Good Kids: A Round Table Discussion
10 am Saturday, 28 February 2015
We recently sat down with UW-Madison Theatre and Drama MFA Alumna and the director for the upcoming Wisconsin premiere of Good Kids by Naomi Iizuka. Here is what she had to say.
UNIVERSITY THEATRE: How has the trip back to Madison been for you?
OLIVIA DAWSON: Cold! I live in Chicago and the wind off the Lake (Michigan) can be very unforgiving but it’s different in Wisconsin. In Chicago, winter is a necessary evil that you live with and just try to survive until spring. Here in Madison, I see people bundled up and clearly out in this weather on purpose! They are out running, cross-country skiing to the store…biking?! It boggles the mind. The people in Madison take winter VERY seriously.
UT: Have you visited any of your old haunts?
DAWSON: Of course. It goes without saying that I visited many of the shops on State Street; walked up the hill to Bascom; I’ve gone to the Overture Center a few times as some of my friends are doing a show there right now (and I did three shows there myself back in the day); and, of course, spending time in Vilas again brought back memories.
UT: What draws you to theatre?
DAWSON: The intrinsic nature of theatre is that it is a collaborative medium. Everyone works together for the greater good of the show. And everyone’s part is just as important as the next. People only see the actors on stage but there are designers, stage managers, electricians, carpenters, etc. that bring their artistry and craft to the work and help to form and shape it into something greater than just one person could do alone.
UT: How do you plan for rehearsal?
DAWSON: Like I do with everything else: the two P’s, Preparation and lots and lots of Prayer (and not always in that order)! I find that with any project that I am working on (whether writing, directing or acting) the more prepared I am, the less anxiety I feel. When directing, I read the script in one sitting to get swept up in the story and “see it”. Reading a script is very similar to watching a movie to me except I get to create the pictures in my mind. I love film and cinema so I tend to think cinematically, in that, I am seeing what kind of lighting is happening, what sounds or music do I hear playing under the scene, etc. I am also noticing how the story makes me feel, what the story is about—not what happens in the play but what the story is about, its themes, etc. That’s the first read. Then I read it multiple times to see deeper resonances and connections that I may have missed the first few times through.
UT: What do you think the title “Good Kids” refers to?
DAWSON: The title is simultaneously ironic and sincere. On the surface, the irony is clear, in that, these “good” kids do this “bad” thing. But it is much more complex than that. It is sincere because these ARE good kids and like many kids (and adults) they make some very poor choices never giving thought to the repercussions/consequences of their actions. So, in the end, the title refers to ALL of us, all of humanity. We all make mistakes and the best of us, at times, make some really poor choices and we don’t always think things through. That is human nature. But the use of technology is what elevates these poor choices into a whole other realm.
UT: Do you use social media?
DAWSON: I do but I have to be honest and say that I am not a fan. I am one of those people that tried to stay away from it as long as I could (I had a flip-phone until one year ago and the only reason I have a smartphone is because it was a gift). I still remember when I was younger and one of my classmates purchase a CD…yes, a Compact Disc…and I told her that she was crazy to do so because they would never last and go the way of Beta (as opposed to VHS)! I was sort of right because now everything is in the Cloud! The point being, I tend to give all technology the side eye, not just social media.
UT: How do you feel about privacy in the digital age?
DAWSON: The same way I feel about technology in general: uneasy and apprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, certain things I like about technology. For instance, being able to look up the definition of a word, checking the time of the movie I want to see, accessing funny cat videos (yes, I’m THAT person), etc. But there really is NO privacy in this age: none of our information is really private; all of our interactions are recorded on cameras all over cities, in stores and by each other. Every phone has a camera and people are recording each other all the time and/or posting their every waking thought, feeling and movement on social media. The irony that what I am writing is going to be posted on a blog for the entire world to see is not lost on me! Something about it all is just very Orwellian and Warholian.
UT: What about this production…Intrigues you? Disgusts you?
