Playwright Kevin Broccoli is atypical in a couple respects. For one, he seems to have boundless energy to devote to limitless projects, and works at a pace that I would only expect a toddler on espresso to keep up with (unlike a toddler on espresso, though, his work is actually produced to more acclaim than on a kitchen fridge). But what strikes me the most about him is that, unlike many young theater artists in the Ocean State (Kevin recently just turned 30), he has no plans to shove off for brighter lights and bigger cities.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” says the Johnston resident, who was recently named playwright-in-residence for the current season at Mixed Magic Theatre. “I’ve made a home here, I like it here and I’m doing well here. But I still have people say to me, ‘Oh, when are you moving to New York?’ That seems to be the default expression, especially in the arts. And people wonder why we don’t have a lot of young professionals in the area – we’re telling them to move!”
For Kevin’s part, for that reason, he says he’s “pretty militant” about working to carve out a space for collaboration in community theater in the area, hoping to create enough opportunities to help combat the city’s creative brain drain. And by all accounts, that space is thriving. Rhode Island Theater Alliance, formed in 2011 by Epic, Mixed Magic and Contemporary Theater Company, is one example of how some of these artists have banded together to turn their shoestring budgets and youthful energy into larger creative forces.
The trio of groups hit it off right away, said Kevin, but decided to formalize their collaborative arrangement in an effort to draw more attention and resources. Since then, he says, they’ve been sharing ideas (and actors), making sure their seasons complement rather than cannibalize each other, and even mounting shows from one theater with the intent of taking them to another’s space (and audience).“We need to do everything humanly possible to show a 22-year-old kid graduating from a local college with a theater degree that there are opportunities around here,” he says.
He adds that he knows it’s not realistic for that same 22-year-old to make a living doing theater exclusively, but that a hard worker who’s willing to put in hours at a day job can make time for his art in the off hours – provided that someone has worked to make that possible. And striking that balance is something he knows more than a little bit about, too: he works full time as the fiction specialist at the Mohr Library in Johnston, buying books and staffing the circulation desk. “I’m very, very lucky, because I have a job that I like and doesn’t leave me feeling emotionally dejected at the end of the day, and so I can write. And I’m also a night owl. Staying up until 3am is a regular night for me,” he says.
Characteristically, Kevin has a lot on his plate these days. In the fall, he had two shows up and running at the same time: The Diner and Mr. Stone, an original two-hander focusing on a father-daughter relationship set in a local diner, at Mixed Magic; and The Visit, which he adapted from the original by Friedrich Durrenmatt, a darkly comic tragedy about wealthy benefactor with cruel intentions. In February of 2015, he’ll be organizing a ten-reading cycle of August Wilson plays for Mixed Magic as part of his residency (“It’ll be a great opportunity for theater lovers to see all of these readings,” he says, recalling how he felt after seeing The Henriad produced by Trinity Repertory Company), as well as getting another new work to workshop level for the group.
And then there are his ever-present side projects: the “one show season” he just finished writing, where he wrote five plays in a week with the idea that they would comprise a cohesive season – for instance. One of the plays has already been picked up for production by a company run by a friend in the Midwest, and he’s hoping that some of the other plays can find a home locally, as well.
Although he’s definitely one of the hardest working people in the local theater community, it can be said that he’s clearly having a good time doing it. With all the sharp wit and the affinity for the absurd that you’d find in a character penned by Ayckbourn, Kevin has more than a few other tricks up his sleeve – he’ll produce an all-pug production of Hamlet next year, a project that began as a satirical stunt but that garnered national attention from the likes of Good Morning America and BuzzFeed.
Not bad for a Johnston boy.