We’re thrilled to share our interview with The Interval discussing Painting Faye Salvez‘s participation in the New York Musical Festival! Read what Kyle Brown (Director) and Rachel Covey (Book, Music & Lyrics) have to say about the piece, inclusivity in American theatre, and the nature of audience engagement.
Rachel Covey and Kyle Brown’s Interview
What are you hoping audiences take away from the show?
Rachel: I want the play to be as centered on this story about this family and this artist as possible, while also raising questions that go beyond them and the specifics of their circumstances. I’m hoping that people leave with a sense of the arc of the story, and also, in the broader sense, the questions that the artist grapples with about truth and responsibility.
Kyle: I think truth and responsibility are really essential right now. I’ve been finding that the stories that focus on people, and their own stories, that are created in the most truthful way, has been really impactful for theatre, and particularly American theatre and the American experience. We’re still shaping that as a country in a really interesting way. I think that this piece in particular is so based in the truth of one family. I’ve suffered a lot of grief, and I think getting to have this experience where we talk about our own truthful experiences, and our relationship to grief, and the responsibility of an artist in representing a very complex subject, is raising a lot of questions for audiences that are really interesting and relevant right now.
What about this development process have you found the most useful or the most interesting?
Kyle: Getting to work with Rachel has been the most amazing thing. She just turned 19, and she was 18 when I met her and when she sent the script to me, so getting to watch her work with the actors and develop her own voice in the room and in the piece has been excruciatingly beautiful to watch. I have such a deep belief in her and want to nurture it. It’s been one of the best experiences in getting to nurture that in and NYMF has allowed us to do that by giving us a forum, and it’s been so amazing.
Rachel: I was going to say something really similar. This piece had existed in my head for so long that having it become a conversation and a collaborative effort, I’ve learned so much and been given so much from that. Watching the actors breathe life into the characters and then ask questions. The other day in rehearsal, someone brought up how they felt about the ending and some questions that they had, and then before I knew it, it was a ten-person discussion. And it wasn’t just discussion of, “How should I act this.” People had feelings and ideas about the piece.
What’s something you think can be done to get different audiences to engage with theatre or get audiences to engage differently?
Kyle: I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think theatre is a very complicated thing, because right now it’s a really exclusive event because it’s live. There’s a lot of controversy that happens around theatre because it’s live and therefore exclusive, so it’s hard to get into. I think for me it’s about making it available to people. I think of Shakespeare in the Park, things like that. Getting our friends to come in and see this [show at NYMF]. My goal in theatre is to make it as accessible as possible, and I think that’s in making pieces that are as accessible as possible—meaning as specific as possible. Not limiting it to the people that we want to come, but actually making art that is as truthful as possible—that is daringly truthful—and just trusting in the fact that audiences will relate to the humanity in that. TV is an easy forum for theatre to be opened up and I think Broadway HD is doing a really beautiful job. I think those National Theatre viewings are something that are allowing audiences to find theatre in a new way and then seek it out. But I think theatre makers still have to really seek out those people and really work. I’ve done theatre in prison, and that was the most impactful thing I’ve ever done.
Rachel: And thinking about that, the funny thing to me about the nature of theatre is that by definition it happens behind closed doors. You cannot distribute theatre the way you distribute film. But it’s also the most relatable art there is. You’re in a room with other people, and that is such an equalizer to me. And what comes to mind in terms of raising that accessibility, besides the obvious like the prices, I think it has to do with the way we talk about the arts, the way we treat them in schools, and the way they’re supported. For me, growing up with theatrical parents and a school with hefty art programs, I never felt like I had to ask permission to get in there. It just felt like something I could dive in and do. And that is not the same everywhere, and that’s not the same for a lot of my peers.
Kyle: I think that’s a great point. We were both raised by parents that work in theatre and are passionate about theatre, so we both have access to theatre. I got to see every production at Trinity Rep multiple times, just because I was a child that grew up at Trinity Rep. So making that accessible in schools, and making Annie Baker, Will Eno, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and the artists that are currently making art available, not just Shakespeare.
