As rehearsals began for Kurt Vonnegut: My Lives’ Stories, Production Stage Manager Brigid McNulty sat down with playwright/actor Todd Wronski to discuss the creation of this performance piece. Selected portions of the conversation are contained below.
BM: Why Kurt Vonnegut?
TW: Well, any person even generally familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s work will know the answer to that immediately: his is one of the truly great and most distinctive creative minds of the Twentieth Century. His novels are classics, his short fiction remarkable (and sometimes overlooked,) and his public speaking—about which many are less aware—was prolific and hugely entertaining. In so many ways he created for a new century many of the things that his hero Mark Twain created for an earlier time.
BM: Why now?
TW: On November 11, 2022 we will mark the centenary of this remarkable writer’s birth. Having previously been involved with worldwide performances to mark the centenary of William Saroyan in 2008, I thought a similar piece of biographical performance might be a way to further contribute to the celebrations memorializing Vonnegut during this special year.
BM: What has been the most challenging aspect of putting this play together?
TW: Editing!! Having to make the choice of what material would not be able to be included in the final performance piece. There is just so much rich material. At one point I had over 50 stacks of subject-sorted quote-cards spread out over the writing table in my study. Hundreds of quotes—every one of them containing numerous bits of humor, wisdom, commentary or observations. I had to be quite ruthless, and it was difficult.
BM: You are both the writer and the single actor of this play. What are some the differences between the researching aspects of this project and the performance of the ultimate piece?
TW: There are a lot of differences. The act of discovery in pouring over all of the Vonnegut material was exciting in an emotional and intellectual sense, but I know from my performances with other material that merging with a historical character using only the words and ideas that you know were created by that person, well—it’s actually a performative luxury—to live even for a short time within the words and ideas of genius. There’ nothing quite like it.
BM: What are you hoping audiences will take away from Kurt Vonnegut: My Lives’ Stories?
TW: A reminder of what an original mind he possessed. Audiences will be reminded of his brilliance as a writer, but more than anything, I think (and hope) that they will appreciate even more fully just how broad Vonnegut was in his expressiveness. Much of this production is taken from interviews, speeches and letters that many either do not know about or have forgotten about. The breadth of Vonnegut’s expressive humanity is striking, and I hope to share that with audiences. And let’s not forget about the laughs. What an amusing, wise man!