KC Rep’s Marissa Wolf helps bring voice to others’ words

Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s OriginKC: New Works Festival has an ambitious goal, one that puts more original theater in front of local audiences. “Our mission with OriginKC is to forward Kansas City as a major national center for the development and production of new work,” says Director of New Works Marissa Wolf, “offering playwrights the financial, creative and artistic resources required to develop powerful new work.” Two such premieres are appearing in repertory through May 22 on the Rep’s Copaken Stage: Fire in Dreamland, by Rinne Groff, and Lot’s Wife, by the Rep’s artistic director, Eric Rosen. While immersed in that process of realizing a play for the stage, Wolf answered The Pitch’s questions by e-mail.

The Pitch: What do you hope to achieve with New Works?

Wolf: Some of the most significant work in our field is coming out of new-works festivals across the country, and we’re overjoyed to continue building opportunities right here in KC for hot, emerging and established playwrights. For me, new plays and musicals crack open a space onstage for vital, fresh stories. They give visibility to experiences and lives previously unsung onstage.

OriginKC, our umbrella program for all of our delicious new-works activities (including commissions, workshops, and festival and Mainstage productions), invests in a diverse body of playwrights’ works, from the seed of an idea through to production.

How did KC Rep decide on these particular plays and playwrights? And has either play been produced before?

The thrilling part about world premieres is that they’re entirely new! Both Lot’s Wife and Fire in Dreamland have received workshops in which the playwrights heard early drafts of the scripts read out loud, but the final and essential ingredient to any new play’s development process is allowing the playwright to experience a fully realized production in front of an audience. We chose these two plays as beautiful companion pieces for each other. They both investigate the creative impulse and the way in which a piece of art is made. And amazingly, both plays wrestle with layers of memory the past holds on us. Rinne Groff and Eric Rosen have such distinct, powerful voices, and I’m thrilled to champion their work.

Will the Rep attempt new work at other times during the season?

Yes! The awesome thing is that OriginKC builds on an eight-year history of programming new work and world-premiere productions at KC Rep.

What challenges do new works present versus better-known plays?

It’s wild to work on a show that’s being revised and edited by the playwright while you rehearse. There’s no moment where you can say, “Hmm, this is a tricky idea to stage. I wonder how other productions have handled it.” For me, this means digging in very deeply with my collaborators, asking the questions, and allowing ourselves to wade into the unknown together.

How does this festival differ from other debuts of original works in KC?

We’re offering a festival of two world-premiere productions in rotating repertory — one stage, two plays — complete with preshow making-the-play talks and postshow audience discussions at every performance. And if you love the raw energy of new work, you can join us for our Industry Weekend (May 13-15) for free staged readings, panel conversations with national and local arts leaders, and celebratory parties. It’s an awesome opportunity for audience and artists to engage deeply together.

What’s the best part about staging new work?

Having a playwright as your closest collaborator. Your job as a director is to unearth a world onstage that honors the playwright’s voice and vision. And then you get out of the way and let the play sing.

What’s the hardest part?

We throw around the work “risk” in the arts, but man, oh man, it can feel so terrifying to work on a new play in which the risk factor is totally unknown. Will it soar? Will it struggle to find its footing?

How and when did you decide on a life in theater?

At 3 years old, I saw The Three Bears, and I was hooked. Apparently, I demanded that my mom act it out with me back at home, over and over. And I’d say, “No! You’re not doing it right!” And, thus, a new-works director was born.

Where did you train?

I have my B.A. in drama from Vassar College in New York, and I received additional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. I cut my teeth at Berkeley Rep as the Bret C. Harte directing fellow, where I assisted incredible, visionary directors including Tony Taccone, Les Waters, Mary Zimmerman, Frank Galati and Lisa Peterson. I consider those two years at Berkeley Rep to be my grad-school training.

What drew you into directing?

I spent my childhood thinking I’d be an actor, and it was in college when I began to fall more deeply in love with directing. I get to be subversive as a director, choosing work that questions and problematizes the very marrow of the world around us.

What brought you to KC and to KC Rep?

KC Rep was creating this position of director of new works, and I leapt at the opportunity to come work with Eric and this powerhouse theater company as a director and producer. My husband and I (and 1-year-old kid) have been here for a year and a half, and we love KC!  •

OriginKC: New Works Festival
Through May 22
at Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s Copaken Stage,
13th Street and Walnut,

Categories: A&E