Thursday, March 21, 2013

Interview with Joan Kane - Director of "I Know What Boys Want"

By Anthony Host

Joan Kane was named one of 2011 People of the Year in indie theatre by She directed “Play Nice!” Off-Broadway at the 59E59 Theaters, “Aliens with Extraordinary Skills” by Saviana Stanescu at Theater 54, “Safe” in the 2012 the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, and “Pizza Man” at the Bridge Theater. She has directed plays and readings at the Lark Play Development Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Theater for the New City, the Samuel French Short Play Festival, the Midtown International Festival, the Dramatists Guild, The Lambs Club, The Players Club, the Actors Studio, and for the Scandinavian American Theater Company. She has an MFA in Directing from The New School, an MS in Museum Education from Bank Street College and is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and the League of Professional Theatre Women.

What led you to being director?

I was originally an actress & dancer. As a teen I toured the five boroughs in a dance company that performed in New York City parks in the summers through the CETA program that gave jobs to underprivileged New York City youth. I went to Performing Arts High School (now LaGuardia). Then I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse and worked in various Off-Off Broadway shows, mostly on the Lower East Side. In the late 1970s I was a founding member of the all-female company Lupa Productions, where I directed plays, readings, site specific and devised works. Later I found it very hard to juggle duties as a parent and artist. I was on the verge of giving up theatre when Gayle Stahlhuth, artistic director of East Lynn Theatre Company in Cape May, NJ offered me an SDC contract to direct “The Awakening.” Since then I have been developing and directing plays by current playwrights in the U.S. and Europe.

How did you come to help create Ego Actus?

While I was attending the Director’s Symposium in Spoleto, Italy I met Ellen “LaMama” Stewart. I had a discussion with her about being a theatre artist in the 21st Century. Inspired by her, my partner Bruce A! Kraemer and I started our company, Ego Actus, in 2009. We had have been doing shows, together and as individual, for decades. My sons went off to college and I had stopped being distracted by them, I went and got an MFA in Directing and started doing a lot more of what I was doing anyway.

You were selected as one of 2011’s People of the Year by What was that like for you, and has it had an impact on your work?

It was amazing and I am totally grateful to Martin and Rochelle Denton. I had never received any sort of prize or award in my life and it felt great to be acknowledged for my work. I felt encouraged that there was hope that somebody appreciated what I was doing.

How did “I Know What Boys Want” come into your life?

I directed Penny’s play “Safe” in the 2012 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity where it won Best New Script. I find working with Penny to very stimulating and collaborative. We both belong to The League of Professional Theater Women, and both of Penny’s plays that I have directed, “Safe” and now “I Know What Boys Want,” really focus with what I consider currently a toxic environment for young women today - be it society's pressures to be thin and beautiful or bullying, in school or through the Internet. “Boys” was created because Penny read a news story about a young girl in Staten Island who threw herself in front of the subway because of a video of her having sex with several football players went viral on the web. She discussed this story with me and I suggested she write a version where the girl is NOT the victim. Then the Steubenville, Ohio sexual assault case occurred, with the teenage boys involved videotaping and tweeting about the incident, and we knew that this was an issue that needed to be dramatized for social awareness.

What drew you to the piece?

I have been a victim of bullying and I have learned that to avoid being a victim you have to take charge of your own life. That is exactly what the lead character is trying to do.

Who else is involved in this production?

I am grateful that I was able to gather a group of awesome artists as my production and design team. The set is being designed by Starlet Jacobs (Best Set in the 2011 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity for the Ego Actus production of “The God Particle”). The costume design is by Cat Fisher (Best Costumes in the 2012 Midtown International Festival for the Ego Actus production of “Hamlet, Bound and Unbound”). The lighting design is by Bruce A! Kraemer. The sound design is by Ian Wehrle who has designed sound for at least five shows for me. The fight choreographer is Andrew Kenneth Moss who did the same for “Safe.” Of course my cast is fearless and portray their characters with ease and depth.

Having recently directed “Safe,” are you taking a different approach to your direction for this play, and will there be any similarities?

These are very different plays. “Safe” is about a timid, lonely girl looking for love and someone to belong with. I took the approach that she would reach out for love and the opportunities would be snatched away from her. “Boys” is about a young woman who has been attacked by a bully who uses the internet. Her journey is to try to repair the damage he has done to her. She is one of the high school mean girls and I am directing her to use that toughness and take charge of what happens to her.

Since this play directly deals with the younger generation, a generation completely involved with several technical gadgets, is it your hope that some will see this show and that it will make them think twice about how they may act or what they may do?

I am certainly hoping that the audiences who see this play realize that posting, even what seems innocuous, things on the Internet can have far ranging, unintentional consequences. It used to be that you would send your friend a chatty postal letter about people you know. The information would be strictly between the two of you. Now you tell a little story on a social networking site and somebody wants to sue you, or worse yet, someone can never get a job again.
Is this your first production that primarily deals with a cast of primarily younger individuals, and if so, how do you approach getting what you need from them?

I have worked with a very wide range of performers from grade school children to the elderly. I have found that individual personality is much more of a determining factor in how I work with someone than chronological age. Some actors are very introspective and I have to work differently with them than the heart-on-the-sleeve types. I have found that to be true of people of every age.

On a personal note, what are some of your current or recent favorite productions that are (or were) happening in the region?

One of my favorite shows that I saw recently was when Kneehigh’s production “The Wild Bride” came to St Ann’s from the United Kingdom. The concept of this fairy tale was expertly conceived and I loved the execution of the ideas through the scenery, music, dance and acting. I also loved “Follow” by Crystal Skillman, which was directed by Daniel Talbot. It took place in an apartment on the Lower East side that seated 10 audience members. Daniel has inspired me and through his example I have come to believe that as an indie artist we can create stunning, meaningful work and tell epic fascinating stories. 

Do you have any projects in development in the next coming months?

I will be directing at least four other productions this year. “100 Saint You Should Know” by Kate Fodor will open at Urban Stages on May 9th. In June I will direct “what do you mean” by Bruce A! Kraemer in the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. In July we will open “Safe” at the 59E59 theaters before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In November we will present Norway Nights with Scandinavian American Theater Company at the Theater for the New City. I will direct “More” by Maria Tryti Vennerod in that.

"I Know What Boys Want" plays at the WorkShop Theater (312 W. 36th Street, 4th FL.) from Thursday, March 28 through Saturday April 13. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM with Saturday matinees at 3 PM. A Talk Back with Martin Denton (Founder, Editor and Chief Reviewer of is scheduled for Sat. Mar. 30 following the 3PM matinee and another with Heather Berlin (noted neuroscientist) will take place following the Thurs. April 11 show. All tickets are $18. For tickets go to or call (1-800) 838-3006. 

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