Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Man Who Built His Dramaturgy to Heaven: Keenan Hurley @ Edfringe 2016

The Man Who Built His House to Heaven
August 15-27 (except Sundays) 13:50
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Summary: A suburban man grapples with disillusionment by endlessly building additions onto his home. Eventually, he builds a colossal tower engulfing all of humanity. 

Even with hundreds of kids, his house in the sky and his newfound friendship with God, it seems the man's ravenous pursuit of importance can never be satiated. The Man Who Built His House to Heaven is an exercise in improbable achievement.

Bio: Keenan Hurley is a New York based playwright and theatre-maker. His work deconstructs how narratives are used to form identity through a performance vocabulary of story telling, live media, and endurance. Originally from Texas, he co-founded the Houston based theatre company Truck Bed Productions which performed a variety of original works in locations ranging from expansive folk art landmarks to a children’s hospital.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I became increasingly interested and concerned with my relationship with ambition and greatness. The idea of greatness is this transcendent, unattainable concept that so many of us strive for in our lives. I spent a lot of time thinking about how so many of us (myself included) become consumed with ambition. Always trying to do more, accomplish more. There was a point where I began to feel so wrapped up in my own pursuits that I began to wonder, "is there any end to this"?  

At what point could I find contentment? I also then spent a lot of time thinking about the American quality of this ambition. It seemed clear that capitalism, manifest destiny and other essential parts of American history and identity were wound into these questions I was asking. I wanted to create a performance that juxtaposed the universal themes of ambition and greatness with the specific effects of the American imagination. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

There was a workshop production presented by the Fordham University Playwriting Program this past October directed by Emily Mendelsohn. I was connected with Emily through the head of the program Daniel Alexander Jones. She really helped me lay and refine a lot of the dramaturgical groundwork for this piece and helped me find the mechanism by which this piece operated. She, along with a few stellar designers, helped me discover all the tools I needed on stage with me. 

The Edinburgh production is taking a lot of her work but adding on and making adjustments with the new director Patrick Swailes Caldwell. He really has such a specific eye for everything on stage and tracking the life of all the object and movements. He's also a magician in addition to a theatre artist so he's also helped me add some fun stuff to the piece. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I've been performing since I was kid. Making up stories has always been engrained in who I am. When I perform I always try to channel playing pretend in my backyard. If performing a piece is not as exciting to me as playing dinosaurs was to me as a kid then I'm doing something wrong. As I got older I experimented with a lot of mediums but always came back to theatre. It's just so direct and potent and full of potential. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

I've been working on this piece for a while. From the start of writing until now it's been almost two years. It's gone through a lot of different processes. So it's hard to say if it was typical. I began writing the text of the piece in a writing workshop with Jackie Sibblies Drury at Fordham. Then for a short time I was experimenting with the piece with the help of the now Philadelphia-based director John Bezark. Eventually I carved out a more refined draft and then produced it at Fordham with Emily. And then now I'm working it out again with Patrick. 

This piece has looked a thousand different ways since I started working on and every person I've worked with has helped me figure it out. I've heard that solo performance is much less collaborative theatre but I think a lot of times you need the collaboration more. You need people to help you see it. It's exciting now that it is finally becoming so precise after having so many hands help me mold it. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I mean hope everyone will have a different experience. I just hope they leave with questions. That's always the goal for me. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

As I said, I try not to force any particular reaction, but there is a lot of direct communication with the audience in this piece. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to build an intimate and direct relationship between the audience and myself.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I think you can’t help but exist within an artistic tradition, if not multiple. You can’t deny this history before you, regardless of how much you know about it in detail. Developing a solo show in New York City, I can’t help but think of the tradition of downtown solo theatre artists. 

I’m inspired by Robbie McCauley, Laurie Anderson, Lisa Kron, Dawn Akemi Saito (who is one of my teachers), Andy Kaufman, among others. The tradition of New York downtown experimental theatre in general I can’t help but be inspired and humbled by. 

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