By Byrne Harrison
John Kearns is the author of the short-story collection “Dreams and Dull Realities” and the novel, “The World.” His novel-in-progress, “Worlds,” was a finalist in the 2002 New Century Writers’ Awards. He has had five full-length and five one-act plays produced in Manhattan, including “Sons of Molly Maguire,” “In a Bucket of Blood,” and “Designers with Dirty Faces.” His fiction has appeared in The Medulla Review and Danse Macabre. John’s poems have appeared in the North American Review, the Grey Sparrow Journal, Feile-Festa, and the ASBDQ experimental text journal. He is Treasurer of Irish American Writers and Artists Inc. and has a Masters Degree in Irish Literature from the Catholic University of America. His play “In the Wilderness” is part of the Planet Connections festival.
How did you first get involved in theatre?
In 1999, a former coworker heard me do a reading from my first novel, “The World,” read the original version of “In the Wilderness,” and asked me to write something shorter for him to direct. The result was my first produced play, the one-act, “The Importance of Loving Shakespeare.”
Who are your biggest influences?
James Joyce has always been the biggest influence on my writing.
What is your show about?
At Saint Philomena’s all-girls high school in the South Bronx in the late 1980s, dispirited teacher Paul Logan decides that if he can get just one student to be successful, then his efforts will be worthwhile. Can the smart, sexy poetess, Carmen Marquez, be the one Paul is hoping for?
“In the Wilderness” focuses on the relationship between Paul and Carmen with all its joys, frustrations, victories, defeats, friendship, temptation, and sacrifices.
What inspired you to write it?
I spent three years teaching in the South Bronx and afterwards wrote the original draft of “In the Wilderness” in an apartment in West Philly. I wanted to capture the intense experiences I shared with my colleagues and students in those three years. I wrote it as a play (rather than a story or novel) so that audiences could hear the music of the accents and dialects spoken around the school where I had taught. I tried to capture the speech patterns of the students as well as those of the teachers from Ireland, Jamaica, and various parts of the United States.
Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?
Richard Butler is the director and Mark Butler, a fellow playwright, is the associate producer. We’ve been friends and have supported one another’s productions and performances since 2006. But, this is the first time we have worked together. It has been a wonderful experience to work with these two accomplished professionals and great fun to work with close friends!
Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?
I think we are setting an example for other endeavors and organizations to be eco-friendly. Hopefully, we’re the start of a trend!
What's next for you after Planet Connections?
I’ll go back to work on my novel in progress, Worlds, which is about Paul Logan ten years after this play takes place as well as the three previous generations of his family.
And finally, if a genie were to grant you one wish, what would you wish for?
I’d wish for the ability to focus full time on my creative writing.
For more information, visit planetconnections.org/in-the-wilderness