Going to see a John Kuntz play – for those of us in the Boston area, anyway – often means experiencing the double treat of savoring the stories he weaves and seeing him perform them. His solo show The Salt Girl (which will be revived next month at the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis Symposium) premiered at BPT in 2009, and last summer his award-winning The Hotel Nepenthe enjoyed an encore production as part of the Emerging America Festival. Johnny next hits the boards in the American Repertory Theater’s production of The Lily’s Revenge by Taylor Mac, which opens tonight.
Here, he talks about what led him to playwriting…and why he doesn’t want to stop:
I began writing one person shows for myself out of necessity. I wasn't being hired as an actor, and I needed work. When you write your own show, you can cast yourself, and no one can take that away from you. It's very empowering for an actor, to do that, because we have so little control over our careers. We sit and wait and pray for the phone to ring. So, writing became what I did while I was waiting. I thought: “Oh, I’ll write this show, and it will show them that I can play other parts besides sassy gay waiters.” (Nothing wrong with playing sassy gay waiters, btw, but there's only so many to go around...) I had never even SEEN a one person show, when I wrote the first one. So I just wrote what I THOUGHT a one person show should be: many characters, funny, no sets or lights, etc. I think actors already instinctively know what works on stage: they have an ear for dialogue, they understand relationships, and what people want, and the many ways someone might go about GETTING what they want. It’s a different set of skills from writing, say, an essay or a novel. You don’t have to worry about semi-colons when you’re writing dialogue. You just write what you hear the characters saying in your head. It’s transcribing, really.
The funny thing is, I started writing to get more acting jobs, and what ended up happening was writing accidently BECAME my job (or one of them, anyway). Once I started, I didn’t want to stop. One person shows grew to two person shows, which grew to whole plays with multiple characters. I love acting in my own plays. It’s fun. It’s like being in a playhouse that you made in your mind. Conversely, this all helped me become a better actor in other people’s plays, too. When you begin to start thinking like a playwright, it helps your acting. And your acting helps you be a better playwright.
I’m in The Lily’s Revenge right now, by Taylor Mac, who plays the Lily in his play. It’s five hours long, with a cast of 35. It’s huge, poetic and dreamy and surreal and unlike anything I have ever been in or seen. Today we were talking about playwriting, and I mentioned that I wrote because I needed the work. He smiled and said “Me Too!”