Aditi Brennan Kapil is the Playwright-in-Residence at Mixed Blood Theater Company through the National Playwright Residency Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Find out more about her residency experience here , and learn about the impact of the program at large here.
Aditi Kapil is a Playwright-in-Residence at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Aditi has worked at Mixed Blood as a writer, director, and performer and has known Jack Reuler, Mixed Blood’s Founder and Artistic Director, since she was a senior in college. I sat down with both of them to discuss how their relationship has changed as a result of the residency. One of the goals of the residency program is to influence the working environment of theaters, by having playwrights on staff, and I am tracking the impact of the residency over the next three years.
We met at Mixed Blood, a converted firehouse in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, where the theater has existed since 1976. Jack and Aditi converse almost like family members; they don’t hold back, they share ideas, opinions, and even share a bag of Skittles. Their uninhibited communication style makes evident the ease in which they collaborate with each other.
Hayley: You have known each other for a long time. Can you tell me a little bit about your history?
Jack: We are both Macalester alum. When Aditi was a senior I was invited to a senior seminar. We talked afterward, and I immediately cast her in a production of I Remember Mama at Theatre L’Homme Dieu.
Hayley: When did you start producing Aditi’s plays?
Aditi: Wow. If it was 2005, then I haven’t been writing for nearly as long as I think I have.
Hayley: How many plays of Aditi’s have you produced before the residency?
Aditi: What? Count them for me.
Jack: Deaf Duckling, Love Person, Agnes Under The Big Top, and the three in the Trilogy Displaced Hindu Gods (three plays which include Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show, The Chronicles of Kalki, and Shiv).
Aditi: And Accountant Joe.
Jack: You’re right. She was one of five contributors to Messy Utopia in 2007.
Hayley: How do you think that your relationship has changed as a result of this residency?
Aditi: We meet weekly now, as opposed to once every couple of months, which is probably why we’ve upped our arguing quotient and also upped our communication quotient. We started the residency off going into rehearsal for a trilogy of plays that I wrote.
Jack: Literally a week later.
Aditi: The biggest tangible difference that I noticed is: normally as a freelance playwright, I maybe get commissioned—if I’m lucky I get commissioned—and then I have some money to start writing. Inevitably the money runs out at some point, because of the amount of time that I put in, and I have children, and there’s childcare, and all this stuff. And then if it gets produced, I get paid after the fact, right? Probably the busiest time for me is when we’re in rehearsals for the premiere. I mean the writing is on my schedule and it’s stretched out over years. Post-production I’m really not doing anything. I maybe go see the show. But the part that is the most time-consuming and gut-wrenching and sleep-deprived, which is the rehearsal process and the opening of a new play, I usually don’t get paid. And this time, weirdest thing in the world, I’m getting a paycheck.
Jack: I think the residual of that is seen in two new plays we’re doing next year. We’re recognizing that the time that playwrights are the busiest is the time they earn the least, so we are paying the playwrights residency money while we’re rehearsing their plays.
Hayley: That’s great. That’s a shift. So you’ve added money to your budget for that, Jack?
Jack: Well, it hasn’t been approved yet, but in the budget I’ve proposed there’s money for the writers. And it’s in the contracts, at least with one of the writers, and we’ll try to get it in the other one.
Hayley: That’s fantastic! So what other conversations have come up? I know you’ve taken on some other roles in the theater. Could you talk about what those roles are?
Aditi: I am a portion of the literary department. I’m also taking lead on the disability library. There’s a project that Mixed Blood is in the middle of right now that’s creating a library of plays by playwrights with disabilities; I’m the connector between the person who’s building the web presence for it and figuring out the mechanics of how to receive the submissions and get the information sorted.
Hayley: You are also in charge of media relations, right?
