Go Deeper

For This, For Theater: A Conversation with Mark Kennedy

Posted July 30th, 2012
In rehearsal for “Othello, Desdemona, and Iago Walk into a Bar.” Photo by Kate Raines.

“Theater should be ephemeral,” says Mark Kennedy, director of the 2012 Philly Fringe show Othello, Desdemona, and Iago Walk into a Bar. “Shows happen and they’re gone but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make projects and learn from them. It has to be over for it to mean something.”

The ephemeral nature of performance underlies the ad hoc theater group—called [ad hoc theatre project]—that Mark has assembled to produce his contribution to this year’s Fringe. And what he hopes to learn is something about reconnecting the soul and body, by placing Othello in a go-go bar.

“[Actress] Meredith [Sonnen] named it. I asked, what would the punch line be? And that’s what we’re trying to figure out. The play is happening during happy hour—people can order food, it’s a go-go bar, and that’s included in the language of the play. It brings up the consideration of sex objects, black men in that space, the soul. There are a lot of ways that the space itself resonates,” Mark says.

Othello, Mark argues, “is about what happens when you hate yourself, and you can’t figure out how to love yourself. This interpretation says how he’s like that the whole time. I wanted to explore it in relation to the idea of the body and soul as separate.”

After the jump: Schroedinger’s rapist, the Trestle Inn, and ad hocing [ad hoc].

“I believe your soul is some function or experience of the body—having this conversation, our souls are brought out in reaction to each other,” Mark says.

Mark attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., where he explored some of the same questions in course work.

“One class was on the philosophy of Shakespeare and Descartes, and skepticism. We spent half the class on Othello and the Cartesian idea of the body as separate from the soul. Othello thinks he has a perfect soul but an awful, disgusting body. This philosophy class was about the ramifications of that logic. If you have a perfect soul but can’t see it in yourself, it’s a recipe for tragedy—and we all do it, use people as a mirror to reflect our soul back to ourselves.”

As an example, Mark offers the idea of Schroedinger’s rapist.

“It is a woman explaining to men that late at night, men both are and are not rapists. I didn’t realize how pervasive it was to day to day experience. Louis CK [following the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy] admitted he hadn’t known that rape culture was such a part of everyday life,” says Mark.


“We’ve grown up in a culture where [women] are expected to defend themselves. You’re treated for your body more frequently than for your soul. That is the number one way in which you interact with people. So how do you know who you are? You see it in others’ responses to you,” Mark says.

“In some of our workshops, we inverted the genders of catcalling. We did a male fantasy version of what would happen if women actually positively responded: ‘You go away; you, I’ll kiss your neck; you, slap me.'”

[ad hoc] came together in the wake of the 2011 Philly Fringe, where Mark presented his very well-received one-man play Checkers, which reinterpreted Ivona, Princess of Burgundia from the perspective of a character who spends much of the play failing to enter the stage.

“I was finishing Checkers, and I was drained,” Mark says. But Kate Raines, who is also contributing visuals to Othello, Desdemona, and Iago Walk into a Bar, won last year’s Philly Fringe photo contest, and a free entry into the 2012 Philly Fringe. With that—what Mark says he’s considered a “mini-grant”—he felt he should welcome what he called one of a series of little gifts.

The name [ad hoc] itself came about when he sought the rights to direct Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio last fall.

“I wanted to buy the rights, but Samuel French needed a company name to sell them, so I named it [ad hoc] with brackets. But I also decided that if I was to make this theater company, I should really commit” to the kind of occasional, ephemeral experiences that inhere in the nature of theater. At the same time, he did not particularly want to organize those experiences beyond the shows themselves.

“With [ad hoc], I want to gain a little legitimacy, but don’t want it to be a 501(c)3 company with a mission. I want to deal what’s in the room. The show is in the Trestle Inn because that’s the space we have, and will thus be about the Trestle Inn,” Mark says. Despite being at a go-go bar during happy hour, or perhaps more aptly, because of it, Mark expects audiences to embrace the show.

Mark Kennedy explains the show.

“If you do it right—and we live in a lot of noise—people will be invested.”

Othello, Desdemona, and Iago Walk into a Bar runs every night from September 8 through September 23 at the Trestle Inn, 339 N. 11th Street, Eraserhood. All shows 6:00 pm, $15.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo by Kate Raines.