the main room of the house. I still have scenes and scenes that take place in the outer world of the play that I wonder where they belong, if anywhere.

What’s next on the docket for you? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m getting married in July! So that’s the next big project on my docket.

As for theatre projects: I’m collaborating with the amazingly talented director Lindsay Eagle on an adaptation of Euripides’s Medea. It’ll be set in near-future Sudan and involve Iranian cyborgs, Chinese spies, Russian mobsters and queer people… always queer people. I’m beyond excited for it.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have gotten into The Accomplice Writers Group with Interim Writers. They’re an amazing group of people who you should all take notice of.

What do you like most about the Boston theatre scene?
Sarah Rhul, (whom I adore) totally dissed Boston theatre in an article about a year or so ago. She said that we weren’t a real theatre town because we still hold to our Puritan founding’s. Maybe she just tried to get a drink or take the subway after 1:00 am and was less than forgiving… Anyway, there was a time where I might have agreed with her, but when I look around at all the young companies and the dedication towards new work, I think… I hope… we’re starting to prove her wrong.

What advice can you offer other playwrights?
A few things:

1. Most importantly: Write! Don’t stop. Write one play and then another, and then another. The more you do it, the more you’ll get a feel for it. Write the play that you would go see by yourself on a Friday night when you don’t know a single person in it or anyone who worked on it.

2. Seek out the people who share your sensibilities as an artist. Find the writers who you respect and admire. Find directors who get what you’re trying to do. A good director is a real treasure, when you find a good one hold on to them.

3. See theatre. A lot of theatre. I see a show a week. You should too! And always go to the bar after. Always. Half the battle is getting them to remember that you exist. I can’t tell you how many opportunities and contacts have happened because of after show socializing.

4. Self-produce! Don’t wait for a third party to select you. Have people over to your house and give them beer and pizza and read the play in your living room…hell try staging the play in your living room (tell the roommates first though) and put it up yourself when it’s ready. Even if it’s for a night or two, you’ll learn more from a production than any reading or workshop.

5. And lastly: BE NICE. This is a small world, not just Boston theatre, but all theatre. It’s really just six of us, so if I hear that you’re an asshole, or a narcissist, or someone I trust won’t work with you, it’s going to make me think twice about collaborating with you. You can always catch more flies with honey than vinegar as my grandmother would say.

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