2014 Best New Work Nominee Interview: Kevin Cirone for "Creative License"

Photo by David Costa

Photo by David Costa

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Kevin, thank you so much for discussing your new musical, Creative License. Can you start by telling us a bit about your background? Who are you and what have you done on and off-stage?

Well, I've been performing in the Boston area for about 10 years now, and in that time I've pretty much covered the gamut – film, straight plays, sketch comedy, commercial, and of course musicals. Most recently people may have seen me in The Secret Garden at Stoneham Theater.

I've also written a lot of different things, including poetry, sketch comedy, and screenplays, but Creative License is my first fully-realized theatrical work thus far.

How do you spend your days?

Lately my days are spent frantically getting my ducks in a row for the New York International Fringe Festival, which selected Creative License to be produced in NYC in August, which is both hugely exciting and terrifying. Besides that, I've been writing and auditioning a lot when I'm not at my day job as a software engineer. In my (lately rare) downtime I'm home hanging out with my dog and watching Hulu.

Talk to us about the plot for Creative License. Who is the story about? What happens?

Essentially it's the story of two childhood friends, Casey and Bethany, who haven't spoken in a year, brought back together to save Denison's Pub, Casey's family business. Casey, a budding writer, employs the help of Dr. Hardy, Bethany's employer, who has a brilliant original work that Casey and Bethany try to produce. When the play is revealed to be not all it seems, the two have to work together to find a creative solution.

Why did you decide to write Creative License now?

The essence of the story is something that's been floating in my head for kind of a long time. It started as an unfinished screenplay and then evolved into the show it is today. I wanted to tell this story of some small-town dreamers and the struggle to be inspired and create something real, and it's morphed into this tale about lifelong friendships and the power of theater. I think it's pretty cool.

How would you describe the style of the book and the score? Did any other composers inspire or influence you? Did you borrow any motifs or ideas from other works?

I guess the short answer is, it's Sorkin meets Schwartz? Kind of? I write like I talk, so these characters have a very modern cadence and sense of humor, but there are also moments when the action stops and a character is given free reign to say how he feels, musically or not. There are certainly aspects of the music that have roots in rock as well as traditional musical theater (plus a handful of homages), but as it has evolved I think the finished product is pretty fresh and original. Or at least entertaining.

What is your songwriting and playwriting background? I’ll ask the age-old question: what comes first, the words or the music?

I'm pleased? I guess? To say that I have no formal background in songwriting, but I have always loved to write and have a lifelong obsession with coming up with alternate lyrics to existing songs. The thought definitely ran through my head at one point to just make a show with parody versions of existing songs, but then eventually there were tunes coming to my head that had no basis in existing music, so I started writing them down and eventually the whole thing was original. Besides, the Gold Dust Orphans kind of have the market cornered on parody and I doubt I could do it half so well.

The music and lyrics usually come around the same time, although those first few songs the tunes came first. Later on my process became more like writing poetry and thinking up a melody that went with the words and action of the scene.

Photo by Kevin Cirone

Photo by Kevin Cirone

What is the most challenging thing about writing a new musical? What is the most rewarding? What was the biggest surprise for you?

I think with any new work the challenge is that it's never finished. You keep iterating and workshopping and polishing and workshopping some more and you always find new things that could be clearer or funnier or just better. That is very rewarding on its own – getting audiences involved in the process of creation. The biggest surprise to me is that people actually seem to like it!

Why do you think that we don’t have more original musicals in Boston? What would encourage and inspire more original musicals?

There are more than you might think. I think creating anything is hard, to start with. I also think like with most theater there's a sense that New York is where the opportunities are and you have to be there to be inspired and get produced. There might be some truth to that, but I also firmly believe there are small-town dreamers and artists who have stories to tell and it shouldn't matter where you live or where you came from to tell it. I think the passion and resources are there in Boston, you just have to know where to look.

If you could erase one musical or play from ever existing, what would it be? Why?

Yikes. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've never seen any play or musical that didn't have at least some redeeming qualities. I've seen PRODUCTIONS I'd like erased from my memory, but I have too much respect for people putting their work out there to say it should never have existed.

Are you re-writing any of Creative License since the last performance? What are you changing? Why or why not?

I changed a fair amount of the dialogue since the 2014 workshop for clarity or brevity or because certain jokes didn't work well or relationships weren't well-established. I think the show is much tighter, more cohesive and believable now and the stakes are the level they should have been all along. The opening was revamped to set up the energy of the show right away. Musically, not much has changed except a few lyric tweaks. And hopefully I won't decide to write any new songs during rehearsals like last time.

You’re also a very accomplished actor. How do you think that training and experience helps you as a writer?

It has certainly helped me think through the production aspect of playwrighting. When you have a fast-paced show like this you need to be cognizent of things like “How hard is this going to be to show? Is that set piece going to cause a ridiculously long transition?”. I think my love of improv and sketch comedy has also informed my sense of humor and that translates to the writing. I definitely have a lot of stage directions regarding the pace of the dialogue and even occasionally informing delivery. I love actors to be able to put their own spin on things but at the same time there are certain things the obsessive megalomaniac in me wants done juuuust so.

What is your “bad habit”? What is your biggest pet peeve?

Well, I do chew my nails when I'm nervous, which is always. My biggest pet peeve – I suppose people who are ignorant.

If you could change one thing about Greater Boston theatre, what would it be? Why?

I wish that instead of everyone starting their own theater company there could be more collaboration. Trust me, I fell into the same trap. But imagine instead of six fringe groups of three people you had one group with eighteen. Suddenly you're not fighting for resources or an audience with five other companies. I know everyone has their own ideas and I as much as anyone know how ego plays a part, but when you start to realize your way isn't any better than anyone else's, you start to see Boston theater as a community and not the competition.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Creative License at FringeNYC will be occupying my summer. I'll be producing it and also performing in it.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

See as much theater as you possibly can. And if you fancy a trip to New York City in August, you can see the new and improved Creative License at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival, directed by Rachel Bertone and music directed by Dan Rodriguez. Shameless plug over.