Monday, June 2, 2014

The Write Stuff: Karen Cruise Kirby’s Playgoer Journaling

Karen Cruise Kirby and husband, Dan.
Among SCR subscriber Karen Cruise Kirby’s favorite SCR productions are:

Noises Off by Michael Frayn: “It’s just hilarious! It’s so funny and slapstick and one of my favorite plays of all time. was thrilled when we saw that.”

Golden Child by David Henry Hwang: “It showed me something I was not aware of—these women living in China and what was done with them. The whole production was something brand new to me and it was kind of risky; but I appreciated something new.”

Chinglish by David Henry Hwang: “I thought that was hilarious! My husband said it was like Willy Loman goes to China. Another reason why we loved the play is that when we travel in Europe, we take pictures of funny sign translations.”

Wit by Margaret Edson: “Her play really hit me and evoked a personal response because I have friends who have had cancer.”
Karen Cruise Kirby has a routine following each play she sees: she writes down her impressions on the playbill page from SCR’s program. She keeps all of the playbills in a binder.

“Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I write a lot,” she says. “It’s for my entertainment and I do go back and look at what I’ve written.” For South Coast Repertory performances, Kirby has been writing her impressions about plays for three decades.

Following her evening with Tartuffe, she came home and started writing and kept writing.

“This was one of my favorite productions over several seasons,” she shared with Artistic Director Marc Masterson.  “Never have I seen Tartuffe done with such dark humor.”

Growing Up With A Love For The Arts
Kirby says theatre “makes you aware of where your life is in relationship to what’s going on onstage. It makes us look at humanity, and it’s uplifting. It’s so rewarding personally and fulfilling to be involved in that onstage world for two hours, where you are taken in and drawn into the story. I was a teacher for 38 years, so I know that storytelling is important.”

For Kirby, arts also are “in our family’s blood.”

“I was an emoting child,” she laughs. As a child, she and her friends would put on play productions and she was involved in dance. It came naturally to her, since her father was a singer and her mother a pianist. At the University of California, Irvine, Kirby earned a degree in drama (now theatre), with a minor in dance.

As a parent, Kirby instilled a love for theatre in her daughter (who now teaches theatre at Sunny Hills High School). In sixth grade, her daughter came home to report that her class had read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“She told me she hated the play!” Kirby recalls. So for the next eight years, Kirby took her daughter to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., to see five plays in three days.

“So, yes—theatre has been a big part of my life for a long time,” she says. “And we have been with SCR for a long time as well.”

Karen's notes on her Tartuffe program.
Tartuffe—“I Could Do Nothing Less Than Express My Appreciation”
She wrote about Tartuffe extensively and sent a copy to Artistic Director Marc Masterson. Among her observations, she loved how:
  • “Tartuffe slithered on the ground like a serpent, a devil in disguise”
  • “Elmire melted within that voluminous dress until she was flat on her back”
  • “the two ‘twin’ maids were like bookends, and their running from place to place kept the play in constant motion”
  • “Cleante and Laurent were the yin to maids’ yang … Their affectations were the perfect foil as they portrayed acolytes to the false zealot, Tartuffe. Disrespectful, fawning, arrogant, they commanded the audience’s attention.” Read more from Kirby’s impressions here.

Theatre for Kirby and her husband, Daniel, is a shared experience, a tradition that goes back to when they married. At that time, they struck a friendly deal: he would teach her about NASCAR and she would teach him about theatre. They have been SCR subscribers for three decades now.

“Being a subscriber simply sets us up on a schedule to go see the plays,” she says. “It gives us an evening out together and it gives us something to talk about before and after the play. If we didn’t have a subscription, I’m afraid we would miss some of these great plays!”

She encourages others to “just give theatre a try—find something you can identify with. That first performance will give you a connection to what’s going on onstage and will be something that you appreciate, be it comedy, drama, suspense or a musical.”

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