DAWSON: I am intrigued by the exploration of what technology is doing to us and how it is shaping us and our communication with each other. I think it has happened gradually over time but there is a definite erosion of genuine human feeling between people as a direct result of the technology we use. We all live in our own little bubbles and do not truly see nor listen to each other anymore. True intimacy is considered too time consuming. It’s frightening. Think about it, how many people go to work or school and at the end of the day just want to eat something, engage in some form of technology-related escapism (television, movie, gaming, videos, emails, tweets, Facebook, etc.) that is removed from true interaction and human intimacy and go to bed only to get up and repeat? How many days can you go without having a “real” conversation with someone that is NOT work/school related in some way? And, if you do, how long are those conversations and are you really present and in the moment with that person or are you trying to multi-task and do something else at the same time? Each jump in technology has gotten us further and further away from our humanity and seeing others as human as well. To what end? It creates an atmosphere where people don’t see other people as human. They see them as different and “other”. They don’t think about the other person as having hopes, dreams, thoughts, feelings of their own and that lends itself to treating people without any regard whatsoever to their humanity.
I can’t think of anything that disgusts me because I understand that everything I am talking about and everything in this play, I am capable of, just like everybody reading this is capable of all of the things that take place in this play and in the entire scope of humanity.
UT: What gives an artist the right to present a play that is based on a true story?
DAWSON: Every story is based on something. Fables, myths, legends are all based on some moral, social or natural event. Things get changed in a story to make it more palatable for the masses but every story has a basis in some sort of human truth. And the presentational way that a play is constructed can lull the audience into an Us (the audience) vs. Them (actors) mentality. It shows people a story of some human behavior and the audience can think of the story as “other” but there is always a moment in a play when the audience realizes that they are no longer watching some “other”, they are watching themselves.
UT: Does American theatre shy away from topics like rape, sexual violence, and victim shaming? If so, why do you think that is?
DAWSON: “If you have to ask….” American theatre, like so many other American institutions is still primarily white and male. And, like I said, there is a real sense of Us vs. Them in how we think about our fellow human beings. Rape, sexual violence, and victim shaming are all considered women’s issues. Similarly, police brutality and profiling, institutional racism are all considered African American issues. So if you are white and male, ask yourself, do you see women or African Americans for their humanity first or their gender and/or race first? If you don’t see me for my humanity then you can’t relate to me and, therefore, don’t give me or my stories the same weight as yours.
UT: Do you feel that without programs such as the Big Ten Play Consortium and others like it, American theatre is bereft of female playwrights with shows in production?
DAWSON: Absolutely. There are so many stories out there that need to be heard and, hopefully, other programs will follow the lead of the Big Ten Play Consortium. I mean a play that features primarily female characters, written by a female Asian playwright, directed by a female African American director…yeah, we need to see more of that.
UT: Why should someone see this production?
DAWSON: Because it is such a contrast to the virtual world we’ve become accustomed to dealing with on a daily basis: these are real people on stage, dealing with a real topic, in real time right in front of you. And no matter how much technology we are inundated with, the human condition is still one of the most intriguing and mysterious things we can encounter because we can all relate to what it means to make mistakes, feel isolated, feel shame, feel hopeful…be human. And this production will not only ask you to feel but also to think.
Be sure to check out “Good Kids” opening Friday, February 27th. For tickets and more information, please visit theatre.wisc.edu.
Heather Pickering, 3rd year MFA candidate in Acting/Directing was recently featured by the University. Heather just finished a directing internship with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN where she worked with directors Joe Dowling and David Bolger on their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Watch the video below to find out more about Heather and why she feels theatre is such a powerful art form.
Christa was chosen to present her work at the Young Designers’ Forum at the 2015 USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) conference in Cincinnati in March. The fifteen young designers present their work in a gallery show to an invited group of professional designers and industry figures in a closed gallery show, which is later open for viewing by the conference participants at large. Christa was chosen from a large group of graduating MFA and undergrad design students across the country and chosen by a panel of professional designers. Sarah Reever, MFA 2006, was the last UW designer who was chosen to participate in the Forum.
Christa is an MFA student and also received the Lyman S.V. Judson and Ellen Mackechnie Judson Student Award in the Creative Arts for 2015 from the Arts Institute.