The Dramatist Blog




New York - Upstate: Conversation with Kyle Bass
Kyle Bass on set of Possessing Harriet Syracuse Stage by Brenna Merrit
Kyle Bass on set of Possessing Harriet Syracuse Stage by Brenna Merrit

Associate Artistic Director at Syracuse Stage Kyle Bass recently accepted a job as Assistant Professor of Theater at Colgate University, which meant scaling back his work at Syracuse Stage. He’s now primarily involved in season planning and continuing to spearhead Cold Read, the new play initiative that he began.

“As you know, it’s not tradition that the associate artistic director at a theater is not a director,” says Bass. “So [by hiring] playwright, Syracuse Stage bought into, almost by default, that we would be forward thinking about bringing new work into our vocabulary. I convened Cold Read, a festival of new work, a couple of years back, in part to demystify new work to our audience because pitching it to a regional audience can be tough. Going into our third year, Cold Read isn’t just a festival, it’s a brand, an idea. Everything we do that is new, we label Cold Read.”

Bass’s play, Possessing Harriet, was a Cold Read world premiere in 2018, and the 2019-20 Syracuse Stage season opened with another, Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man. “My goal is that by the third year of Cold Read, we might be able to announce commissions for new plays that we would premiere,” says Bass. “We’re a very strong place for new work now, and that comes from me being a playwright and knowing that was going to happen.”

If it seems like Bass balances a lot, it’s not a misconception. “I don’t watch television, I don’t have a Facebook account, I don’t do social media,” he says. “I go to bed at nine and get up at five and try to engage with words right away. I start writing, do revision work, read. I’m under commission to write a libretto so that has my attention right now. You know, it’s not glamorous. I have to write five pages, or 10,000 words, today or I won’t be happy. These things don’t write themselves.”

In honor of the coping issue, Bass shared what he finds the most difficult issues to cope with in three areas:

Personal career: “The unceasing doubt. The unceasing doubt. And yet you have to tame it, because you can’t write with that and keep going. I only know how to write the play I just finished writing. I don’t know how to write the next one. Every time, I teach myself anew. Every play is ultimately learning how to write a play. I always trust, but I always forget, that I will figure it out.

“Also, coping with the necessity. There should be a self-help book for partners of writers, because it must be awful, the way we go away, ‘I can’t think about you right now; I’m consumed.’ It’s hard and I love that it’s hard and I hate that it’s hard.

Running a theater: “The commercial side. I still believe in character-driven, language-driven plays. There’s space for all kinds of iterations of theater but managing personal taste and aesthetic against a successful season is hard. They can’t all be one kind of play and we don’t want that. And for Syracuse Stage in particular, we don’t just do our shows, but do four or five shows as the professional theater in residence at Syracuse University. But any stricture can be very liberating once you accept it; how do we respond as creatively as possible to the reality of our production schedule and budget? That’s the same as asking how we cope with that.”

The theater industry in general: “It seems we’re in an ‘issues theater’ era and I’m concerned about the producing and programming trend of rushing plays into production more for their topically than the script’s artistic merit, achievement, or potential. It’s is a disservice to young playwrights and to the art form. I don’t want to see art and craft sacrificed for the sake of timely utterance.”

“They’ve been saying theater’s dying forever and I don’t believe it,” Bass concludes. “It will change and morph and the pendulum swings in flavor and style. It’s just finding a way for theater to remain vital to our times and to always be thinking about the art form. It’s a glorious art form and it’s important for practitioners to not every say, ‘the audience will never notice.’ That’s not how you do it. Never forget about the art.” 

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