We paired leading artists from Minnesota’s theater, music, visual arts, dance, and literary communities to talk about craft, creativity, and the inspiration behind their boundary-pushing work.
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Kevin Kling and Kate Hopper
There’s no telling the stories that will surface when two literary artists converge. Such was the case with Kate Hopper and Kevin Kling. Both are masters of their craft—Hopper a writer and teacher, Kling a writer and storyteller—and true word artists, their questions and answers strung together like impromptu poetry. With Hopper preparing for the October release of her memoir, Ready for Air, about the premature birth of her daughter, and Kling releasing both a children’s book, Big Little Mother, and a compilation of stories, plays, and essays, On Stage with Kevin Kling, this fall, the two were at no loss for things to discuss.
Kate: I wanted to talk with you a little bit about storytelling versus writing. Does one feed you in a different way than the other?
Kevin: Yeah, especially storytelling. It’s a visceral, audio-visual-chemical experience. When you tell a story, you’re really working on imagery. The worst thing you can do is “tell words.” But I think you understand that; your stories feel as if they’re of the oral tradition.
Kate: I do feel it’s important for me to read my work. Saying it out loud helps my humor come out, even in the darker areas of my writing.
Kevin: Do you find that humor and darkness have a symbiotic relationship?
Kate: I do. Sometimes you have to use humor. In my memoir, I talk about how Stella was in the NICU for a month. Then I was home with her for five months and I couldn’t take her out in public—I felt like I was losing my mind. I had to really focus, then, on where to create breathers for the reader, where I needed to lighten it up before the next crash. You have to laugh about hard stuff.
Kevin: You do. I work at Interact Theater, with performers with disabilities, and have learned that any time you’re in a culture on the fringe, there’s a kind of humor that can’t leave the room—the kind of thing you should be ashamed of for laughing at, but you have to. Also, humor opens doors, and storytelling is all about opening doors. That’s where we get into the heart. Once you’re in the heart, you can talk about the tougher stuff.
Kate: That’s what I tell my students: humor makes anger palatable—it makes that experience accessible to people.
Kevin: There’s a big sign at Interact that says: “Anger is a tool.” It’s not the outcome or the idea or the method, it’s just an indicator of something, similar to pain.
Kate: I think the key to humor is to recognize that sometimes things aren’t funny. There has to also be room for the dark stuff to just be dark and hard. In my memoir, it’s giving myself permission to say “fuck”—to really let those parts of me that are ugly and misbehaving show. I had to develop that authentic voice that’s funny in places and snarky in others.
Kevin: Exactly. You’ve got to lean into it. In a performance, an audience will only give back as much as you put out. Early on, I try to give them something funny but also let them know we can go to some dark places. Revealing something allows the audience to take a step closer.
Kate: Could you talk a bit about how writing and storytelling has been healing for you?
Kevin: Simply put, I think when you can tell a story about something then it doesn’t control you anymore. Krista Tippett interviewed John O’Donohue on her show, On Being, years ago, and he talked about how we all have inner and outer landscapes—the inner being how we perceive and how we perceive ourselves, the outer being how we perceive the world and how it really is. Often, the two are very different. One crucial element of art is bridging the two. And that can go into healing. I tell stories about losing my arm, but I could be talking about losing a person. Loss is loss. My arm becomes a metaphor to whatever someone else has lost.
Kate: I talk about fear with my students, about how it can be so debilitating and actually control you. But once it’s on the page, it loses some of its power.
Kevin: They found that it’s easier for soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan to write than to tell. The idea of telling is a little too personal, too revealing. But when you write it down, you can put it away until you need to bring it up; it’s left you, but it’s still in your possession. I think writing can be a very important tool as a step toward telling your story.
Kate: Do you fear that with today’s generation focusing on 140-character Twitter blurbs we lose, as a culture, the sense of narrative? Because there’s a deeper story than just the situation.
Kevin: It’s going to be interesting to see where we go. There are a lot of very new, different forms, but it’s the form of the people. This is what people need to hear and tell right now, and you’ve got to honor that. I sit on a much more traditional form, and I’ll stand by that, but if my form helps serve as a pair of shoulders for new forms to stand on, go for it. I think it’s the responsibility of every generation to test the form: what can it handle? What can we add? Then, what’s important will stay and what gets added is the exciting part.
For extended interviews with this year's featured artists, visit mnmo.com/fallarts2013.
7 Other Must-Read Books
I Will Not Leave You Comfortless, Jeremy Jackson, 8/13, milkweed.org
Silhouette of a Sparrow, Molly Beth Griffin, 8/13, milkweed.org
Leaving Rollingstone, Kevin Fenton, 9/1, mhspress.org
The Land of Dreams, Vidar Sundstøl, 9/1, upress.umn.edu
Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow, Andy Sturdevant, 10/1, coffeehousepress.org
The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edited by Dave Page, 10/1, upress.umn.edu
Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines, Jack El-Hai, 11/1, upress.umn.edu