“A Man is known by the company he keeps”
That’s an old expression with still some merit – so does it work with a play.
Erik Champney, Author of DEAD BRAINS, is well in-rehearsal for what looks like a hot ticket, pardon the pun. This erotic three-character thriller is tearing up the social media-phere with images and stories about him, his talented cast, and his BROADWAY producer. Jim Kierstead, whose name is synonymous with clever musicals that score big – current cases in point, Kinky Boots and Waitress – is the name-above-the-title for this entry in the famed Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
So when Erik’s publicist asked if we would like a few minutes with him. Well ….
I read all the bios and things so now tell us – in your own words – about yourself as an artist
I was fifteen years old when I was first commissioned to write a full-length play for Peter Pan Players, a renowned children’s theatre in Shreveport, Louisiana. The play, THE ADVENTURES OF SCAMP, was a critical and artistic success, and I have been actively writing ever since.
I have been honored twice by The Kennedy Center for my plays DEAD BRAINS (National AIDS Fund/CFDA-Vogue Initiative Award for Playwriting) and PANGAEA (Commendation for Excellence). My work has been produced and developed across the country through such organizations as the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Potomac Theatre Project, La MaMa, Seattle Fringe Festival, Left Coast Theatre Co., MadLab Theatre, The Acting Ensemble, Pittsburgh New Works Festival, T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre, and Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
Most recently, staged readings were given to my plays LEGACY (La MaMa ETC), PANGAEA (Planet Connections Theatre Festivity; awarded Outstanding Playwriting by the festival), OMEN ROAD TO STARRVILLE (La MaMa ETC), and CRAB ON ITS BACK (Potomac Theatre Project). My anthology of one-acts, BLANKETS AND BEDTIME: 3 RESTLESS PLAYS, was honored as the Outstanding Overall Production of an Evening of One-Acts by the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
I am a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and was formerly a member of Young Playwrights Inc., where I studied under John Weidman and Wendy Wasserstein. I received a B.A. in both Theatre and English from Centenary College of Louisiana followed by an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from New York University Tisch School of the Arts.
Impressive, Kierstead has good taste. You have a sexy play, so share with us a little something about your play that we WON’T see in the press release.
DEAD BRAINS is a ruthless examination of what it takes to make truly effective art. The story is shameless in its unveiling of the secret world of an artist’s mind and, at the end of the day, what truly matters most: human life or the work. Sam Shepard’s Mae and Eddie in FOOL FOR LOVE – their struggle to successfully complete each other – were the original inspirations for Henry and Philly, the reckless vagabonds within DEAD BRAINS. That kind of irresistible connection between people has always fascinated me. The inability to be without each other. The inability to escape. And all the while, privately loving every masochistic moment of the relationship – what their togetherness ultimately inspires.
I think you just turned me on! Am i alone??? How does your play resonate today? Feel free to be blunt.
I hope audiences will leave DEAD BRAINS with a new understanding of how to look at art for art’s sake, and maybe better understand how to accept it on its own terms, even when its creation is a violent, painful, pulverizing process.
You are colleagues with Glory Kadigan, the founder. So from the “inside,” why did you choose Planet Connections for your work?
One of the most powerful aspects of Planet Connections is that is welcomes into their festival all companies at every stage of development. There are people here who will be producing their first play ever, and it thrills me to be a part of such a nurturing environment. Everyone, from the old pros to the fledgling theatre makers, are treated with equal respect and care. No one is left wanting, and I admire Planet Connections for its commitment to the artists under its wing. Most of all, I have great respect for the creator of Planet Connections, Glory Kadigan, who is a friend and benefactress to artists everywhere.
A play about art in a deep way. Where do you see it going in the future? Commercial? Regional? Cimenatic? What’s the next step?
Ideally, DEAD BRAINS moving forward into a more commercial atmosphere would potentially earn it an opportunity to be published. Then it would be available for many more little devils to analyze and produce. I would like for this play to have a long, controversial life. I think it has the potential to stir the pot in tremendously unexpected ways.
DEAD BRAINS is being presented in collaboration with two-time Tony Award winning producer Jim Kierstead, one of the wisest and most supportive friends I could hope to ask for. His belief and involvement with the play has made this production a reality.
Of course independent theatre is where we go to take big risks. Not only in subject matter but also to put a demanding new piece in front of an audience and find out how well it works. In many ways, organizations like Planet Connections provide playwrights, directors, and producers with a laboratory, in which they are free to play with their chemistry sets, away from the scrutinizing eye of commercial theatre. It’s so important for us to have this outlet. It’s where we go to grow, to learn what we’re capable of, and to make explosive, important art with our collaborators.
DEAD BRAINS is being produced in part to raise awareness for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). It is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and was names one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth Magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE), in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country, and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. www.rainn.org
This summer, Planet Connections Theatre Festivity (PCTF), the brainchild of arts professional Glory Kadigan, turns 10 years old. In that decade, PCTF has successfully changed the landscape of the theatre festival and all of New York independent theatre. The multi-award-winning theatre festival will celebrate in a big way by premiering more than 50 timely and topical plays and musicals written by the next generation of playwrights. Each play contains a powerful message serving as a parable of various world themes. The Tenth Planet: Planet Connections Theatre Festivity will run fromJuly 9 through August 5, 2018 at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, NYC.www.planetconnections.org. Artists presenting works from all across America, including Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Providence and New York City; and from all over the planet, including Japan, Yugoslavia, Russia, Peru, France, Belarus, & Haiti are part of this years festivity.
Broadway producer, Jim Kierstead joins Erik Champney as producers of the New York premiere of Champney’s new play … about an erotic game of cat and mouse.”
Part of the 10th anniversary season of Planet Connections Theatre Festivity at the Theaters at the Clemente
107 Suffolk Street, New York City
(btw Rivington & Delancey)
Thursday 7/12 @9:30pm-11:00pm
Saturday 7/14 @9:15pm-10:45pm
Sunday 7/15 @1:45pm-3:15pm
Tuesday 7/17 @5:45pm-7:15pm
Thursday 7/19 @9:45pm-11:15pm
Sunday 7/22 7:30pm-9:00pm
New York – The newest member of the company – ironically – is its co-producer.
Jim Kierstead has become synonymous with quality work on Broadway with credits that include KINKY BOOTS (Tony, Olivier), PIPPIN (Tony), WAITRESS, INDECENT, THE GREAT COMET, THE VISIT, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (all Tony nominated), M. BUTTERFLY, IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, SIDE SHOW, ROCKY. Plus London: DREAMGIRLS, YANK!, THRILL ME. Off-Broadway: UNEXPECTED JOY, THRILL ME, YANK! Upcoming: PRETTY WOMAN, AIN’T TOO PROUD, SPARKLER. He is currently on the Board of The York Theatre Company, The Abingdon Theatre Company, and The New York Theatre Barn.
DEAD BRAINS concerns the relationship of Henry and Philly, who have gotten a little caught up in their fantasy. No truth. No regret. No boundaries. Artist and muse, they are idols in their own minds. Enter Corey – vulnerable and real. Now a decision must be made about his role in their game. It’s time to change the rules. Again, and again and again. In Erik Champney’s dark and often hilarious thriller, art is dangerous, and nothing is sacred.
Adam Chisnall directs the ménage of Richard Wingert, Ellie Gossage, and Matt Maretz in a production benefiting RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
“I’m thrilled to be working with Erik and this talented cast and crew!” proclaimed the veteran Broadway producer regarding his association with Champney and company. Jim remains committed to discovering and developing the work of talented up-and-coming playwrights.