Building a work entirely around the actors who will perform it while maintaining even a semblance of narrative structure is an undertaking of epic proportions. Staged on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in the Black Box Theater, the Stagefemmes-produced Kankedort set out to do just that.
Directed by Erica Christie ’19 and written by Kate Kremer ’11, the play tells the story of several college friends over the course of three years as one character works on a play. It ranges from serious to satirical and from melodramatic to sentimental. It’s an unconventional play, likely due to its highly unconventional writing process.
“We met with the playwright — Kate Kremer — for three separate workshops and she wrote the play based on the activities and dialogues we had during those workshops. In the first one, which was early last spring semester, we did some activities she gave us and had conversations about topics she provided” assistant director Mollie Greenberg ’19 said. There was a second workshop later in the spring, though the second was conducted over Skype.
“The process was interesting because the playwright wrote it around the real-life personas of individuals in the play,” said Walter Michalski ’18, who attended the show Saturday, “and knowing some of them, [the play] was interesting and revealing.”
Greenberg elaborated further on the almost yearlong process of producing the play. “Early this semester, Kate visited again and we had a weekend long workshop of her first draft of the script, during which we read through it several times with varying casting, discussed what we heard and later asked clarifying questions,” Greenberg said. The feedback and observations from the early readings of the play, as well as the updated casting decisions, further informed Kremer’s writing process, resulting in a play that was heavily modeled on the personalities of the cast.
“Some of the language in the play is taken directly from things that the actors and the rest of the devising team said during the devising process, across those three workshops with Kate.” Greenberg said.
Writing Kankedort was a complex process, and the characters seemed to properly reflect both the actors playing them and Kenyon’s liberal arts culture. The title is a word used by Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde, and is also the name of a made-up game where the participants steal each other’s socks. It was a bespoke creation, tailor-made for Kenyon’s theater community. Several scenes took place in what was effectively a small party in an North Campus Apartments, during which the cast discussed several hot-topic Kenyon political issues.
The performance featured a minimalist set. This, combined with the smaller venue and reserved set design, paired with the genuine feeling of the characters and acting, made the entire theatrical experience feel exceedingly intimate. The metanarrative elements of the play– the fact that the play is being written by a character in the play, as the play is happening– did not feel needlessly artificial. This in turn, with the occasional attention that the play called to the audience itself, only enhanced this feeling of intimacy.
Overall, Kankedort leaves one feeling as though one understands the process that went into its creation, a process that permeates the entire performance and is at the core of the production. “It was certainly an unconventional process,” Greenberg said, “and new, as well, for most involved.”