When I was a lowly intern working my way through the new play development ranks, I remember hearing the name “Jessica Kubzansky” and “trailblazer” in the same sentence. From my desk, amidst a mountain of scripts, I heard stories of how Jessica was the fearless Indiana Jones of West Coast new play development. And, six years later, when I sat down to ask her about Boston Court’s 2012 season, I found out… I was right.
Ayla Harrison: You’ve done a season of World Premieres once before, in 2010. What have you learned from that?
Jessica Kubzansky: Over the years, Boston Court has developed an audience that will take the ride with us. And while doing a whole season of unknown plays is big, one thing 2010 taught us was that our audience, as it has grown with us, has come to not need to know the play. In the beginning, we found that attendance was title-recognition dependent, and when we did plays no one had heard of, we had lighter attendance. But we continued to do new and riskier plays, and slowly built an audience who was ready to really take the leap with us. So in 2010 we discovered that our audience was willing to take the leap on an entire season of unknown titles. It also should be stated that, both in 2010, and now, for 2012, we programmed the plays we believed in most passionately as the best fit for our season, and they happened to all be world premieres.
AH: In terms of choosing your season, is it a year-round event?
JK: It is indeed. Since we do so many new plays, we put plays in our PLAY/ground Reading Series that we are very interested in potentially programming on our mainstage. And in terms of season planning, there’s always a deadline. I’m not the only one who will tell you making a season is incredibly challenging. All theatres would concur that making the jigsaw fit is such a complexity; both in terms of giving balance and conceptual content, and in terms of affordability of production, numbers of actors, etc. But we work very hard to make sure that if you come see all four shows in our season you’ll see something really rich and balanced.
AH: Are there any plays in your 2012 season that were featured in your reading series last year?
JK: In fact, Kathryn Walat’s play Creation was in our PLAY/ground Reading Series last year. So it’s very exciting that it ended up on the mainstage. We have quite a tradition, actually, of taking plays from our reading series and putting them on the mainstage.
AH: What was your impetus to say, “Let’s do a season of all world premieres”…
JK: As I mentioned, we actually did not set out to do a season of world premieres. We set out to do a season of interesting plays. I don’t think we’d like a year to go by without doing at least one world premiere. But, as it happened, these are the plays we all happened to love that seemed to make for a rich and electric season, and they just happened to be world premieres. And, just to be precise, we are doing three world premieres and one world premiere adaptation of an existing piece.
AH: I think you have a lot of unique work happening in the 2012 season. You have a piece that’s based heavily in dance and movement with Theatre Movement Bazaar—what made you want to work with them?
JK: Both Michael (Michetti, my Co-Artistic Director) and I think theatre is a very complete kind of storytelling and it involves the use of all elements. Movement and dance are an incredibly profound and evocative element that drive a very kinetic kind of theatre. It’s the kind of theatre we have done at Boston Court, but not as much as we have wanted to. It’s a very interesting style, because it is about creating several kinds of language, not just text-based, and but also a physical language that communicates distinctly. For Theatre Movement Bazaar, both Michael and I have always been really fascinated and blown away by their movement style and the things that they do with incredibly physical story-telling and the gifts that are mined from that. Theatre Movement Bazaar is highly stylized movement, it’s repetitive action, it’s dance. Often, actors play many different characters. They did a take on Jekyll & Hyde called Model Behavior and they enacted that whole world with a small ensemble. Their work is so exciting that we really wanted to collaborate with them here on the making of a new piece.
AH: I’ve seen their pieces online. I’d say they live in this space where there’s a marriage of words and movement, even to the basest action…it is completely harmonious. A simple action, like reading a letter, becomes a comedic ballet with that company. I’ve never seen anything like it.
JK: Well said! I’m in love with physical theatre. Both Michael and I are.
AH: I know you’ve worked with Furious Theatre Co before (The Pain and the Itch by Bruce Norris)—what prompted you to jump into another collab with the talented company on The Government Inspector?
JK: When we do a co-production we’re really blending two sensibilities, which can be challenging, but working with Furious was harmonious and easy in our first collaboration, so we were delighted to try it again, with a very different kind of piece. The director, Stefan Novinski, who directed Medea for us in our second season, has wanted to do The Government Inspector for quite some time, and Furious was interested in investigating a play in this style. We loved the play, and got even more excited when L.A. playwright Oded Gross, who has recently co-written adaptations of An Imaginary Invalid and A Servant to Two Masters for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, came on board to do a world premiere adaptation. Another plus, Furious has a company of talented actors and the play has a rather large cast. So Stefan was especially pleased to be able to use the talents of an acting company that already has a great deal of experience working together in addition to actors simply cast for the production.
AH: You’re directing a piece in BC’s upcoming season called The Children—can you divulge your choice to take on this piece?
JK: This is a play that was introduced to me by our wonderful literary managers. We all found the play very intriguing and moving, but like many plays we love at Boston Court, the complexity of the piece on the page raised some questions. Michael Elyanow, the playwright, happened to be in town from Minneapolis, so we did an in-house reading just to hear the play aloud. And at the reading, we all found we were haunted by the play, even as we still had questions. We talked to the writer about them, and the questions started opening doors both for us and for the playwright. And that whole investigation was so exciting. It’s a piece that plays with language, genre, blending of an ancient story and a modern story…and it requires puppetry (which is one of the other things I love about theatre—the use of all theatrical elements to elevate reality). And, most importantly, I don’t want to give too much here, but I will just say that I was incredibly moved by what I think the play asks us to walk away with at the end. It was very powerful and compelling.
AH: I’m excited about Creation too.
JK: Me too! The questions that Kate is asking about where creativity comes from and the divine spark that inspires people and about events that change lives and how relationships are changed as a result of them…those are all really profound investigations. And I love that a play asks us to explore them by giving us such a visceral experience.
AH: Does doing this new season scare you or rattle your insides…ya know, in a good way?
JK: Yes. I don’t know if this is the answer you want, though, because the answer is that it’s genuinely a thrill. I think it’s right for artists to be a little frightened of all plays they’re about to dive into; if we can look at them complacently, we’re probably not making great art. And, I suppose it’s scary in that all new plays have a higher percentage rate of failure only because nobody has been out there with a stamp of approval, some words in the world that let people know, “This is a great play!” So it actually means that an audience has to make up their own minds—as opposed to being told what to think. But that’s not scary to me. That’s exciting.
For me, Boston Court’s gift as a company is that they don’t take anything for granted with the audience. They set the bar, and the audience doesn’t demand something from them—they demand something from the audience. And the audience becomes better for it, I think. Jessica Kubzansky and Michael Michetti are trailblazers in the sense that they aren’t just introducing the theatre world to unknown titles. They’re showing other theatres that a season of world premieres is possible and provocative. And maybe those theatres will take heed and sprinkle a few more world premieres into their season too one day.
Four world premieres may seem as daunting as racing a giant boulder, but trust that Jessica (and Indie) will tell you: It’s a damn good time.