Kyle Jarrow is a NYC-based playwright, musician and performer whose work
has been seen at P.S. 122, HERE Arts Center, Boston Theatre Works, New
Dramatists, The Hangar Theatre, Collective: Unconscious, and Dad’s
Garage in Atlanta among others. Kyle was runner-up for the 2002 Princess Grace Playwriting Award and winner of the 2001 John Golden Prize. His play “A
Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” is currently
running at the John Houseman Theatre. Kyle is part of the art-rock band The
Fabulous Entourage, which recently released its debut EP, “I Smell
Danger” (available at www.fabulousentourage.com). He is music curator for the
new performance space The Tank on 42nd Street and has done art design for
the hip-hop company Full Circle.
1. What was the origin of the Scientology Pageant?
I developed the idea of the Scientology Pageant with my longtime collaborator, Alex Timbers (who runs the company Les Freres Corbusier). We
were interested in doing a show performed by kids but intended for
adults — something which, to our knowledge, hadn’t been done before. We wanted to try out using child actors as a distancing device in addressing a
difficult issue, such as a controversial religion. We did extensive research on
the Church of Scientology, and found a certain idealization of childhood in
many of its teachings $#151; which made it make even more sense to use kids to explore these doctrines.
2. Since you were writing for kids did you look to other kids-oriented
songs and performances? What influenced the show?
I had never written for kids before, and it was an interesting challenge. One of the hardest things to do was get across complicated ideas about faith, doubt, and fear, using simple words that kids wouldn’t have trouble saying or understanding. It was a good exercise, though; it really forced me to refine my pallette of language. In terms of influences when writing, I looked towards 70s kiddie-rock like “Free to Be You and Me,” surreal children’s television like the Teletubbies and parts of Sesame Street, and of course took a lot from the structure of traditional Christmas pageants.
3. Do you see yourself as a playwright who uses music or as a creator of
musicals? Who are your role models/influences?
I hate musicals. At least, I hate the kind of musicals done on
Broadway. And yet I feel like the most exciting live entertainment experiences
I’ve had have involved music. I want to bring the energy and rawness of a
rock concert into the theater — I think that’s the best way to make the
theater exciting and relevant to people from a generation raised on MTV. I
think there’s a way to use pop music effectively in the theater, without using
the structure of the tradition Broadway musical. Some of the influences I
look to in doing this are “Hedwig,” Bollywood movies, Brecht, the television
films of Dennis Potter, and the 70s rock-and-roll plays of Sam Shephard. . . . So I guess my answer is I see myself as a playwright who uses music. And a musician who uses plays. But not a creator of traditional musicals.
4. So what’s the deal with karaoke?
My two latest works, SPACE KARAOKE and A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED
CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT, both involved actors singing to pre-recorded tracks, karaoke-style. I think my fascination with karaoke comes out of the fact that it’s the one kind of performance that almost everyone does. People who would never think of getting up on a stage will get up in front of a bar and sing along to their favorite song — karaoke brings out the performer in all of us. So I think audiences have a special affinity for people doing karaoke onstage. They’re like, “I do that too.” It makes what the
actors are doing seem less foreign, somehow. . . . Also, there’s something inherently funny about people doing karaoke. It just makes me laugh.
5. What’s next for you?
My band, The Fabulous Entourage, is presenting its latest multimedia
concert experience, entitled “Vice Nation,” on January 16, 23, and 30 at The
Tank on 42nd Street. The band has been on hiatus since our summer tour, so
we’re excited to hit the scene again, now having added a drummer to the
lineup. In addition to that, I’m working on a couple of new plays, including one
about modern-day polygamy and one about amputees (seriously). I’m also
beginning the development stages of the next piece I’ll be doing with Les Freres Corbusier.