A tinge of trepidation is coloring the overall excitement actor, writer, storyteller and local treasure Kevin Kling feels about his big night with Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts.
Kling is being honored Thursday for 20 years of collaboration with the theater company at the Spring Fling fundraiser, starting at 6 p.m., at Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis.
“To begin with, it’s Interact,” Kling told me, in a tone connoting how special he finds the theater company. “It’s for performers with and without disabilities. There’s a wonderful visual arts element to it, as well. It’s a combination of visual and performing arts. They say it’s a place of radical inclusion, a place where you can work your quirk. That’s my home. When I walk into those doors, I’m just home.”
Apparently, home can be petrifying. “I’m pretty nervous about it,” Kling said. “You really do never know what’s going to happen there, even when you are in the safety of being in the audience. I cannot even imagine what I’m in for” Thursday.
Q: Tell me about your first encounter with Interact.
A: My first experience was as an avid fan. I saw a play, and I laughed myself silly. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The lead actor was [the late] Eric Wheeler. He was one of their main actors at the time, and he just tore up the stage; I’d never seen a performance that layered, multifaceted and just beautiful. It was a thing called “Billy T.” He was this guy who sat around watching TV, commented and drank beer. He was just disgusting. He was horrible. I laughed so hard. It was just all wrong [laughing] and really good. It was a gut buster.
Q: How often are you as off-color as “Billy T”?
A: [Long laugh] Every once in a while. When I get a window, I’ll take it. Most of the venues and places I play these days I can go PG. It’s where most of my work is. As an audience member, I love to be challenged, and the sky’s the limit.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m going to be up in L’Homme Dieu, the theater in Alexandria. Jack Reuler [who also is artistic director of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis] is artistic director. It’s a wonderful summer theater. Of course, this Interact gala. In about a month, I’m going to Seattle to workshop a play with Seattle Children’s Theatre, with my buddy [playwright and director] Steven Dietz. It will be good to be reunited with him.
Q: When you are storytelling, do you ever lose your place?
A: Oh, yeah, all the time. That’s kind of the idea. Storytelling is about creating imagery. It’s as much a conversation as it is a performance. So you’re always reading the audience, and you take the audience where they want to go or where they don’t want to go, which is usually where they really want to go. It’s a very fluid form. You go into a setting and you might be ready to do one kind of story and you have to change it because that’s not your audience or that’s not where you are.
As a storyteller, you are entering a space where a system of trust has to be developed before you can get anywhere. You’ve got to come to a place where you both admit there are sacred spaces in this world and then you can work from there.
Q: Do I correctly intuit that your late father was the parent whose approval you worked hardest to secure?
A: Ahh, yeah. Because he was one of the most important. Other people’s approval is a lot easier to ignore. Not only did he love me and worry about me, I wanted to alleviate that by saying, “I know what I’m doing.” I wanted to assure him this path I’ve chosen isn’t just from my heart but I can make a career just as well. He was one of my heroes.
Q: Have you been on a motorcycle since your 2001 accident?
A: I’ve been on ’em, that’s for sure, but I haven’t driven one. Nobody’ll let me. [Laughing] Probably smart.
Q: Would it be as satisfying to rebuild motorcycles now as it was when you were able to rebuild and ride them?
A: I still have a garage of old iron, and I’ll still get out and sit on them and make vrrroom noises. [Laugh] And I still tinker with stuff. I’m really glad you asked that ’cause I was as much into the rebuilding them as I was the riding.
Q: What was your first job when you started working in the Twin Cities in 1979?
A: I worked at the Playwrights’ Center, a children’s company. We traveled the state, and it was wonderful. I was on a softball team then with [playwrights] August Wilson and Lee Blessing and John Olive and Steven Dietz. It was, in some regards, the future of American theater, but I didn’t care. I just cared if they could hit. [Pittsburgh native] August Wilson would show up in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. Man, he could really hit.
When he moved [to Seattle], a good chunk of our writers did, too. It was kind of the new town that was burgeoning. I have to say, you can really experiment and try things out in this town, but in the next level up, you almost did, at the time, need to go to Chicago or New York or St. Louis or Seattle. They really offered a next tier of theaters that, at that time, we didn’t have to offer.