'Agnes Under the Big Top' author readies world premiere

'Agnes Under the Big Top' author readies world premiere
Photo by Rich Ryan

Since 1994, Aditi Brennan Kapil has been a fixture at Minneapolis's Mixed Blood Theatre. She has performed in, written, and directed numerous pieces for the there, including Ivey Award winners Ruined and Messy Utopia. For her latest project, Kapil finds herself as both the playwright and director of Agnes Under the Big Top. The piece explores immigrant experience in the United States through the eyes of a number of recent arrivals, from a Liberian homecare worker to a Bulgarian ringmaster and his wife. Agnes Under the Big Top will have its world premiere this week at the Cedar-Riverside theater.

City Pages:  How has the play changed on its way to the premiere?

Aditi Brennan Kapil: Oddly enough, it's close to the original impulse, which had to do with intersecting lives, a collision course, and a magical element. That said, the first draft of the play two and a half years ago has very little to do with the current draft onstage. I'm not even sure that more than a couple of pages of text remain intact. A couple of characters have been cut entirely, others have evolved so far beyond their original iterations that it would be hard to recognize them.

CP: Are there extra challenges when directing your own work? What about the benefits?

ABK: The challenge in not having a separate director is not having that other set of eyes; the partner who challenges you and points out your flaws and gaps. I addressed that by engaging my brilliant artistic team--assistant director Rebekah Rentzel; designers Katharine Horowitz, Jeff Bartlett, Andrea Heilman, Amber Brown; and stage manager Ashley Warren--as partners in storytelling.

The benefit has been that the playwright in me can fix a scene when the director in me tells me to, without a whole lot of fuss or confusion.

CP: Were you able to craft the script with the cast members in mind? If so, how did that affect the development of the characters and the story?

ABK: I traveled far and wide and saw many, many wonderful actors play these roles in many different locations and languages. I didn't write for any specific actors, but when I finally got to select my own cast for the world premiere, I had an extremely clear idea of what I needed. My cast is phenomenal: Sha Cage, Nat Fuller, Linda Kelsey, Virginia Burke, Ankit Dogra, Nick Demeris. What I will say is that since they have joined the process, their integrity and intelligence as artists and the questions they asked has led to further refining of the script. They're amazing.

CP: You've found a creative home with Mixed Blood. How important has the theater been to your development, and have you found that your own artistic ideas and influences have "rubbed off" on the theater?

ABK: Mixed Blood provided me with a place to come of age as an artist; to make mistakes, stumble, learn, realize what I believe art is meant to be, and to push myself to stretch and grow into making that kind of art.

If I've rubbed off in any way on the theater, it's probably as a result of Jack Reuler embracing my work, which is frequently quite different from his own, and making room for it on the Mixed Blood stage.

Agnes Under the Big Top debuts Friday, February 18. For tickets and more info, visit www.mixedblood.com.

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