Seattle by Kate Danley
It is with great affection that Seattle wishes all the best to Duane Kelly, our regional representative for the past eight years. His gentle smile greeting us at the door every other month will be missed. He served with great leadership and a spirit of advocacy and service.
Duane moves on to focus on his production company, Red Rover Theatre Company. Duane’s works are known for their tightly worded prose and explorations of morality, human connections and family. As this new chapter begins, I took this opportunity to find out a little more about this man who has shared almost a decade of his life taking care of us.
Kate Danley: How did you first get involved with the Dramatists Guild?
Duane Kelly: I joined twenty years ago when I started to write my first play. I figured that if I was going to take myself seriously as a playwright I should belong to the one national organization serving us. So I did.
KD: What’s the first play you wrote?
DK: Rousseau and Hobbes. It was about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The immediate inspiration was a series of articles Philip Gourevitch wrote for the New Yorker reporting on the genocide. Also, I have always had an interest in what philosophers call “the problem of evil.” The various genocides of the 20th century offered an abundance of horrific subject material. I eventually traveled to Rwanda and Uganda for research.
KD: What’s been the proudest moment in your playwriting career?
DK: Probably when Edward Albee sat in the front row at a reading of Rousseau and Hobbes and afterwards sought me out, treated me as a fellow traveler, and gave me thoughtful notes. He shared my interest in our capacity for evil.
KD: What are some hard lessons you’ve learned as a playwright?
DK: Let the audience connect more of the dots, actively engage them in grasping the narrative. Mamet had it right with his advice on writing scenes: “Get in late, get out early.” A play needs to be character-driven, not idea-driven. Themes and ideas emerge out of the characters and their conflicts, not the other way around.
KD: In your eight years as Seattle’s Regional Representative, what are you the most proud of?
DK: Perhaps the walls separating directors, artistic directors, writers, dramaturgs, and designers in Seattle are a little more porous because of the programming I’ve done. The sectors used to be isolated from each other. I like to think we’re a little more integrated now and more theatre people are connected.
KD: Any favorite moments?
DK: Having Alan Menken here to give a workshop while at the piano playing and singing his songs. It was a thrill to hear him talk about his process for composing and writing lyrics. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more playwrights in Seattle. I think playwrights have more a sense of being a community now.
KD: What’s your best advice to a new playwright?
DK: It’s likely to be a long slog filled with rejection and frustration. Get a decent day job, be frugal and save your money. Eventually, that will give you more space to write.
KD: How would you like people to remember your tenure?
DK: That the Seattle theatre community is more interconnected now as a result of my efforts. That there’s a stronger sense of community.
KD: What are your plans for the future?
DK: I made changes in my life about ten years ago so that playwriting could be at the center. I’m trying to write one full-length first draft a year. Two years ago, Seattle playwright John C. Davenport and I started Red Rover Theatre Company (www.redrovertheatre.com) with the intention of producing our own work. This spring a new play of mine about Paul Cezanne is going up, our third full production. John and I have found that venture rewarding and intend to continue with it.