By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Kate Erin Gibson
In 2008, Kevin P. Hale founded with Jennifer Wilcox Playlab NYC, a theater company dedicated to taking fun way too seriously. Recent directing credits include: "Macbeth" for Socrates Sculpture Park’s Halloween Harvest Festival, "Perfectly Natural" at Midtown International Theatre Festival, as well as both "Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath" and "The Altoona Dada Society Presents: The Velvet Gentleman" at FringeNYC. Prior to his appearance at last summer’s FringeNYC, Kevin hadn’t been seen on stage since Oscar Wilde’s Wife at the Dayton Playhouse in 1995.
Show: "Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment"
How did you first get involved in theatre?
In kindergarten I was supposed to play a non-speaking Christmas tree decoration in our holiday assembly, but then Kenny Workman got sick. You see, Kenny was playing a little kid who couldn’t sleep because Santa was coming. Kenny was supposed to wear pajamas, and even had a spoken line. I got to go on for him. I’ve been dressed in pajamas doing Kenny’s work on stage ever since.
Who are your biggest influences?
Charles Ludlam – Here was a theater artist and writer whose work was carved out of reference and allusion, and unearthing little forgotten nooks in theater history. He was a storyteller who was working in collage and pastiche, and his work is a road sign that points the way for me.
The Muppets – Every puppeteer of a certain age wants to lay the blame at Jim Henson’s feet, but I’m not really a puppeteer. There is a feeling of controlled chaos at the center of "The Muppet Show" that appeals to me, and is something that I strive for with my work with Playlab NYC. It was the Muppets that taught me about revealing the work going on back stage, and the meta-humor to be found in those behind the scenes moments. And the puns! Those gawd-awful puns! Love ‘em.
Christopher Carter Sanderson – One of the first shows I actually enjoyed in New York was the Gorilla Rep’s 1997 production of "Alice in Wonderland." Sanderson’s book "Gorilla Theater: A Practical Guide to Performing the New Outdoor Theater Anytime, Anywhere" has been invaluable to me when trying to articulate my own aesthetic goals to others. He writes about embracing audiences in a spirit of inclusiveness, and approaching theater with enthusiasm and sincerity. When he compared creating theater to Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin, it was like finding someone with whom you were perfectly in tune.
John Wright – I continually go back to his book, "Why is That So Funny?: A Practical Exploration of Physical Comedy." He writes about the importance of play in theater, which is something I think is lacking in a lot of theater I’ve seen.
Tell me a little bit about your show.
During the show I make the case that there is more to Edgar Allan Poe than just the cliché of the cousin lovin’ goth poster child. In fact, Edgar Allan Poe was a very funny guy. Over the course of a fast-paced sixty minutes I present about thirty of Edgar Allan Poe’s works using penny match-sized puppets and handmade toy theaters. The theaters are so small that the audience ends up watching much of the show projected via a closed circuit camera on a screen next to me.
What inspired you to create it?
About ten years ago I started collecting and building toy theaters. In 2009 during Playlab NYC’s production of another Poe adaptation, "Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath" I thought I would try my hand at creating some toy theaters of my own. I started building little matchbox-sized theater adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe with matchstick actors. I would demonstrate the models for my son and friends at the kitchen table. Eventually Playlab NYC’s Managing Director, Jennifer Wilcox, told me that there was a show in those matchboxes, and it needed to be performed for audiences.
Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?
Jennifer Linn Wilcox (producer). I’ve known Jennifer for about thirty years. She is my oldest critic. In the sixth grade she told me that my ventriloquist act in the talent show was better the year before. She is also my oldest champion. When I didn’t show up for auditions for the high school drama club she hunted me down and made me attend. If it weren’t for her, there would be no "Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment," and there wouldn’t be a Playlab NYC.
John Pieza (director). I’ve been collaborating with John for twenty years. "Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment" is the first time however that John is in the director’s chair. John has been a nearly constant face in the casts of my shows, and if he wasn’t on the stage it was probably because his role got cut in development or he was busy closing on a condo. When it came to finding a director for this show, he was the only person I trusted.
It was for last summer’s FringeNYC that John introduced me to Megan Hildebrand (stage manager) and her fiancé Andrew Berardi (video operator). I am very lucky to have them both returning to the show for FRIGID New York. If it weren’t for Megan I wouldn’t remember my lines, and if it weren’t for Andrew no one in the audience would be able to see the tiny actors upon my matchbox stages.
What's next for you after FRIGID?
In May, Playlab NYC will be co-producing Intellectual Property with Coffee Black Productions (http://coffeeblackproductions.wordpress.com/). Intellectual Property is an evening of theatrical mash-ups, fan-fiction, and parodies. It is a theater-based version of Cartoon Network’s "Robot Chicken," with short plays like The Smurfs in "The Scarlet Letter," Samuel Beckett’s "Lord of the Rings," and a "Driving Miss Daisy" mash-up with Alfred Hitchcock’s "Psycho."
And finally, if you could say anything to your potential audience, what would it be?
As a theater artist, I create trifles. Edward Gordon Craig, the scenic designer and theater theorist, wrote, “I will go so far as to suggest that it is these things - trifling things - that the world today stands most in need of, and that the weighty ones are absorbing all our strength...might it not be wiser and much more sociable to concern ourselves with trifles for a few decades.”
Some past reviews of "Poe-Dunk – a Matchbox Entertainment" have suggested that there is an educational component to the show. Don’t be deceived. I’m only onstage to make you laugh.
"Poe-Dunk: A Matchbox Entertainment"
Created by Kevin P. Hale
Company: Playlab NYC
Directed by: John Pieza
The Red Room
85 E. 4th Street
Feb 27, 8:00PM
Feb 29, 11:00PM
Mar 03, 12:30PM