Monday, September 29, 2014

6 QUESTIONS: Kel Haney

1. How did THE ELEPHANT IN EVERY ROOM I ENTER come about? 
In 2013, Gardiner [Comfort] hired me to direct a remounting of his first solo show, YOU'RE NOT TOUGH at Dixon Place. I immediately loved working with him--he's a phenomenal performer, generous collaborator, and he's got a brain full of beautiful, abstract, chaotic creativity that works very differently than mine.YOU'RE NOT TOUGH is a series of non-biographical monologues, in which Gardiner plays characters he's observed in NYC, but (in the version we presented last December) there was also a highly personal "Tourette's Dance," which Gardiner created with his mother, Jane Comfort. For me, the "Tourette's Dance" was a personal exploration that felt like a departure from the rest of the piece and deserved to be developed more fully. When Gardiner received a Mabou Mines residency in January '15 and asked me to come onboard as his collaborator, I suggested we use the time/resources to generate autobiographical material for him to perform and he was totally game. When Gardiner went to the National Tourette's Syndrome Association conference in DC in April '14, we were actually working on the structural skeleton of a different piece--but when he came back and started sharing with me his experiences of that week, we very quickly recognized that his 'week away at the conference' would be the framework for our piece. Our experience with Mabou Mines was exceptionally positive and fruitful--and we received extremely useful feedback from our showing in May. Within a week, Nicky Paraiso contacted Gardiner about performing at La MaMa and gave him the option to perform either YOU'RE NOT TOUGH or THE ELEPHANT IN EVERY ROOM I ENTER--we chose to keep developing the later. 

2. What have you learned during the making of this show? 
I've learned that that the reverence I've always had for playwrights was totally spot on--I've never created a piece from scratch before and it's just as crazy-making and isolating as I thought it would be. The way we've created this piece is by me interviewing Gardiner-- first jotting down stories/ideas on index cards, then storyboarding. We also record our conversations, and our stellar associate, Nora Ives transcribes it all. Then, I go through the transcriptions, cutting and pasting (and altering Gardiner's words as little as possible), then handing him a a text to read aloud and we edit together. Through my collaboration with Gardiner, I've learned to function on a higher, more intimate level of collaboration than I've ever worked on before--it requires a specific brand of trust, patience, compassion and humor from both of us.

3. What would you like audience to take away from the show? 
First and foremost, I want the audience to take a way a bit of awareness--this will totally sound trite, but I've found that even just a tiny bit of understanding of someone's differentness can go a long way. Yes, this pertains specifically to Tourette's Syndrome, and even more specifically to Gardiner's individual experience living with Tourette's, but I believe it's larger than that. In the piece, Gardiner very aptly articulates how he analyzes and judges the appearance and actions of the other people at the Tourette's conference--we all do this, all the time. Maybe, after spending time with Gardiner, as he describes what it's like to live with an neurological disorder, we'll all be a bit kinder/more aware, less likely to stare/judge when we encounter someone who appears to be differently-abled. Also, I hope that we dispel some of the stereotypes about Tourette's and that people walk away understanding that Gardiner's relationship to TS is extremely complicated and that his brilliant, energetically electric, artistic sensibilities are intricately connected to how his mind works. 

4. What was the last good book you read? 
I took ten days away in Maine and decided it was apropos for me to read Elizabeth Stout's OLIVE KITTERIDGE (which takes place in a Maine coastal town). I'd randomly picked it up in Charlottesville, VA thrift shop the month before. I'm a total sucker for fiction where the narrative point of view shifts from character to character--and the more quotidian, the better. These connected short stories really swept me up--I was simultaneously moved and disturbed...the people in that small town (above all, the title character), do some pretty amazing and pretty f-ed up things. I enjoyed it a whole lot. 

5. Who or what inspires you? 
Agh, everything and everyone with whom I come into contact?! That little girl I observed in the park this afternoon who I overheard lecturing her dad about how she hates losing control on her scooter and he shouldn't let go, the young woman who was so excited when I agreed to try her own concoction at the bagel shop this morning, the music I'm listening to right now, from our ELEPHANT sound designer, Elisheba Ittoop (I wish I knew what this track is called, because I want to marry it). I feel most inspired when I am exposed to the largest variety of experience: taking in high and low (and everything in between) culture, creating my own work, and having free time to be a real person. 

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you? 
Working at La Mama means having the freedom and space to create what Gardiner & I feel compelled to create, right now. We've been greeted by nothing but support from Nicky, Mia, Bev, Amy, John and everyone at La MaMa--it's like they've been saying, "We trust you--go make what you need to make." And that feels awesome and rare and necessary. It's also quite an honor for me--I remember first reading about La MaMa in college--it's a wonderful feeling to be embraced by such a storied and beloved institution.

La MaMa presents

Created by Gardiner Comfort & Kel Haney
Performed by Gardiner Comfort
Directed by Kel Haney

October 3, 2014 - October 19, 2014 
Friday & Saturday at 10pm / Sunday at 6pm 

The Club @ La MaMa
74 A East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $18 Adults/$13 Students/Seniors; Ten tickets priced at $10 are available in advance only on a first come first served basis.  Not available day of show.

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE