Q: Why do you feel this story needs to be told right now?
CARLY L. BODNAR: Our country is so divided on so many issues at this moment in time. This story of a young man who dies of a heroin overdose is a story that crosses party lines. So many people that I personally know have dealt with opiate addiction in their families. It is a story about romantic and familial love, dealing with the death of a loved one and what you could and could not control. This story is not only about addiction and death, but also toxic masculinity and how feminism fits into that world.
Q: What's the approach to telling this story?
CARLY L. BODNAR: This story is so close to my roots, growing up in a struggling town affected by the lack of high paying jobs and rising drug use. While I have a deep understanding of where this story takes place it is a story that is taking place in towns all over this country. My approach is one of understanding and compassion for those who are dealing with substance abuse, economic instability, and an ever changing world that these characters may not fully understand. Whenever I work on a piece I am always interested in exploring the human aspect of the characters and the deeper emotional depths. While this story is one of death there are also moments of levity. It was important to find these moments in the piece as well as looking at the grieving process. The lights and sound were key in telling the story and creating each space. This piece lives in three different worlds; the day Jimmy dies, the day of Jimmy's funeral and Jimmy's memories. I knew I wanted to use the sound and lights to differentiate each timeline.
Q: What's the process in getting this story onto it's feet?
CARLY L. BODNAR: For me it is always a process of play. I am interested in letting the actors explore the text and the space in a very organic way. This piece lives in three different worlds; the day Jimmy dies, the day of Jimmy's funeral and Jimmy's memories. All of the actors are living moment to moment while jumping between each timeline. We talked a lot about the world this play lives in which is small town America and how that differs from a suburban and/or city setting. There is much more emphasis in these towns on family dynamics, stability, nostalgia, and gender roles.
Q: Any additional thoughts on some of the themes of the play? Whether that's addiction, toxic masculinity, class warfare, clash between conservatives and liberals, etc
CARLY L. BODNAR: Working on the piece we found layers of addiction outside of opiate use. The exploration of what we use as a society to cope with the things that afflict us such as caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs and pot use are heavy themes throughout the piece. The piece also touches on a deep passive aggressiveness and what is "acceptable to talk about". My own experience in my small town upbringing was it is not polite to talk about politics or religion. There is a level of propriety that must be upheld to keep the status quo. The character of Christina has experienced the city living and been awakened to larger, more global ideas. She comes back to her small town home and is confronted with notions of a simpler time. Some characters try to grasp these larger ideas while others dismiss them as the notions of an outsider. There is a level of conformity that must happen in this society. There is a specific way to life and any change or mention of change disrupts the status quo these characters have created for themselves. In dealing with the death of their best friend, brother and boyfriend, the status quo has been shifted and all three characters are asking the universal question of why in their own ways; Christina with her larger worldly ideas and outside prospective of this town; Phil who loves his home, but realizes that it may not be what he seems and Scott who is engrained in this society that champions specific gender roles, specifically "men being men".
Ask any of my friends, and they'll tell you this is true: although my primary writing medium is playwriting, although I've had staged readings of ten-minute and full-length plays I've written, although I have an MFA in Playwriting, for the last 8 years I've felt a teensy bit disingenuous calling myself a playwright, because there was that one final element of the identity that eluded me - the actual production. The full-on, off-book, blocked out, lights/set/sound/costumes whole shebang. Maybe I was a person who wrote plays, but until a play of mine was fully produced, I didn't feel I fully earned the moniker of playwright.
That changed as of last night, with the opening of ReVamp Collective's production of my play Jimmy Gorski is Dead. For the first time, I saw the complete journey of my work from the page to the stage, and thanks to the amazing director, actors, designers and other production team members, it's been an incredible journey from start to finish.
I knew I was in good hands with Carly Bodnar at the helm. As a person, I've known her for nearly two decades, and have watched her grow into a strong, smart, talented woman. As a director and collaborator, I've worked with her enough to trust her implicitly, and know that I was putting my baby in very capable hands.
From the first read-through, I knew that we had a fantastic cast who would bring these characters, who really do feel like my children, to life in a way that was honest, sympathetic and believable. Watching them work and play together, discovering who these characters are and building their relationships, was so much fun. Jimmy Gorski is Dead might not be the most light-hearted play, but there was lots of levity in the room, whether it was Richie (Jimmy) and Arlen (Phil) improvising on guitar or or Carly offering line notes on how to best say "Suck a bag of dicks, Phil." I'm pretty sure that no matter how many productions of Jimmy Gorski is Dead there are (fingers crossed there are more!) I will always see these actors as the characters.
Throughout tech rehearsal, as Raven Buck's set was coming together, and Amanda Jensen and Damien Figueras were adding their beautiful lights and sounds, it felt almost surreal that this whole world was being created because of words I wrote. As a writer, you always have a certain image in your mind of what the world of the play looks like, but trust me, the world that these brilliant designers created is way better than anything I could have imagined.
