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No really, I’m asking

An interview with Kevin Brewer, author of Island.

 

In addition to gaining recent notoriety for his photographs of dramatically rendered paper clip figurines, it turns out Kevin is also a writer.  And he very kindly agreed to answer some questions to satisfy your burgeoning curiosity.* 

*Note: this interview may or may not contain sensitive content, some of which may or may not have been censored due to our right to protect the Element of Surprise. (We can't have our writer running his mouth before the opening and spoiling the fun.)

My sources say that you read the canon 8 times, before sitting down to write this play. Which came first- the idea to dig deep into Shakespeare or the idea to write your own Shakespearean play?

Your sources are close but they didn't get the full cigar. (A slang term from my childhood in which we partook of chocolate cigars whenever possible. Yet it was rare to ever get a 'full cigar' either due to a need to share or simple dietary/diabetic reasons.)
I did read the canon 8 times but it was during the course of working on the play over the last 14 or so years. I only recently finished my 8th time through. 

As to which came first it was neither. The original concept for the play was to create a story without a single line of original dialogue. 100% recycled from other works. I began by reading books of quotations and jotting those down that stuck in my head.  I knew that I needed a plot thread to begin with but when you can write about anything using any words in the world where do you start from? So initially I wasn't considering reading Shakespeare so many times. He was just going to be a starting off point. I was planning on (and did end up reading (and by 'end up reading' i mean with my hindquarters slightly elevated)) Shaw, O'Neill, Becket, etc.. Basically anything 1960s and earlier because that's what you found in used bookstores at the time (I was a starvling author after all).  

I quickly came to realize that the 100% quote play was inherently flawed in the idea of execution: It might be funny for a few minutes, but eventually the brain would become tired trying to recognize where everything comes from, or if it didn't it recognize it, it wouldnt care or it would simply be to awkward to make all the quotes fit. Once I freed myself of 100% conceit, the play as it is now, began to gel together.

So while Shakespeare had a hand from the beginning it was a very slow process till it became so prominent. 

 

I love that Island calls to mind certain scenarios and relationships we’ve seen before without replicating them. But why these archetypes and scenarios? Which plays were the most influential in writing Island and why? 

One thing that interests me is to take archetypes and see how much I can turn the expectation of the audience on their head, while still keeping the reactions and actions well within the realm of believability. Basically, what is it everyone expects to happen? Then don't do that. But don't be happy with a single, simple twist. Twist it to the point where it almost breaks but don't let it.

Why these archetypes particular? Well, when you read and reread the canon so many times there you begin to notice patterns, characters, lines, that stand out or are used over and over. The thing i especially like about the idea of writing this way (reading and rereading) is that if someone did the same thing I did with Shakespeare they would end up with a thoroughly different play than I wrote, because what speaks to them is unique to them.

As to the most influential plays:
In terms of Shakespeare: Much Ado is a biggie. It's as contemporary as any rom-com, which, if they are done well, are fun as hell. Think Philadelphia Story and It Happened One Night.
Tempest is most influential in terms of location, but that's all I'll say about that.
There's a bit of As You Like It in there with the striving of nobility. Which leads us to Coriolanus and how the truly noble will always be envied and dragged down by reality. But how you fall is the question.
To go further: I would say the canon as a whole is as powerful if not more powerful than any one play.
If we look at the all the plays together then certain inevitabilities come to light if I am going to truly reflect the material: the easiest to spot is the need of a clown (Dogberry, Launce, Speed, Touchstone, Lear's fool, on and on); next there need to be lovers (Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, Rosalind and Orlando, on and on.); and Kings (do you really need me to list these?); and usurping brothers (and again really?); As for conceits and devices, this means we have to have poiso
n (Romeo & Juliet, Cymbeline, Hamlet); a bumbling band of men (Much Ado, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labor's Lost); and let's not forget girls dressed as boys (Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona...); which leads us into mistaken identities (Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, etc.)

Once you've got all the pieces on the table it's simply a matter of figuring out how they all go together.  Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  It only took me 5 years for the initial pass and then 9 years of refining. ; )

 

The central conceit of Island is not taken from Shakespeare at all- it’s based on Henry IV by Luigi Pirandello.  Where did that come from?

During the time I was first coming up with the plot for the play (before rejecting the 100% idea) I needed a place where both contemporary and classic language could be spoken yet not seem out of place. The plot of Henry IV allowed this to be possible. I pushed the timeline of that plot out to its 'logical' conclusion and that formed the basis of island.


At any point in time during the process, did you hit your head and begin to start speaking in verse and giving names and titles to those around you?

No.*

*But I did hit my head once and travel back in time to 1980 where I possessed the body of one Christopher Reeve who was filming a movie entitled Somewhere in Time about a man who travelled back in time to 1912 through self-hypnotic suggestion to the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island in Michgan to find and fall in love with Jane Seymour until he accidentally looks at a penny in his pocket stamped 1979 (yes he travelled back in time with all of his clothes and a stray penny - just go with it) which rips him back to his own time. I arrived at a moment shortly before I saw the price on a receipt for a lunch I had just ordered (as Christopher Reeve) which came up $19.88 which sent me hurtling forward to my high school graduation which was very uneventful so I decided to keep going till I got back to here/now.

 

Fourteen years is a long time to work on a play. The original version was, so I hear, 5 hours long and included a half a dozen other characters and plotlines. How has this play evolved and why?

One of the reasons it was so long was because I was trying to incorporate everything I had found while reading even in small ways. And I suppose I had to go that far to see that I had gone too far. And realize what really belongs and what drops off when you grab your kid by the feet and shake out all the loose change.

There were several bits which were fun as heck but if they don't forward the story so then they need to be trimmed away. A little fat is always ok, and in fact good for you. But if the meat to fat content is 50/50 then you're going to have to bust out the defibrillator for your audience after the first act to wake them up.

 

Last question: Do you know any good limericks?

The once was a boy named Alfred
Who to pretty girls much was attracted
But of his desire
I can speak no higher
For this limerick was heavily redacted.