Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Thoughts Attack—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

“Inside Out” Redux

Kelly Kinsella wrote and performs her one-woman show as part of the SummerFest at CoHo, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (note:  finding parking in this area can be a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), from Thursday, July 14th through Sunday, July 17th at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $20.  More information on her show and SummerFest can be found on their site at

If you’ve ever seen the excellent animated movie of the above title, you might get some idea of what Kinsella’s show will involve.  I saw a brief clip of it and it seems to embody also a stream-of-conscientious type of approach, too.  The author, Virginia Woolf, was also a big advocate of this style of writing in some of her stories, once using an entire short novel based on all the thoughts that went through a person’s head in the space of a few minutes.  Unfortunately, Woolf came to a tragic end by taking her own life, so the “attacks,” in her case, were fatal in the long run.

But, I believe, Kinsella is made of “sterner stuff,” and when you include humor in her material, it probably has a way of letting the “demons” out and diffusing or diluting such anxieties.  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this lady from NYC and she sounded amazingly sane.  In fact some of her stories reminded me of when I was a child and wanted to become a writer.  And so I asked her how it all began:  I have been performing skits since I can remember!  As a child I was obsessed with playing make- believe…far beyond the capacity of most of my friends. I had a cousin, Johnny, who could keep up with me and, once on a family trip to his summer camp, we were able to extend a James Bond-esque scene--where he kidnapped my teddy bear--that took us from our bikes, to row-boats, to climbing trees, for an entire week.  We didn’t break character.  It’s still one of the greatest memories of my life….”

A personal note, it is important for our children to have “Johnny’s” and supportive families in our lives, as she did.  The public educational system seems, for the most part, hell-bent-on-leather to exorcise the Arts from their programs for budget reasons because they don’t feel it’s important.  Playtime and the Arts build character, teamwork and confidence in a child and if they don’t feel that’s important to becoming an adult, shame on them!  (Okay, I’m getting down off my soapbox now.)

She was a musician and, as a child, wrote songs “…and sang them to my dogs.  She also kept a diary and uses some of that material in her shows.  I, too, wrote and performed in backyard dramas but they were actually just recaps of things I’d seen in the movies or on TV.  But playtime morphs into school, which involved plays and Improvs.  Eventually she became “…an interactive street performer at Walt Disney World and various Renaissance Festivals.  Those experiences are all about working well with others and--like with my playtime with cousin, Johnny--they are my fondest memories.”

But somehow, someway, something emerges from all the artistic, primeval ooze we wallow through to become who we are today.  In my case, it was the discovery of my Muse, who guided me in my writing.  In Kelly’s case, when she wrote her first solo show, “…while working full time as an actor at Walt Disney World in Orlando FL.  I had already been doing sketch comedy along with the improv so that first show was very sketch-like--like Saturday Night Live--all big broad characters from my imagination…It took me another ten years to write my next play!  But then I wrote three pretty much one after the other and they all were based on people in my life, my career as a dresser, my family...and eventually with WHEN THOUGHTS ATTACK--my own struggle with anxiety.  My most recent show, HOW TO DO A ONE PERSON SHOW uses all these elements, storytelling, stand up, sketch, and original character work.”

But Success can be a “cruel mistress,” as it can alienate you from the so-called, “normal” world and people.  Performing and writing can be a lonely business, as there can be a chasm of sorts between the artistic and…well, everyone else.  The upside, of course, is connecting with other talented, creative people.  It’s an interesting, lively environment full of love.  But outside that safe, loving environment is the “real” world and that can have its challenges.  “…it’s difficult to identify as anything else!  We all know the life of an artist has no guarantees of success--financially or otherwise…yet it’s almost impossible to swallow that fact and move on to something else as time goes by…I often feel I may have missed out on some other opportunities--to have a family, or a fulfilling career….”  I know, only too well, that feeling.

But there are memorable times when performing.  I remember getting so psyched up during a show one night that, when I ran offstage, I burst through the stage door…the fire exit to the building…and then over the railing.  Kinsella has some interesting memories from her audiences.  The most memorable comment was from a woman who looked like she had just rolled out of bed, who exclaimed after she saw the show--‘Oh my God! You’re crazier than I am!’  Another time she had some religious critics, where she…“was doused with holy water by a bunch of middle aged Catholic women…that was strangely comforting.”  And, in a talk-back session after one of her shows, she had a 75 year old man proclaim, “’That’s me up there on that stage…that’s me!’"  Even though you may think you’re writing for yourself, it’s amazing how many people connect with what you say.

Currently she is writing a family drama which is inspired by her own family.  Also she has completed a pilot for the web.  And another one-woman show is in the works about, “…a woman who takes a trip to India in search of meaning and everything that can go wrong goes wrong...”  But to me, what is most interesting about writers/performers is the take-away they expect from an audience.  She has an absolutely amazing reply to that:  I want them to be entertained.  To laugh.  To understand and be understood.  I want them to feel a part of something that they should celebrate and not be ashamed of. To accept their humanity in all it’s great and grotesque-ness!  To be brave and honest with themselves for an hour.”  Amen to that.

In her case, it all started with the need to entertain people as a child.  It helps if you have a cohort or two, in her case her cousin, Johnny…and an audience, her family and especially important, was to make her sister, Shannon laugh.  It was a challenge; if I could achieve that, I knew I was on the right track.”  All Kelly needs now is another audience, older, perhaps and maybe, more diverse, but still smart enough to know that laughter is the best medicine, if not to change the world then, at least, to let “the world slide” for a couple of hours, so that we can recharge our batteries for another taxing day.

I think she deserves our attention.  What say, you?!

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