Aditi: Right. I’m also currently the media contact for Mixed Blood. I want to be Mixed Blood’s “storyteller,” the person keeping an eye on how we tell our story to the world. In terms of how we talk about ourselves and what we do, in terms of social media, in terms of the language in the press release. Maybe the website doesn’t have to be purely a place to get ticketing information. Maybe it can be a place to tell our story, and to engage in a dialogue with people. I was telling Jack that this is something I would love to get my hands on because that’s what I’m actually good at, storytelling. And he was like, “Okay, you want to be in charge of the press release; we’ll make you the media contact.” So this year—not for the Trilogy, because that would have been weird, but for all the shows after the Trilogy—I’ve been the media contact.
Hayley: How is that working?
Aditi: It’s working very awkwardly at the moment. Probably my biggest concern right now is specifically the media contact portion of this. It’s been problematic for me right now.
Hayley: What’s the problem?
Aditi: The problem is that plenty of the reviewers that I’ve contacted to say, “Hey, do you want to interview someone for this show?” have said, “Why are you calling me? Hi, Aditi.” Because I know them; I have a whole other relationship with them. It’s a relationship that it’s important to me to maintain in a certain way. How Aditi the playwright relates to the local press is one thing. How Mixed Blood relates to the local press is another thing. How I fall in between those things is a question. It’s currently my biggest discomfort. What Jack and I decided at the beginning of the year was to just go for it, full-heart. When we embarked on this we didn’t completely agree about everything. What we ended up deciding was we trust each other, we trust each other to do right by each other, we trust each other to care, we trust each other to be invested in each other, because we have been for a decade. If it’s not working then we adjust. So of all the things that I’m working on this year, I’m still swinging at it, and I’ll keep swinging at it.
Hayley: What about you, Jack? Do you have thoughts about it?
Jack: We’re in the middle of the year. I think that we’ll reassess at the end of the year.
Hayley: Jack, you have produced most of Aditi plays.
Aditi: All of them.
Jack: So far, all of them. There are other commissions from other places that are able to be worked on during this residency.
Hayley: You see Aditi as a playwright whose aesthetic fits Mixed Blood’s mission. What is it about Aditi’s work that makes you say, “Oh, this work is right for our theater”?
Jack: I think that who she is as a person, who she evolved to be as an artist, and the mission of the organization matured together. I actually think that our tastes are so different that they’re complementary. There’s a style of work that I don’t seek out or gravitate to that Aditi writes that allows me to stretch my own boundaries of taste and aesthetics in good ways.
Hayley: Any examples of that?
Jack: Love Person [Love Person is Aditi’s second play. It is a four-part love story in Sanskrit, ASL, and English] I loved that show right from the beginning and I wanted to see it through. I think it’s more about form than content, wouldn’t you say? That’s what you’ve done that’s different from what I’ve done and what I was gravitating toward. And the audiences that I thought we were trying to speak to, I didn’t give them credit for a sophistication that I think we find in the work that Aditi writes.
Hayley: Less traditional in form.
Aditi: Some of it is. I write so many different things.
Jack: We’ve done things that stretch form, but I think in terms of language and intellectual capacity for dealing with things in different ways, it’s just expanded our horizons.
Aditi: I feel like because I came of age as an artist at Mixed Blood, it would be weird if there wasn’t some synchronicity.
Hayley: You guys joke, and you share each others’ Skittles.
Jack: I stole her Skittles.
Aditi: Sharing is a strong word, Hayley.
Hayley: You joke about “arguing well.” What does that mean in practice? How do you “argue well”?
Jack: We start out with differing points of view and eventually Aditi comes to find that I was right.
Aditi: Is that how you perceive it? Cause we’re about to argue “not so well” now.
I don’t know. I don’t even think that we always come up with a solution. At some point, the show opens and that’s that.
Jack: And it isn’t just about shows.
Aditi: It’s that we actually do give a shit. I feel like regardless of how deeply we may disagree—and we do deeply disagree, a lot—
Jack: And on really fundamental things.
Aditi: We come to theater from very different needs and very different aesthetic perspectives, and we feel really strongly about them. Jack has such a strong activist streak. I have such a strong artistic independence streak. When we find a project that pops for both of us, and it works, that’s great. In the meantime, we argue.
Hayley: To get back to the discussion of the residency, Jack, do you have any hopes or desires for how Mixed Blood might change as a result of Aditi being here? And for you, Aditi, do you have any desires to make changes at Mixed Blood?
