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Interview with GPI Director Kelsey Kling

26 January 2013


Kelsey Kling, our newest New Directions director, was kind enough to set aside some time to answer some questions posed by Cap T’s artistic director Mark Pickell.  She talks about what motivated her to apply for the New Directions program and what it has been like to direct Gruesome Playground Injuries. Check it out!

How did you hear about our New Directions program and what made you interested in the program?

I think I first heard about it with the production of “Bird and the Bee.”  It thought it was cool and gutsy that a relatively new production company, already taking its chances in Austin, would extend that chance to a new untried director.  And it was a wonderful production!

I have been interested in directing for a while, but I was frankly scared of it not only artistically but also logistically.  Often when new directors are starting, they end up simultaneously wearing the producer hat.  For me, I think that would have soured the experience.  I don’t think I could have made the leap without the backbone of the program.  I’m able to focus mostly on the actors and trust that the production elements are moving along.

Why did you chose to direct Gruesome Playground Injuries?  

I had a strong intellectual and visceral reaction to this script.  Honestly, I didn’t even need to read the whole thing to decide that I needed to direct this.  After the first scene, I immediately identified with Kayleen and Doug–their wonderfully odd friendship–and fell in love with the rhythms of speech and the ease of dialogue.  Some of these conversations ring in my memory.  There is also some gorgeous imagery. Pragmatically, this fits the Long Fringe format really well, but I don’t think I would approach it any differently out of that context.  It’s beautiful in its’ simplicity.

What was the first thing you ever directed for an audience?

A reading of “Taming of the Shrew.”  Thank God for Shakespeare, because I look back and shudder at some of the choices and direction I gave then.

When was the moment you got bit by the theatre bug?

Oddly enough, I was recovering from a bad ankle injury.  Suddenly, I wasn’t dancing 20 plus hours a week and was going a little crazy not being in rehearsals. So I auditioned for the musical at my high school.  Dancing on stage was very much in my comfort zone, but speaking and singing definitely was not!  It was a rush.  I think I became addicted to theatre the same way some people get addicted to extreme sports.

If you could direct any show here in Austin what show would you love to share with the Austin community?

Someday, King Lear.

Any personal gruesome playground injuries in your past?

Actually, in my 7th grade track season, I got horribly sunburned at a few meets, tore out a chunk from the back of my knee in high jump, and face planted on the track while running hurdles.  I didn’t go out for track again.

You have been a successful actress here in Austin what has the transition to director been like for you?
The casting process was excruciating for me.  I had a ridiculously large and ridiculously talented group audition for me. I hated that I only had two roles to give, and I hated telling people “no.” I thought auditions were hard as an actor, but I will will have a lot more sympathy for my directors moving forward. Also, unless you cast folks you’ve worked with before, which I didn’t, you run the risk of just not having the right chemistry in your company. There’s nothing more miserable than slogging through rehearsals with people that you don’t enjoy. Happily, this not been the case at all–I love my little group.

But aside from casting, it’s been easier than I thought.  I think a lot has to do with the script.  One of the things that let me know that I had found the right fit, is that I wanted to direct this more than I wanted to act in it.  I wanted to share what I saw in my head while reading it.  Having that “actor” vocabulary has been invaluable in imparting that to the cast. And they both take direction so well, I’ve never had to go overboard explaining a note.

Since I don’t have a lot of experience with this side of things, I’ve been stealing the tools and tricks of all my favorite directors, and at the same time trying not to be anything like the directors’ I haven’t enjoyed working with. I’m also surprised to find that I’m leaning a lot on my training as a dancer and choreographer in working with this particular script..

You have never worked with any of these actors before, what has it been like to work with Jason and Laura?

This is one of my favorite aspects of this production.  Though I’ve known a few of the folks involved for years and some I just met, this is the first time I have gotten to work with any of them. I have admired Jason’s stage work for a long time and have wanted to work with him–a “theatre crush” if you will.  I’ve never seen Jason in this light though, so I’m really excited for him to share this performance. I’m very fortunate to have him.  Laura is wonderful and very dedicated.  She has a rare balance of fragility and toughness that is perfect for Kayleen.  She is also relatively new to town, which I consider a bonus in the spirit of the New Directions program. I’m sure Austin will be seeing lots of her work in the future.  They have both made my job as director much easier.

What’s next for Kelsey Kling?
Hard to say–I’m pretty selective about my projects these days.  There’s no commitment yet, but I hope to be putting my actor hat back on in the fall.  This has been a wonderful experience, so I’ll also be looking out for another directing opportunity.
What do you hope the audience is talking about when they leave Gruesome Playground Injuries?

I hope they will be focused on the wonderful work from the actors and thinking about their own friendships.  In this life, you are lucky if you have a few people that anchor you to who you are.  If you’re really lucky, those people stick around.