John Cusack at Edmonton Fringe Festival

John Cusack
Strathcona Library (8331 104 street) August 15 – 23 (every day)
More information: michellekennedy.net


An interview with Michelle Kennedy.

Describe your show in five words.

John Cusack WILL love me.

Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?

I really like the one I sent in to the festival and I think it accurately describes the show: JC believes in love and, more importantly, she believes that John Cusack can psychically sense when love has run into the arms of another woman. Madeline thinks JC might be crazy. When JC is kidnapped both women are suddenly forced to hope maybe John Cusack really can save them.

It’s a play about the careful and delicate relationships between friends, lovers, family and romantic comedies.

Tell us about your collaboration with Jessica Peverett and Lana Hughes. In your press release you say you were all looking for a project that was “equal parts laughs and challenges.” What else were you hoping to achieve through your collaboration? 

One of my great mentors told me once that in order to make good work you have to find your tribe. Lana and Jessica are both a part of that tribe.

Jessica and I have worked together on four projects now (Spreepark: The Musical, The Flood, Trout Stanleyand John Cusack). She is a generous and brilliant woman. Lana and I have known each other for years but I have never worked with her as an actor; and holy smokes is she ever fantastic!

Aside from laughs and challenges I wanted to work with people who are true collaborators and who would never be afraid to tell me when something I was writing was garbage and would hold me to the incredibly high standard they hold themselves to. I wanted to write for people I care about, whose voices are strong and brave and who are deeply committed to tell stories with honesty and humour.

John Cusack has been in development for five years. I can’t imagine all the changes that have happened to the script – and you, the playwright – in that time. How has that five year development period impacted the script? How have your own personal/professional changes in that time manifested in the script?

This is a big question! John Cusack has gone from a 10-minute solo to a 60-minute solo to being shelved completely to its current 60-minute two-hander.

In 2009 I was sitting in a bedroom in Calgary trying to write a solo show for the One Yellow Rabbit Summer Lab Intensive and I was struggling: blank, white page struggling. I picked up a book on the bedside table and started reading a Chuck Klosterman article about how John Cusack ruined “contemporary perceptions of modern romance” because of the boombox serenade in Say Anything. Klosterman contends that heterosexual woman have unrealistic expectations regarding romance because of that single moment. That stuck with me and so I pulled Grosse Point Blank off the shelf and when it was over the 10 minutes poured out of me. Two years later when I was unpacking back in Edmonton the pages fell out of a notebook and I decided I wanted people to see it! I wrote a 60-minute solo that was meant to dramaturged and directed by Andrea Beca at the 2012 Fringe. Unfortunately Andrea wasn’t able to continue with the show and folded her company before it was complete. I got busy and put it away.

I wasn’t writing a lot and my work was feeling a bit stuck. Inspiration is a funny thing for me and often comes in fits and starts. Sometimes I am flooded by an idea and other times my mind is like the Sahara in a windstorm.

After the 2013 Fringe I wanted to write again and David Cheoros offered me a spot in the Library for John Cusack. So I got back to the script and offered Lana the role of JC – The John Cusack obsessed girl with a broken heart. After a series of hazy and passionate conversations the one-person show became a two-person show and changed monumentally.

Honestly, if you looked at the 10-minute piece and all subsequent drafts they look nothing like the one about to open here in Edmonton. The thing that I have realized about my writing process over the last couple years is that my process is one of building and then stripping away. I underwrite first drafts; they are skeletons of the story and character and totally underestimate the kind of information the audience (and actors) need to understand what the play is about. The next drafts after than are incredibly overwritten… I write four sentences when I need one and it takes 2 more drafts to get it down to a manageable and clear level. And then I cut like a mad woman in rehearsal, leaving all preciousness at the door. (Or trying to anyway).

I think for me the longer I write, and the more I own my title as “WRITER” the more I am able to refine this process, pare it down slightly and perhaps better model an economy of prose that I love in other writers.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

Lana and Jessica have such a beautiful chemisty on stage. I feel so moved and grateful to have them in the rehearsal hall and bring voice to these characters.

And I hope that if people see the show and like it they will tweet Cusack himself about it (@johncusack). I’ve been bugging him for days but a city-wide effort might be really fun!

Bonus question: Any names you want to drop who have been involved in your show (Edmonton arts people or otherwise)?

I want to thank Maura Penn, Amanda Bergen, everyone at One Yellow Rabbit, Catalyst Theatre and the City of Edmonton.

I also want to shout out to my other show… Can I do that? It’s called Shangri-La and will be at Venue 10: Acacia Hall. More info at sodhousetheatre.com.

August 1963, Millard, SK: Jeanne’s hanging on for dear life. Her sixteen year old sister is pregnant; her Dad has been drinking; her Mom has been swearing… and all before the big dance! Jeanne turns to pop songs, 45s and her imagination to, as her mother says, “pull herself together.”

Judy Wensel is the performer (I directed it) and she’s bringing this wonderful show to Edmonton from Regina. People have loved it in Regina (at the Globe Theatre and the Artisian), Victoria (UNOfest) and the Saskatoon Fringe.

The 33rd Edmonton International Fringe is August 14 – 24. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.

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