INTERVIEW: Bryn Magnus
Dana Lee Block opens-up about her brother, Marc, in MONKEY MAN, a one-person show
Saturday, November 2 @ 7:30 p.m., as part of the 10th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. Tickets: https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/United-Solo-Theatre-Festival-2019/Overview
Marc hitchhiked across America, calling himself a Highway Man: “I tell my stories to drivers, keep ’em awake at night.” This show is constructed from the brilliant, stream-of-consciousness rants and graphic cartoons Marc made in a diary as he jumped from ride to ride, sleeping on the side of the road, begging for food. He attempted to stay in reality but his mental illness led him further and further down a rabbit hole.
Bryn Magnus, the production director, is a writer and theater artist whose plays have been produced in Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, London, and Berlin. He Assistant Stage Managed and understudied the Sheriff and Little Charles on the Broadway/National tour of Steppenwolf Theater’s August: Osage County. He is a long-time ensemble member of Curious Theater Branch. He says of Monkey Man: “I believe that creativity is a language skill and theater is an experience that advances empathy. Dana Block’s Monkey Man is a compelling example of both of these core beliefs. Monkey Man speaks to a familiar feeling of being visited by a creative storm, swirling with language and energy and possibility.”
Bryn, tell us about yourself as an artist.
I came up in a storefront ethos of theater making in Madison, WI, and Chicago, IL–DIY, lots of duct tape, Goodwill costumes, scavenged props and sets. Mostly original work. Written in the dark of night. Explorations of language and gesture mostly abstracted from story. Often consensus decision making creative process, no director. Writer and actor prerogative. Playing was the thing. Then story took root and with that Beginnings, Middles, Ends. Striving to honor the inherent structure of each story on which I work. Now I practice trying to get out of the way and let the story or the structure tell itself to me. Through it all, I have written more than 30 full length plays and screenplays, and have directed/co-directed or choreographed/co-choreographed many plays and performance pieces.
What is your directing style? Does it change per show?
My style is collaborative, receptive, deep reading and listening to determine how best to contribute to what the writer/creator is after. Each show presents its own set of psychological and psychophysical challenges and puzzles to embody. There is not a single right way to do this work–but there sure are wrong turns and miserable outcomes if care is not taken.
I don’t see the material or the solo performer aspect of this show to be hurdles. Dana Block’s Monkey Man is a compelling example of my core belief in the power and humanity of language–in this case verbal and physical storytelling. Monkey Man speaks to a familiar feeling of being visited by a creative storm, swirling with and energy and possibility and demanding to be expressed. The difference is that Dana’s brother was unable to find a relieving expression for the storm or even to come back from that place which now imprisons him. The mystery as to why this happens to some of us and not others is enormously compelling to me. I don’t expect to answer that mystery, but working on this performance with Dana has deepened my appreciation for souls adrift and bereft of love and human connection. Dana’s love for her brother and aching nostalgia for their connection in youth beautifully and hilariously brought to life in Monkey Man.
I am hoping for a production of my play called Black River Falls about my midwestern gothic childhood in Wisconsin. It is not based on Wisconsin Death Trip–the astounding Micheal Lesy book which explores late 19th century photos mostly taken in Black River Falls–but it is very much steeped in the feel of those photos and that unhinged time. There was recently a reading of the play in Kansas City, MO, at Kansas City Rep.
UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is an annual international festival for solo performances held in New York City. Through a variety of one-person shows, the Festival explores and celebrates the uniqueness of the individual. Its audiences see one-person performances from all over the world, experience foreign cultures and traditions, and learn the perspectives of people from various walks of life.