Below is an interview with Erika Kuhn, the recipient of the 2023 Broadway Licensing Scholarship
Erika Kuhn is a third-year graduate student pursuing her MFA with the WVU School of Theatre & Dance’s Studio Acting Program. She recently was the Associate Director of WVPT’s production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. She also directed two staged readings with WVPT by Justin Borak, A Writer’s Room and Community Garden. You may have seen her on stage performing in West Virginia Public Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Christmas Carol. When not in the rehearsal room, you can find her recording the podcast Play to Z with co-host Justin Borak. Raised in Waterloo IA, Erika graduated from The University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Performance before laying roots in St. Paul MN. With an emphasis on contemporary work and new play development. Past favorite projects include touring the one woman show Map of My Kingdom with Swander Woman Productions, and Guthrie Theatre Dowling Studio productions with Full Circle Theater Company and New Arab American Theatre Works. She has endless gratitude to her community of friends and family whose love and support continues to inspire her.
Interviewer: Hey Erika! Thanks for joining us today! Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Erika: Hello! My name is Erika Kuhn. I grew up in Waterloo, Iowa and after studying acting at the University of Northern Iowa I made the Twin Cities my home. I focused on new work and had an amazing time, then began my MFA acting training here at WVU in 2021.
Interviewer: Congratulations on winning this year’s 2023 Broadway Licensing Scholarship. What prompted you to enter the competition? Had you already written Kill The Bird?
Erika: Kill the Bird was a play I’d had floating around in my mind for a few years, but it didn’t fully take shape until the summer of 2022. In my first year of grad school, I’d had the privilege school of helping develop and direct the last grant winner Justin Borak’s play A Writer’s Room, so when things locked in place for the story and I finally felt ready to get it out, I was eager to go up for the competition and broaden my focus in new work development from this angle.
Interviewer: Where did the idea for your play come from? What was it like writing it?
Erika: A lot of my writing stems from anxiety, complex little aspects of being a person, or some thing or phrase I get hung up on. Kill the Bird initially was born out of an experience in my childhood when our own family talking bird would imitate my mother. She was really ill in a hospital out of town, and the bird wouldn’t stop calling out for my dad in her voice. It was torture for him, and when she was able to recover he looked at little me and said essentially, “it’s a good thing she pulled through, because I thought I was going to have to kill that bird”. Obviously an exaggeration! But as I grew older and understood the lifespan of our type of parrot, this incredible notion of mimicry and companionship became something I dwelled on a lot. Then during the pandemic as an immunocompromised person, I spent the largest time of my life in isolation, which also locked some things in. Then coming to WVU and making a new community and incredible friendships here helped me figure out what I wanted to say, or maybe what I wanted to feel – resilience, which I’m finding the older I get in a world stacked with grief and despair is the only way through. Once I understood all of the pieces, the script just flowed out.
Interviewer: What was the selection process like for you and how did you feel when your play was chosen?
Erika: The process included sending in an excerpt, then a full draft of the play culminating in a pitch. It was pretty intense for me because while I have decades of acting experience, and growing comfort around directing, prior to this process I had probably only let 5 people total read my writing. I’m a very private person, and while the script isn’t my story, it’s carved out of very real feelings of love and fear. All that being said, while it’s been a very vulnerable process for me, at the end of the day my great joy in life is theatre and talking about it, so when I kind of came to the realization that the process at its core is still just that, it became more manageable! The folks on the committee, from Broadway Licensing, and who also submitted were all so kind and generous. And when I found out my play had been chosen, I was thrilled. I’m the type of person who would like to think things happen for a reason, and that’s a feeling I’ve had prior to the grant even just coming to WVU and meeting the people I have. I can’t imagine my life without them, they’ve pushed me to be a far better artist and person, and this opportunity has opened up a whole new direction for my artistry that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Interviewer: What has been your biggest obstacle with this project so far and how have you overcome it?
Erika: I think the biggest challenge has been that I ended up directing the play as well. I had some options fall through and in the interest of time and budget stepped in myself. This is what I call “double-dipping”, which I’m personally not the biggest fan of, especially in new work development because I think you can lose some objectivity. The antidote has wound up being having an awesome, and honest team. I worked to create an environment where collaboration means everyone’s ideas hold the same weight, where we can be frank with each other, and also have a good time. It’s wound up being an awesome learning experience as both a writer and director because I find myself learning from my cast and team every day.
Interviewer: What do you hope will be the audience’s takeaways or emotions after seeing your play?
Erika: I guess I’m hoping that the biggest takeaway is hope. Grief exists in many forms, and it doesn’t seem to slow down, only pick up as you move through life. I hope that if they cry, they also laugh, and if they feel bummed out, they also feel inspired. To me, the cost of getting to be alive is experiencing pain. The joy is what you choose to carve out to combat it, even when it might not seem possible.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your thoughtful answers!
The production of Kill The Bird by Erika Kuhn will be a result of West Virginia Public Theatre’s partnerships with the WVU School of Theatre and Dance and Broadway Licensing. For updates on all things happening at WV Public Theatre, follow us on social media platforms @wvpublictheatre.