Hayley: What would you love to see happen?
Aditi: Jack, you start.
Jack: We can talk and argue about the bigger picture things of the organization. How is the purpose being realized? What are we trying to do that’s not going well, artistically and administratively, both. The question is to look at what we do, and then to look at what these thirteen other theaters do. Each of these organizations and cities is doing it quite differently, so I think what we learn collectively and how that manifests into the future will be interesting. I think that we’ll change in good ways by having more heads in the room cogitating on these things. There’s a lot of things that I’ve done in a vacuum that now I can do in a vacuum plus argument.
Hayley: Is there anything that you’re thinking about on your own that you want to bring Aditi into discussions about?
Jack: Just in the last few weeks in our weekly meetings, we’ve gotten back to a focus, in the broadest conversations, on what the next work here might be—in form, content, style, substance. But mostly I ask, “What haven’t you done that you’d like to? What are opportunities that on a commission are limiting, but on this we can just go and let it rip?”
Aditi: The interesting thing about that is that form is so important to me. You accurately diagnosed me as someone who is obsessed with form, but because I want the work I do to have meaning, ultimately, the seed of the idea has to arrive and then I have to find the perfect form to put it in.
Jack: So form follows function? That’s actually true?
Hayley: It’s funny, because you’re the activist, and you’re the independent artist. It’s almost like you’d expect the opposite.
Jack: That’s why they intersect successfully.
Aditi: The thing I’m good at is looking at story and narrative arc and how we communicate. I feel like what I’m doing is I’m trying to carve out a storytelling identity for Mixed Blood as an institution—and I feel uniquely equipped to do this, because I feel like I know Jack so well that I can effectively be a voice for him.
Jack: You don’t know me!
Aditi: I do, I know you so well. I’m trying to act as the dramaturg for the organization. Not necessarily to poke in there and say, “Ahh! Change things!” But to say, “Okay, great. Have you noticed that this is causing this?” “Have you noticed that we’re communicating this kind of story, and maybe what you really mean is this kind of story? But you tell me what you mean. Because I’m not trying to change your story. I’m not trying to take over your story.”
Hayley: Do you have examples?
Jack: Radical Hospitality, and the intention behind it and what I see for the organization is not really what we’re externally communicating effectively. Whether it’s the message that needs to change, or the system or the language. It really hit me the other day how clearly we need to change how we talk about Radical Hospitality. To me, Radical Hospitality is not just about this no-cost admission; it’s about eliminating barriers to people participating in a number of ways. The first of which is demonetizing the theater experience by saying anyone can get in to see any show free of charge, on a first-come, first-served basis. And if you don’t want to do that, there’s a way to pay and guarantee that you’ll get in. And for Aditi, she took that same thing and said, “Tickets are $20 until two hours before the show.”
Aditi: When they’re zero.
Jack: Exactly. Saying the same thing, but completely different. One is saying “Here’s what the system is,” the other is saying “Here’s what we’re trying to do.” And I completely acknowledge that that needs to get cleaned up.
Aditi: It’s one of those things where I get what he’s saying—I love what he’s saying—but you cannot tell a general public that paragraph. I said “If I try to simplify this so that your average patron knows how to come to Mixed Blood, the simplest version is: Tickets are $20. Two hours before the show, they’re free.”
Jack: And I am not with that at all.
Aditi: Of course you’re not with that! So my challenge to him was, “I know you don’t like how that sounds, so give me a sentence—at most a sentence and a half—that explains how people can come to the show.” Because people need to know how to come to the show, and they don’t know how to come to the show after the paragraph that you just said. So I’m dramaturging. I don’t feel like I’m being a playwright taking over; I’m doing this other thing, this weird midwifery thing.
Jack: And I’m with that.
After this interview was completed Jack and Aditi did come up with a way to describe Mixed Blood’s ticket policy that they both agreed upon. “Admission is free on a first come/first serve basis starting two hours before every show. Advanced Reservations online or by phone are $20.”