WOS Special Edition: Topher Kielbasa

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conducted by mike doyle on 5/16/13

md: I’m just kind of interested in your journey at The Theatre School from the beginning of the playwriting sequence until now. How have you seen your process change?

tk: I guess at the beginning I really had no idea what the hell I was doing. I had never written a play before. I had written eight pages of dialogue, you can call it a scene, for my interview to get into the program with Carlos. I really had no idea what I was doing. I don’t know, I was a scared little kid thinking, I can’t do this kind of stuff, maybe I don’t have it in me, or whatever. Over time I was sort of learning about how to do things and really gaining confidence that I can do this, because in classrooms when I brought stuff in people got interested and were talking about it. It just sort of developed over time, and you know, when we got to third year, and we had to write a full length play it was like one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done in my entire life. The journey of doing it just made me––just seeing that I can tell a massive story by just pushing myself to do it was probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. I’m in a playwriting program. I’m going to graduate with a degree that I can’t get a job with anywhere, but I don’t regret it because I know the playwriting program has made me a better person. It’s made me a more empathetic person and it’s also just made me, as cliché as it sounds, you know, appreciate art for what it does to people. I think people go through this question a lot––in America, and there’s a big debate about it, possibly all over the world, but I just don’t think quite the rest of the world. We live in an economic-based society here in America, and it’s like, you know, math and science they’re going to get you jobs and they’re going to keep the world going, but you know one of the things that playwriting has taught me is that creating art and sharing it with people just makes life worth living.

md: So for you in terms of actual process the interplay between life and the things that you’re creating is very important?

tk: I think so. I mean my process is very––I write in a spare bedroom in my house. I like writing in it, because I imagine that this is probably as big as the stage should be. I like very intimate things. I think writing all the stuff I’ve written takes place in very intimate settings. It’s become a sort of…I’ve learned to embody the plays I’m writing where I don’t just sit down in front of a computer and just write dialogue. I get up. I move around. I say lines out loud. I act parts out. And it’s made me more in tune with what happens on stage. I’ve come to realize that I’m not just writing dialogue that describes what happens, I have to give my characters words that make them come alive. Over the course of the three years I’ve been in the program I’ve gotten sharper and sharper at that and it’s entirely attributable to one, the space I write in, two, the space we read the plays in and just the fact that having this sort of community of playwrights in the program and being able to read our scene out loud every time we write them and bring them in is just so incredibly helpful. That’s a part of the process that I think I’m going to miss once I graduate, that I might not always be able to have that––that community of writers and just the bigger community at large of actors and directors and designers that I can talk to. It’s one of the things that I will certainly take away from this, that collaboration is so essential and that’s playwriting, even though you write it by yourself, and there’s absolutely no way that you can write it without the collaboration.

md: For The Book of Voss how long have you been working on this play? Did you start that third year or is that something that came into fruition this year? 

tk: I started writing it, the first scene I wrote for it was the last week of September in my third year, which would have been 2011. So I’ve been working on this play for a very long time. Almost two years, about a year and a half. It started out very different from what it is today. At one point in time I had a homeless guy who claimed to be Jesus Christ and thoroughly believed it. What’s always been constant is just mother, father, son, and that sort of relationship and the son leaving home––the manifestation of that and how that happens has changed. The structure of the piece has changed. It’s gone from being real time to flashback to real time to just being entirely real time. At one point in time it used to be monologue heavy, and now it’s very active, very dialogue back and forth. And I guess just the journey of this play. I’ve gotten to a point in it where I’m rewriting it where I’m sort of stuck. I know what happens. I know what’s supposed to happen, but it’s the context through which those things happen that’s gotten me so confused and it’s frustrating for me right now, because I know these characters so well. Just the way they speak, the way they act, what they want. I know it so well that I just cannot pin down in very basic terms what they’re going to talk about to get what they want. It’s just that context right now that’s so frustrating to me, but it’s a good problem to have.

md: Do you anticipate working in a supported reading setting with professional actors and a professional director to be any different?

tk: I’m really excited for the questions these people will have. Last year I had MFA actors reading for me. You know, late 20s, 30 years old––and they’ve been around in the game acting for a while. This time around I have actors playing parents in the play who are close to the age of the parents in the play,  and I’m just sort of excited to see what sort of questions their life experiences bring to the play and what jumps out of them and what strikes that sort of audience, because I imagine this play for people of all ages. I focus just as much on the young character, Voss, as much as I do on the parents. You know, Voss is sort of the protagonist. In a sense he’s the focus of this story that everything revolves around, but the parents go through changes just as much as him, and what I’m excited to get into is just finding out how true I’ve made those parents journeys, those people who are so much older than me that I can only speculate as to what life is like.

md: Then, in terms of the amount of time you’ll have with the actors and the director– for two weeks with four hour rehearsals have you ever had that amount of time to be with the play and people who will be embodying the roles?

tk: You know, not for that extended period of time, not for two weeks. We did have sort of four hour rehearsals for last year’s Wrights of Spring, but I think we only had about two. So I couldn’t really dive into the perspective from the director, or from the actor for that sort of extended amount of time. They couldn’t live with these characters for a very long time, and it’s because I’ve lived with them for so long everything seems very easy, easy to make decisions, but for them it’s sort of like the problems that are going to arise with these new people and that we’re going to discover over two weeks that I’ve never had with this play.

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