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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

20 Questions with Michael McKeever

Prolific - a word that is synonymous with being everywhere at any given moment. One person comes to mind in this region who works constantly at the top of his game: Michael McKeever.

Michael McKeever is South Florida's most recognized playwright. His first play, That Sound You Hear, premiered in 1996. His diverse range include works about war-time morality (The Garden of Hannah List), hate crime (A Town Like Irving), and life affirmation (Running with Scissors).

This year, he premieres a new play, Wait and See,that opened September 10th at the place that gave him his start, the New Theatre in Coral Gables.

Where are you from originally?

I'm from Miami. I am one of the seven people actually born [in Miami].

How did your theatre career begin: acting or playwriting?

I was an actor in my early twenties. I gave it up when my career as an Art Director for film and television took off. By my early thirties I found myself writing television commercials. More importantly, I found that I liked it. Before long I had written my first play, That Sound You Hear, about the break-up of a marriage during Hurricane Andrew. I was fortunate enough not only to have that first play produced professionally but to be cast in it as well. After that first experience, I was hooked both as a playwright and actor.

What was your foundation for Wait and See?

Wait & See is primarily about hope. It's my reaction to the state of the world since September 11th. I wanted to write a play that investigated a possible positive outcome to a world dominated by suicide bombings, high school shootings, and senseless wars.

Did you have any input or influence in the casting of the play?

Standardly, I defer to the director's choices in casting. In the case of Wait and See, director Barbara Lowery and myself had a great communicative relationship, so casting was handled accordingly.

Who are your favorite writers?

Tennessee Williams. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Noel Coward. Michael Cunningham. Aaron Sorkin.

How many plays have you written so far?

Eleven. I have been very fortunate that all of them have been produced - most, more than once. They have been produced in places ranging from South Florida to New York to Vienna.

In May of 2005, one of my plays, Running with Scissors, will get a production with the Marin [Theatre Company] in California.

How long does it take you to complete a script?

I write very quickly. On average, it takes me one to two months to complete the first draft of a script. I usually present this draft at a public play reading . I find readings are a great way to gage what works - and what doesn't - in a play. I will take the knowledge I have gained from these readings and use it to develop and polish the script further. By the time the play gets to rehearsal, rewrites are hopefully minimal.

Which was the most taxing script to write?

Each play presents its own challenges. The last two, however, presented particularly interesting hurdles. With both Running with Scissors and Wait and See, I played with the conventions of time. Neither play has a straightforward linear storyline. Both plays jump back and forth in time and place. Which makes for interesting theatre, but is a monster to try to put together on the page.

Can you describe what your working relationship with [Artistic Director] Rafael De Acha is like?

My working relationship with Rafael De Acha is one of great mutual respect, trust and love. The support that Rafael shows not only my work but that of Nilo Cruz and Mario [Diamant] is amazing and unyielding. His love of new work, and his great desire to nurture it, sets him apart from so many other Artistic Directors in the country today.

What separates New Theatre from all the other companies you have worked with?

New Theatre is the only theatre in which I work as a playwright, actor and set designer. It is very much a family. One that I am proud to say I am a part of.

How has the region changed since you've been involved here?

I find this region has grown substantially. Not only in the risks it's willing to take theatrically but also in the number of new plays it's willing to produce. It's becoming an exciting, vital source of new works and cutting edge theatre.

Are there any people you'd like to work with in the future in your plays?

Yes. Many. The list of extremely talented actors, directors and producers that I'd like to work with gets a little longer every season.

As an actor, who would you like to collaborate with?

I've been lucky enough to have shared the stage with actors like Lisa Morgan, Tom Wahl, Barbara Sloan, John Felix and Amy London - it doesn't get any better than that! I have also worked with incredible directors. One person whom I haven't worked with but would love to is [Joseph] Adler at GableStage. I am a big fan of the work he does and the passion he brings to each production.

With all your assignments and duties, what do you do to maintain your mental and physical health?

I surround myself with a great support system of people who understand and love me. I am also big on limiting the projects I happen to be working on at any given moment. I've learned the hard way not to bite off more than I can chew.

I also find that martinis, good friends and a steady work out regimen keep me mentally and physically happy.

What distinguishes this region from other theatre regions in the U.S.?

I think what makes this region unique is its growing desire to generate and develop new work. There is also a communal feel to this theatre market that I have seldom seen in other regions, a mutual respect and appreciation for the different "types" of theatre being produced in each house.

Due to the current state of the arts in Florida, what needs to be done to keep theatre thriving in this region?

Everyone will tell you the same thing. South Florida theatres need to focus on developing a younger audience base. They need to continue to explore new and different types of work while maintaining the integrity and production values on which their reputations were made.

Does it bother you if a company sees you in one capacity as opposed to a total package (actor, playwright, designer)?

No. I will gladly work at most any theatre, in any capacity. I love creating theatre. I love the collaborative nature of the business. The job I happen to be hired for is irrelevant.

What is your next writing project?

I am currently working on a play about the French Impressionist movement of the late nineteenth century. It is a play about breaking all the rules and redefining art. It's a lot of fun - I'm having a blast writing it!

How do you keep track of your material being produced?

I have an agent who handles all of that: the schedules, travel arrangements and contracts. This allows me to focus on the fun part - being a writer.

Any advice for up and coming actor/playwrights?

My advice to up and coming playwrights is keep writing. Finish what you start. So many young writers I know start working on plays and never finish them. Finish what you start! My advice to up and coming actors is to become best friends with an up and coming playwright.

Michael McKeever has won the Curtain Up Award for Best New Work for two years straight with Open Season (2003) and Running with Scissors (2004). When not acting and playwriting, McKeever is also a graphic designer. Wait and See will close on October 3rd, then McKeever's next project at New Theatre will be in an actor's capacity in James Sherman's Affluenza!, opening December 3rd.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- Kevin Johnson

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