Professor Kathleen McKinley directed two of the spryest Fresno productions of my recent memory: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Fresno State’s University Theater and Sense and Sensibility at Good Company Players’ Second Space. I took a large group of Janeites to Sense and Sensibility and, much to my relief, everyone enjoyed every minute of the production which is saying a lot. (It can be touch-and-go with Austen purists, trust me!)
McKinley has been a director and acting specialist at the Fresno State Theater Arts Department since 1983 and has served as its department chair three times. She’s also directed for myriad regional theaters including PCPA Theatrefest, Monterey Shakespeare Festival, and the Western Stage, among others.
McKinley directs the University Theater’s 2018-2019 season opener, The Wolves, which includes an all-female cast and features astroturf. Yup. The last time I saw a scene where there were only women on stage and astroturf was involved was a production of The Importance of Being Earnest and the set featured a huge lawn where Gwendolyn and Cecily play croquet. Let’s just say that female-oriented sports-stories are thin on the ground in the theater world.
The Wolves also boasts some other impressive credentials, however: it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 and won Obie and Drama Desk awards for its ensemble acting. In it, nine high school juniors navigate questions, large and small, as they gear up to win on the field and in life. Honored by The New York Times as “one of most important new plays of the last 25 years”, The Wolves portrays the “scary and exhilarating brightness of raw adolescence,” and the dynamics of power, love, and humor within a team of young female athletes determined to be champions.
Opening on Friday, here is director Kathleen McKinley’s Drive-Thru Interview.
In one sentence, what’s going on in your world?
Rehearsal with brief cool down for Samantha Bee, John Oliver on DVR, and West Wing on Netflix.
Why The Wolves?
We are thrilled to be the first university in California to win the rights to this shockingly successful play by 28 year-old Sarah DeLappe! A play focusing on the passions, brains, and strengths of young, athletic, competitive, complex young woman prepping for battle on the soccer field and in their personal lives is truly a theatre first. The characters are frenetic, snarky, sensual, explosive, smart, confused, desperate, and sometimes just wildly silly–exactly like the facinating young women I teach at Fresno State, and my experiences with my own daughter and her friends.
What do you find exciting about working on this production?
10 great roles for women is exciting, but the real challenge has been exploring the emotional waves of the play through the physical language of soccer! Some actors had soccer experience and some were new to the game. Summer Session, our wonderful soccer trainer who also plays a role in the show, was tasked with developing our soccer chops. The first week of rehearsal consisted of warm-ups and passing drills. As a director, I had to stage the show using my newly learned soccer vocabulary. In addition to underscoring each moment with soccer moves, I have enjoyed the challenge of conducting the dialogue that overlaps much like a choral or orchestra piece.
Who is the ideal audience member for The Wolves?
Anyone who is currently, or remembers the thrill and agony of being sixteen, and anyone who wants to be a fly-on-the-wall for the interactions of 9 young women athelets who think no adults or guys are listening!
What makes a great audience for you?
I am grateful to every person who ventures away from the comfort a home screen to take in a live performance of any type. Bless them!
As a theater artist, what are you better at now than ten years ago?
I am better at trusting my artistic instincts.
What’s the last thing you do before a curtain goes up on a production?
This depends entirely on the scope of the production. Truthfully, I try to enjoy a nice glass of wine with my husband who is a big fan of my work, but not obsessed with theatre like the rest of us.
What are your top three theatre reads?
Memoirs by Tennessee Williams
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen.
What would you like to see more of on Fresno stages?
There is a broad range of theatre taking place in all types of venues.
What have you found to be the most common misconception surrounding theatre at Fresno State University?
The Fresno State Theatre Arts production program was way ahead of trends in both educational and regional theatre in the areas of non-traditional casting, new plays, and edgy subject matter.
What’s next for you?
I am the faculty advisor and mentor for Dog Sees God, the student directed production of our Experimental Theatre Company that is currently in rehearsal and opens on Nov. 8.
My next extravaganza production will be daughter’s wedding this spring in DC!
The Wolves plays September 28 – 29 & October 2 – 6, 2018 @ 7:30 p.m. and September 30, 2018 @ 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 for general public. Presented at the Woods Theater in the Speech Arts Building at Fresno State.
The Drive-Thru interview is my easy and satisfying Q&A for your busy theatrical life. I choose a handful of preformed questions and I get variety of answers in return. Perhaps not the most nuanced or clever interview technique in the world, but in the drive-thru getting in and out is key!