In Witold Gombrowicz’s classic absurdist play fairytale, Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, a plot erupts to kill Ivona. Every time Checkers, a servant in the tale, enters a room, he is immediately ordered out of it. A minor character in the Gombrowicz’s story, Checkers is given the lead, and only, role in Mark Kennedy’s eponymous show; for the 2011 Philly Fringe.
Mark always imagined a back story for Checkers following his experience with the original work as an undergraduate at Whitman College. In his own piece, he explores Checkers’s own psyche and Checkers learns how to be his own master.
Earlier this summer we learned that Mark would be Ben Franklin if he were a Founding Father (positive!), that he had to look up Civil War Sesquicentennial on Wikipedia (negative!, Sorry, Mark) and that he’s Canadian (I will let you, the reader decide), but you can also find him doing all kinds of things in the Philadelphia theater community. He’s been an assistant director for Shakespeare in Clark Park, Theatre Horizon, and Azuka Theatre Company. He’s working with New Paradise Laboratories’ Extremely Public Displays of Privacy (part of both the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe this year) and he works front of house for 1812 Productions and the Arden Theatre Company.
So, how is Checkers different for him? Art mirrors life in his piece, where he steps up his game as an original artist and storyteller.
“Checkers represents my emergence as an artist to the Philadelphia theater community,” Mark says. “I’ve worked for two years as an apprentice or an assistant.”
As part of getting his feet wet in Philly theater, he ran sound for Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Chekhov Lizardbrain. He later traveled with the show, and found himself thinking seriously about Checkers on his way home from Poland with the troupe last fall. I asked Mark what he took from working with Pig Iron, expecting an answer about specifics in technical theater or movement-based clown pieces. His answer, instead, surprised me. “What I really learned from them,” he said with earnest, “is that anyone can do it. If you believe in a piece, you can put it together.”
Mark Kennedy’s Checkers runs September 7 through 11 at at the Fleisher Arts Memorial Sanctuary, 719 Catherine Street, Queen Village. Times vary, $15.
–Jennifer Leah Peck