Of course, the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) part of the process is getting the finished product in front of audience. We've only had a few audiences so far, but I already feel like the hours and hours hunched over my computer, and the hundreds (thousands?) of trees I've killed in the process of re-writes were worth it (I do owe the world a fuck-ton of trees). While I know reactions will vary, my hope is that everyone leaves the theater having connected with something in the piece, and they felt it was 90 minutes well-spent. And if not, hopefully I'll get 'em with the next one. And there will be a next one. After all, I am a real playwright now.
-Kristen M. Scatton
Q: Why do you feel this story needs to be told right now? This story is at once timely and timeless. The process of grieving a loved one, worrying about what the future holds, the decision to stay where everything is familiar versus venturing into the wider world...these are all part of the human experience. But the opioid epidemic, fueled by the over-prescribing of opioid-based painkillers, is something that has been growing in the U.S. for years, to the point where it is affecting people of all genders, races, ages, economic backgrounds and geographic locations. The first step in getting people to address this as the public health crisis it is, is to make people understand that this can happen to anyone, with devastating consequences.
Q: What's the approach to telling this story? In a lot of ways, this was an easy to play to write, since it's rooted in my own personal experiences of losing a loved one suddenly, and living in a small town that felt familiar and comforting, yet horribly restrictive at the same time. I wanted those experiences to inform the characters, the setting, and the overall tone of the play. I also wanted to challenge myself to grow as a playwright, which was the impetus for the play's structure, which shifts back and forth in time, and is almost like two plays happening simultaneously. We see Jimmy alive, as well as the aftermath of his death, so how do those two storylines inform each other? What clues do we get, and how do they build tension? At its core, it's a pretty straightforward story, but I didn't want to tell it in a straightforward way.
Q: What's the process in getting this story onto its feet? My favorite part of being a playwright is getting into the room with the director and actors and seeing the words take on a life of their own. There really is a certain magic that happens when the ink on the page becomes actual dialogue and actions. And nine times out of ten, the actors and director make it so much better than I could have ever imagined. That's the beauty of collaborative arts - it takes a little bit of the pressure off, because I know as long as there are smart actors and smart directors working on a piece, they will find layers and moments and emotions that enhance it so much. In this particular case, working with Carly as the director is great because we've known each other forever, so I trust her completely, and feel very open and comfortable working with her. Since we're from the same hometown, she also inherently understands the world this play is set in, which is also a huge benefit.
Q Any additional thoughts on some of the themes of the play? Whether that's addiction, toxic masculinity, class warfare, clash between conservatives and liberals, etc. One of the important functions of theatre, in my opinion, is to expose us to the unfamiliar, and show us what we still have in common as human beings despite our differences. This play is set in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, which is only two hours and 100 miles north of Philadelphia, but could very well be on a different planet. This disconnect became more evident than ever to me during the election last year, when everyone in my Philadelphia circles thought there was no way Trump would win, while two hours north in my hometown, I saw street after street where every lawn had a "Trump/Pence" sign on it. This play doesn't deal with the election, but I hope it demonstrates the different mentality and culture of this place, while also shining a light on what emotions and experiences are universal to all of us.
First read-through of our spring production, Jimmy Gorski is Dead was a success!
What a wonderful group of artists to be working on such a charged piece.
In line with our mission to create inspiring work that investigates societal constructs and to cultivate theatrical discourse, this production shines a heavy light on the horrific increase in drug abuse and overdose in the past decade.
Words from the playwright, Kristen M. Scatton: “This play was originally written as a way to express the grieving process after a sudden loss in my own life. It has since evolved into a play that also touches on several current social issues including the U.S. heroin epidemic and its origins in prescription drug use, toxic masculinity, and the clash between conservative and liberal values. I view it as an "emotional autopsy," a study of the incidents and decisions in a person's life that lead them to a particular moment - in this case, an irrevocably tragic decision.”
We are thrilled to be performing this world-premiere at a time when these topics could not be more important. Overdose knows no age, no party lines, no economic status. Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, and it has more than doubled in the past decade among young adults aged 18 to 25 years. Here in Philadelphia, the opioid epidemic has hit horrific heights. There is an area just north of the Kensington area that is home to 75 to 125 addicts at any given time and is known as the East Coast's largest heroin market.
Most addicts do not start out with the knowledge they are heading into a rabbit hole. But by the time they are seeking out that next high, to recreate the feeling of escape they so desperately desire, they are already going into hiding. But for most as they use hide, they work to cover their tracks. Whether their loved ones see the tracks or not, whether they sense the hiding or not, they are still yearning to only see the pure in the one in their life who is traveling down this rabbit hole. Until they get left behind,
This show explores both the story of someone working to escape and the ones he leaves behind. The people who could sense the hiding, but either turned an eye or didn't look hard enough. The guilt of the survivors and the co-dependents.