Rachel: Also, I think we talk about the arts in a different tone than we talk about other things.
Kyle: It’s so elevated.
Rachel: Yeah, and on one hand it does elevate it to this degree where you feel like it’s this prestigious far away thing, but also I think it’s not encouraged in the same way. I know a lot of kids who had these incredible artistic sides, but we’re really conditioned from a young age that that can be your cute, funny hobby, but when you’re serious in the real world, you don’t talk about it. You don’t even openly support it the way you might any other interest or passion.
Kyle: I think it’s so funny, because the disparity between how hard it is to make a life in the theatre versus how elite it is to see theatre is so disparate. It’s so separate and it makes it a very interesting conversation for how to keep making real art that relates to people who are spending $300 on a ticket. Or who are used to spending $300 on a ticket, because then a $20 ticket all of a sudden means that the caliber is less good.
You are at different points in your careers and in different disciplines, but what’s something that you think would make it easier for you to pursue your creative goals in the way you want to pursue them?
Kyle: The support of non-profit theatres actively investing in young artists, young directors, young playwrights, young stage managers, young music directors. We have an amazing music director, Fernanda [Douglas], and having worked in theatre pretty much all my life, it is mind blowing to me that I just found Fernanda and that I didn’t have access to her or didn’t know the forum in which to reach out to her. There’s not a bigger, more supportive community for the next generation. It’s a lot more associate positions and assistant positions, which can be a career in and of itself.
Rachel: Working backwards from the question, I think the times that I have felt the most confident and empowered in just diving into things were times that I was dealt with in a way that I didn’t feel I needed to ask permission. Times that someone trusted me enough to take command on a project without testing my credentials. I music directed a production my freshman year in college, and I said “I don’t know if I’m qualified for this,” and the team basically said, “We’re all students. We’re all here to learn, and we trust you.” That was a really cool personal growth experience, as well as a technique-based growing experience. So, as many opportunities and safe environments where we can trust new and young artists to take a stab at it, I think that would be the ideal.
Kyle: Particularly for women and people of color. As a woman, I learned from Liesl Tommy. Stop apologizing and believe what you believe. And I think to be wrong is actually okay. And the support of anybody who pushes you to take up that space and actually be wrong [is important]. Because the only way I’ve learned in this process is by stepping on my own toes, being told I’m wrong, and then figuring it out. But as a woman, you’re losing your power immediately by doing that, and that doesn’t help.
Rachel: I find myself doing those things. At one point, I had an opportunity to show a composer I really respect some of my work, and I walked in there and I was like, “I’m not going to apologize. I’m not going to apologize.” And, sure enough, I just got so nervous that what came out of my mouth was just anxieties and apologies. He said, “Stop. I give you permission to call yourself a composer. You are one, so, enough. Call yourself a composer and show me your work.” And that’s something I’ve tried to remember in the rehearsal room. Claiming your voice and calling yourself the director, the writer, the composer, whatever it is, is a really empowering thing.
Beyond being located in America, what does the term “American theatre” mean to you?
Rachel: For me, I think it’s striving for this balance of stories between individuality and universality. The whole American motto about the spirit of the individual and the uniqueness of the individual experience is so crucial to American theatre, but at the same time, it’s the ways that it’s universal while paying respect to that unique experience and recognizing that it’s something that we all have inside of ourselves. I think it’s that balance.
Kyle: I think it’s all about the uniqueness and diversity that happens. The most exciting shows I’ve seen this year are experiences or plays that had nothing to do with my experience. I don’t want to see a play about a white girl who grew up in Brooklyn. I want to see play about someone who moved here from Nigeria. I need to see pieces that keep fueling and informing my view on the world. I think theatre challenges those views, and challenges them aggressively and unapologetically. And I think it’s why theatre can be scary. I think we haven’t completely unearthed what it is to be American, and I think that it’s something we are learning. That is something theatre challenges constantly. Rachel says it so beautifully in this show: “It takes more than one angle to get one point of view.” Because theatre is collaborative, because theatre is alive, all points of view are valid, and that feels very American to me. And the conversation also feels very American to me.