For this second of three interviews with Central New York theatres, I spoke with Kyle Bass, Associate Artistic Director at Syracuse Stage
AS: You've been at Syracuse Stage on and off since 1993, but your involvement has changed a lot over time. How did that happen?
KB: My first role was assistant director of marketing and development. I was good at (and liked) the marketing work and I soon became Publications Manager. But by 1996 I was ready for a change--and a for-profit salary! So I left Syracuse Stage to do other things, including earning my MFA in playwriting. In 2005, I returned to Syracuse Stage and also began teaching, both at Syracuse University and in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Goddard College. I was very busy. I wanted to carve out more time for my writing, so when new artistic leadership arrived at Syracuse Stage in 2008, I took a 30-hours-a-week position as artistic associate, a kind of in-house artistic consultant to the producing artistic director.
AS: And did you get more writing time?
KB: Things sort of backfired and my artistic involvement only increased.
In 2010 I became the Literary Manager and a year later I was the resident dramaturg. Before too long, a playwright who serves as the resident dramaturg can feel like a painter who works as a security guard at an art gallery. By 2016 I was ready to move on, but our new artistic director Bob Hupp asked me to stay on as associate artistic director.
AS: Was it a natural progression?
KB: Rather than one role growing into the next, I think new opportunities and positions opened up to me as I grew as an artist, writer, and teacher.
AS: Has your artistic life helped you support new work at Syracuse Stage?
KB: When my title was Resident Dramaturg, I had a go-to answer for “what’s a dramaturg,” which I stole from someone else: A dramaturg decries the plays their theater does and champions plays their theater never does. With the realities of rising production costs and shrinking audiences, regional theaters have become increasingly risk-averse. Unless they have a passionate advocate in the room, unknown plays by unknown writers tend to fall off the season-planning table. I love being able to champion new and more-challenging work. And there is, I think, a direct link between me being a playwright and my ability to advocate for bringing new work to our audiences.
AS: Which can really change how much new work gets done in a season. Is that happening at Syracuse Stage?
KB: Mostly we have followed what has been the new-play norm for many regional theaters: producing new plays that have had commercial success elsewhere. So for our 17/18 season, I have created "Cold Read: A Festival of Hot New Plays." It's a 4-day event that features readings and performances of new work, including a new, unproduced play in early-draft form. Our goal at Stage is to eventually program a world premiere in each season. To get there (to manage the risk), it is important that we educate and expose our audiences to new work through events like "Cold Read," which engage audiences at the level of the creative process.
AS: Education and exposure also seem important to racial and gender parity—and we’re gaining some traction there, but as Kitchen Theatre Artistic Director Rachel Lampert and I discussed in my first interview, there’s still a long way to go. Do you notice changes in what you're seeing?
KB: Achieving racial and gender parity must be an active commitment, not just an ideal expressed in a mission statement. A season of four plays and two musicals by six different white guys makes of a theater a gated community. We can't just throw our arms open and say, "all voices welcome." We must create real opportunities for diversity. We must actively seek, enthusiastically invite and make sincerely welcome the diversity we say we want to see on our stages, in our production teams and staff, and yes, in our audiences. Artistic leaders must be willing to seed the soil; spending money, resources and time to make it happen. I bring works by diverse writers of all genders to the season-planning table. And I interrogate our shortlist of season plays for broad diversity. In other words, walk the walk.
AS: The work continues.
KB: The changes we're seeing in racial and gender parity are the changes we've been willing to make happen.
AS: As educators, we’re also always advocating in the classroom. What are the joys and challenges of teaching for you?
KB: I love the way teaching playwriting keeps me in conversation about the craft. But teaching requires time, energy, and creativity and it can siphon those things from my writing practice. So I make the time to write. And I am continually inspired by my students.
AS: Syracuse Stage is the resident professional theatre company at Syracuse University; do you see a synergy between education and creation?
KB: Absolutely, especially because I teach a craft. And teaching is also a craft, a creative act, so it follows that learning is a creative process. But there's also a tension between education and creation. As I tell my students, a syllabus, a 16-week semester—these are unnatural strictures upon the creative process. This is not how you write a play; this is how you learn to write a play. And it’s only one of the ways you learn to write a play.
AS: With all that going on, do you have any writing irons in the fire?
KB: Well, unlike most associate artistic directors, I am not a director. I'm a playwright. And it's as a playwright that I make Syracuse Stage my artistic home. In July, Bob Hupp will direct a reading of my new play Possessing Harriet at NYSSSA. In January, Syracuse Stage presented my recent piece of documentary theater, Separated, about SU's student veterans. We plan to present Separated again in New York City in November.
AS: I look forward to both.