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Life is a Verse Circus

A discourse with one of downtown's favorite playwrights, Kirk Wood Bromley. logo

Kirk Wood Bromley
Kirk Wood Bromley is a verse playwright who heads up his own company, Inverse Theater. His wacky yet erudite, encompassingly verbal, poetic style of writing has been universally enjoyed. The company, now in residence at the Kraine Theater, has been cranking out his works since its inception in 1998. The hilarious 1996 success Want's Unwished Work in many ways put Bromley on the New York theater map. Currently, a reworking and revival of his play The Burnt Woman of Harvard has him and his company hard at work.

Listening to Bromley discourse at large while stretching his tall Midwestern frame over a café table is as interesting in its own way as watching his theatrical word-fests explode across the stage. With an impressive body of work behind him, a healthy and successful company, and--with the addition of his new daughter Fern--a thriving little family, Kirk Wood Bromley has entered a new phase of his existence as an artist. I caught up with him to talk about what drives him.


THEATERMANIA: What are you interested in when creating your plays? What leads you to write?

KIRK WOOD BROMLEY: My current fixation is on melding character, poetry, and story. The first is generally easiest for me, the second more difficult, and the latter my greatest challenge. But in the mixing of the three, and I mean in a concoction that gives each one equal access to the essence of the play, there is starting to emerge a new sense of what I think of as drama. My plays thus far have been what I might call objective. Subjectivity is for me the next frontier. What is an active character that is speaking poetry and living a story to me? It used to be the presentation of a series of attempts, challenges, and revealments, all tangled together and expressed through verse. Now I'm asking myself before I start a play, "What is this story to me as a character and how is it actively created through the speaking of poetry?" The difference is phenomenal. It hinges, however, on the fact that I want to create in my plays what cannot be created in any other way. Different dramatic media carry with them different opportunities and horizons. I want to find the ones that are inherent to my form and utilize them to actually construct and substantiate that form. I want the form to be about its own potentialities and struggles to activate. And, at the same time, I want it to have that level of sonorance and cognition and beauty that only poetry can achieve. I want to tell the story of being someone who speaks poetry.

TM: Why do you write for theater and not for film?

BROMLEY: My smart-ass answer would be because I romanticize poverty, question notoriety, and relish anonymity. But that's an after-the-fact. Theater is sort of where I've landed because I tend to do things basically, brutally, and impetuously. Film takes so much time to create, so much money to produce, so much hassle to market. Of course, the returns can be great as well; but if I spent all my creative time thinking about returns, I'd never get anywhere. There are other reasons as well. Theater is more imminent, social, and accessible; I like that as an antidote to the writer's isolation. It is a writer's medium, whereas film belongs to the visual. Film negates language, while theater celebrates it. I also like the theatrical process. Not just creating a script with actors, dramaturgs, designers, and directors, but rehearsing it, presenting it, and watching it change night after night. That process in itself is a fascinating science, and studying that science has made me a better writer than film could ever have done. To live in the theater world is to learn to write about the human predicament. Film is fluff. Film is money. Film is dead.

TM: What do you think your next play in production, The Burnt Woman of Harvard, means for your development as a writer?

BROMLEY: Well, as you know, I wrote this play about eight years ago and it played at Soho Rep. You were the dramaturg, lighting designer, and producer, so I'm sure that you remember! A lot of the actors we were working with at that time, most notably Jy Murphy, Marla Stollar, and Ian Hill, were in the show. While it was not my New York theatrical debut--what that was shall never leave my mouth-- it was my first real immersion into making a play in collaboration with others. It was also pretty bad, mostly due to my maintaining too much creative control over choice of director, design, and budget. Still, I wanted to be at Soho Rep because that was where Mac Wellman had worked and I was convinced that, if I could only get a production there, I would be famous. As you can see, it worked! Anyhow, I have rewritten The Burnt Woman of Harvard. In rewriting it, I have gone back to those early times when language was my buzz. This play very much represents that. It is in love with its language in a way that some of my plays are not. It is also based on a personal experience I had up at Harvard--seeing a burnt woman walking about on campus--and the horror I felt at that. I think The Burnt Woman of Harvard is my purest psychological-investigation play. That is the future for me. Plays as psychological investigations.

TM: You've been working on the Off-Off Broadway scene for over 10 years. Any insights?

BROMLEY: It is, as I often say to the troops, a war of attrition. Only a few will be left standing after 20 years of battle, and those few will be honored with the title of insanity; they will perhaps be reviewed by the New York Times, they will win an Obie, and they will be forced to live their golden years in slavery to some drama department or grant committee. But that's what winning in this war is about. If you're doing theater Off-Off Broadway, though, I do have a few words of advice. First, production values: Get 'em. Second, find a core group of people that you like and that like you, and work with them again and again. Third, remember that it takes years and years to make one good play. Fourth, do not take audience, reviewer, or patron response seriously. Fifth, always try to work in a better space; space is everything downtown. Sixth, know and foster your associates while at the same time remaining competitive. Seventh, don't wait for your show to be seen by a producer, picked up and brought anywhere, or hailed by some money-man as great. That waiting will destroy you. Eighth, do a play because you love to do plays, not for any other reason. Ninth, there's no accounting for taste. The crappiest thing you've ever seen will go to Broadway and the best thing you ever did will close early. Entertainment is about pleasing the people, and the people are stupid as shit. Tenth, search for the truth. You are not making movies, sitcoms, or music videos. You are making theater. Theater is fringe, fringe is psycho, psycho is truth.

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