Steven Barkimer is a past MCC Fellow for playwriting and a well known and respected artist in the local theatre community. A live, episodic, theatrical “mini-series” he co-wrote, Blood Rose Rising, is about to begin performances at Naga in Cambridge.
Blood Rose Rising is a multi-media theatre series that unfolds over a season, with episodes performed in repertory (read more about the story and the way it unfolds). We asked Steven about this project, his writing, and his work as a many-faceted theatre artist.
ArtSake: Can you trace Blood Rose Rising from first inspiration to your upcoming performances at NAGA?
Steven: Not to be murky or evasive, but I must refer you to Ben Evett for first inspirations. Indeed, one of the reasons I undertook this project is that the inspiration was not mine at all! Instead of conceiving and nurturing my own brainchild, I thought it would be fun and enriching to help someone else realize a vision. Having known Ben Evett for some time – we first spoke together years ago when he was cooking up a film project (!), then worked together at the New Rep and later at the company Ben created, the Actors Shakespeare Project, which is now a robust and thriving theatre company – I was flattered that he approached me as someone who might help him write a theatre piece – or pieces. He wanted it to be zany but dark, something that might attract a loyal audience and would evolve so that people could come back and see it again and again. He had a premise that involved a man meeting a dead woman, and would explore the lengths to which he would go to sustain that bizarre relationship. After some chatting, we decided to try it as a theatrical mini-series, perhaps having six or eight parts to the first season (the first season, mind you!), and to run them in rep. Each part would be its own self-contained unit, so that audiences would not feel unable to drop in on episode 3 without having seen episode 2, etc., but the hope is certainly that they would feel intrigued enough to go back and see episode 2.
Finally, after over a year, we got three-and-half-scripts that seemed ready to be offered as workshop productions, which we did in the basement space at Zero Church Street. It was greeted with much enthusiasm, and we took the feedback, re-working the scripts for another year until we offered a new Episode 1 at the Davis Square Theatre this spring. Now we hope to recreate the rather more informal wacky cabaret vibe of the workshop in the nightclub space at NAGA, which should be very exciting.
ArtSake: You act, direct, write, and make music. When you’re approaching a project from one angle (say, as an actor), do your other performing arts “hats” inform the way you work?
Steven: Everyone should try on another hat at some point. It really develops your appreciation for the spectrum of talents that flow into any theatrical creation. Theatre is such a collaborative process by nature; it can only help if one develops sympathies for all the other things that are going on, the needs other people have. It also helps teach you what your job is and what it isn’t, and this can save a lot of time and unnecessary friction. And yes, my years of experience as an actor have definitely informed the way I write – I don’t feel compelled to “stage-manage” the actors with copious indications of how they “feel” at every moment – let the actors do their job! I don’t try to “explain” to the director how things Need to be with minute staging instructions, etc.
ArtSake: Along the same lines: you write and direct and frequently perform in new plays, and I assume you take in interest in the local new play scene. What do you hope to see in the new play community’s future?
Steven: Kate Snodgrass is the soul of the Boston Playwrights Theatre, and while accepting her well-deserved Elliott Norton Award for Sustained Excellence this year, she said that with the proliferation of playwriting talent, and particularly right here in the Boston area, there is no excuse for theatre companies not to include at least one new play in their season each year. I can’t improve on that.
ArtSake: You’ve worked with (Blood Rose Rising co-founder) Benjamin Evett before, with Actors’ Shakespeare Project. What do you gain through an ongoing creative partnership?
Steven: Creative partnerships deepen (or don’t) like any other, I suppose. When people have a common interest, they automatically develop shorthand signals that allow them to quickly agree on certain ideas and sentiments and proceed to the areas that require work. There is always something gained by an ongoing and repeated collaboration with artists you trust and respect. You see it all the time with, say, a director and a lighting designer. It’s often the case that three or four words, perhaps completely opaque to an outsider, will convey what an hour of conversation could not achieve between artists less intimate.
ArtSake: Share a surprise twist in the Steve Barkhimer story.
Steven: My undergraduate education was the Great Books program at St. John’s, and in order to make their curriculum recognizable to the outside world, St. John’s claims their graduates have a Philosophy major and a Mathematics minor. Upon graduation, I got up at 3 a.m. every morning for three years to go to work – where else? – with the characters and crooks in the Fulton Fish Market under the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan in the early 80’s, before the joint was “sanitized.” My play about that, Windowmen (read an excerpt), will soon be completed and produced at Boston Playwrights Theatre.
ArtSake: You must have some memorable war stories. What has been your most challenging stage experience as a theatre artist?
Steven: At a theatre in Vermont. All decided at the technical rehearsals. True story:
1) We want you to do that monologue very casually as you move downstage.
2) We’re adding stairs, so you’ll be coming downstage from a platform upstage.
3) Oh, you’ll also be wearing a bear costume.
4) No, you won’t be able to see so well out of the bear head, so you can’t really look down.
5) … as you’re doing the monologue, casually, while you go down stairs you cannot see, dressed as the bear, we need the bear to be playing the accordion as he speaks. Think of something you’d play as a waiter at a café on the French Riviera.
And yes, I did it.
ArtSake: What’s the most embarrassing line of dialogue you’ve ever written?
Steven: “Don’t extend your pseudopods at me, you amoeboid a**hole; go flick your flagellum somewhere else.” In my “endless alliteration = wit” period.
The first live episode of Blood Rose Rising, Immaterial Girl, will be performed September 14, 2012, 7:30 PM, at Naga in Cambridge. As an actor, Steven will perform in Lumberjacks in Love at Stoneham Theatre, opening September 13, 2012.