Spotlight On: Kevin R. Free
Kevin R. Free is famous...he's just waiting for you to realize it.
The IT Awards may have helped him out a little this year by presenting him with the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. Presented by playwright Mariah McCarthy, she described the award as being given to someone "who reminds us of Doric who displays playwriting talent, passion and a commitment to being a truth teller."
The Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award (which includes a financial gift) is given to an Off-Off-Broadway/Indie Theatre playwright of any age, whose writing honors the innovation, uncompromising vision, heart, and spirit that was reflected in Doric Wilson's life and work. Wilson was a radical, pioneering, innovative, and unflinching New York playwright and activist. One of the original playwrights of the Caffe Cino, and the creator and artistic director of TOSOS, he was a mentor and friend to many young writers and helped foster the future of their plays.
Like Wilson, the playwright, performer, director, voice-over artist, man-about-town and professional famous person that is Kevin R. Free, is one of those mavens and a friend to many in our community. In fact, in Off-Off-Broadway, it's not 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon, it's more like 3-degrees of Kevin R. Free. When his name was announced at the ceremony in September it was greeted with screams of recognition and delight.
And in accepting the Award, Kevin exemplified that "Dorician spirit" when he implored the audience to "find the dangerous places within ourselves...to have a vision, to not be afraid of the vision and to fight for it."
Kevin is the Producing Artistic Director of The Fire This Time Festival, a showcase of new works by early-career playwrights of color. His work has been showcased on the Moth's Mainstage, Dana Rossi’s The Soundtrack Series, Kathleen Warnock’s Drunken! Careening! Writers! and the Bowery Poetry Club. His full-length play Face Value was presented via Henry Street Settlement Playwright’s Project Grant.
I've worked with Kevin personally as a member of the New York Neo-Futurists, with whom he wrote and performed regularly in Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind between 2007 and 2011; (Not) Just a Day Like Any Other (written & performed by Kevin along with yours truly, Jeffrey Cranor, and Eevin Hartsough) received the 2009 NY IT Award for Outstanding Ensemble.
His work has been published by Commonplace Books and indietheatrenow.com and his play A Raisin in the Salad: Black Plays for White People was the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference semi-finalist in 2013.
As a director, his work has been widely seen across New York and as the former Education Director at Queens Theatre in the Park, he directed several productions performed or written by young people. As an actor, he has appeared on national television in commercials and on NBC’s Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU. New York audiences have seen Kevin Off-Broadway most recently in The Fantasticks; he's the first African-American in the longest running musical in history to play Bellomy. Once a regular contributor to the NPR show “News & Notes,“ Kevin’s voice can now be heard on the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, as Kevin, the voice of Desert Bluffs.
I caught up with the busy artist and my friend, Kevin R. Free to ask him a few questions.
Borg: Keeeeev! What are you up to these days?
Free: Well, The Fire This Time Festival is gearing up for Season 6. We have chosen 7 10 minute plays by emerging playwrights and a full-length play by Nathan Yungerberg, who was a 10-minute playwright in our 4th Season. I'm also raising money and in pre-production for a brand new web series that I co-wrote with Eevin Hartsough. Also, I'm honored that Mariah MacCarthy asked me to write a monologue for actress Gwen Sisco to be performed in at CapsLockT heatre Company's PussyFest.
Borg: That's ALL?
Free: Oh, also I'm performing in The Fantasticks. 8 Shows a week.
Borg: That's more like you. So, Kevin, this month the theme of the IT Update is politics in Theatre. What role do you think indie theatre plays in political theatre?
Free: All indie theatre is political. The fact that we are passionately making theatre even after working non-creative jobs or going to sad, sad auditions is a political statement, isn't it? It is certainly a protest of some sort. I think when people are provoked by a play, they tend to think it is political - which may not actually be true. I think, specifically, the work we produce at The Fire This Time Festival (the work of playwrights from the African Diaspora) means a great deal to our audience: people who love theatre and have or appreciate stories - about love, loss, family, or the world - told from a perspective that isn't the American mainstream. But I don't know if it's all political, though.
Borg: Are you interested in political theatre personally?
Free: Absolutely. Plays that are actually about protesting against the mainstream give me both great anxiety and great joy. I love to be provoked in the theatre, but I find myself MORE provoked when I witness theatre that is so-called "universal," but seems to be about or taking place in a world where there are no people of color or people of the LGBTQ community. So, I guess I should say that when I see theatre that doesn't have some kind of social edge, I take it personally.
Borg: Would you consider your play A Raisin In the Salad a political play?
Free: To me the play - though it pokes fun at black theatre and the kinds of theatre that is produced more widely - is about how one artist (me, specifically) can get stuck in a box, creating only the kind of work he created first to be noticed. It is about how what we do - rather than who we are - can become our identity. I guess, because I'm black, it seems political - but I would just call it provocative.
This writer thinks it's both. This writer thinks Kevin's work is political even when he thinks it isn't.
I asked Kathleen Warnock on the Doric Wilson Award committee about why Kevin was chosen this year. She told me "The Committee members are asked to bring to the table up to 3 playwrights whose work is outstanding, whose commitment to community building and supporting other artists is reflective of Doric's own, and whose work has been primarily produced (by him/herself or companies) in the independent/off-off world. All the nominees this year exemplified this ethos, but ultimately, the committee selected Kevin as this year's winner because his work, his activism and his commitment to making and producing independent theater made us think of the artist for whom this award is named."
I couldn't agree more. Kevin has also been known to give this advice to our community: "take care of each other." And in this day of tightening budgets and disappearing affordable venues, we might take heed.
PussyFest III is sixty monologues about the Body written by sixty playwrights, one of whom is Kevin R. Free. It runs November 2, 3, and 10 at The Gym at Judson Memorial Church. For tickets visit: thereckoning.brownpapertickets.com.
Learn more about Kevin's Webseries with Eevin Hartsough.