As we head into the eighth season of Keen Teens—our education program that brings together professional playwrights and New York City area high school students—we thought it would be fun to bring back some of our playwrights from the past. Today, we welcome Kathryn Walat (Drama Geeks vs. Zombie Cheerleaders!, 2012) to the Keen blog to interview Syd Arthur playwright Kenny Finkle.
Kate Walat: Fellow playwright and longtime friend Kenny Finkle and I recently chatted about his new play for young audiences, commissioned to be performed by Keen Teens and published by Samuel French. Here’s a little of what Kenny had to say about his super-theatrical, alternately ironic and heartfelt, and always kickass Syd Arthur.
Kate Walat: I love how your title character Syd just takes off on this journey, inspired by her dream of the Manufactured Pop Star, and also how she gets her friend Go to come along – with his bike (!) being their mode of transport. Did you always know that would be the jumping off point for the play?
Kenny Finkle: Yes. The Manufactured Pop Star was always Syd’s first motivation. I was thinking a lot about how pop music and celebrities promise us messages about our lives, and how as a teenager these messages were really important to me.
KW: Could you talk a bit about how Siddhartha inspired you? That’s such a classic tale of self-discovery, perfect for a young audience.
KF: I remember reading Hesse’s Siddhartha in high school and responding deeply to the idea of a spiritual journey. I had never thought of my life as a journey until then, and now that seems to be the ONLY way I see my life! I was also drawn to Siddartha and Govinda’s friendship in the book—how they lose and find each other—it seemed to be a kind of offbeat buddy picture.
KW: Totally. And with Syd and Go, you really capture a beautiful female-male friendship, which isn’t depicted enough in our modern culture, I think. Something else I really love about the play is how they end up with the storm chasers in the desert. Have you ever experienced a lightning storm like that? Or did you write from images maybe?
KF: I knew I wanted the play to take place in the desert—and that started me thinking about electrical storms, which I’ve never experienced and frankly am terrified by. So I watched all these videos of electrical storms, and found myself most intrigued by the voices of the people who were filming the storms. They seemed so thrilled, full of life. I felt like there must be a huge spiritual element for why someone becomes a storm chaser. And that felt like a cool and surprising way to explore the themes of the play.
KW: And also a way to end up with really quirky, memorable characters! I love the way you give characters throughout the piece such great details, like Lou, the security guard with a blood sugar problem who devours Go’s snacks. Was finding those tidbits a fun part of crafting this piece?
KF: Absolutely. I love in life how you can meet people in mundane situations—like at the market or dentist’s office or wherever—and with just a little conversation you can discover all these strange, quirky, honest human things about someone. People want to connect and share their lives, and I think for a lot of people that’s what life is. I wanted that sense in the play: the need to be acknowledged as living.
KW: Finally: The Deadpan Chorus. This seems to be the PERFECT solution for students who are doing a play, and may be less inclined to “be dramatic”—and so, they get to just be themselves.
KF: The Deadpan Chorus was one of the first things I knew about the play. I was brushing up on my Greek tragedy this past fall for a class I was teaching, and I’m pretty sure that inspired me to put a Chorus into the play. It’s such a cool device!
KW: Really, more playwrights today should use a Chorus!
KF: I love that idea that there can be a role in a play that is our narrator, commentator, conscience—all that. And I liked calling them Deadpan because as you mentioned it allows students to be where they are in their lives, to not HAVE to put anything on top of their performances. I also like the idea of starting in a world that is cynical and ironic and deadpan, and then transforming into a world of heart and soul.