HEIDI SCHOENENBERGER: What is your first remembered moment of theater and what impact did that moment have on your career in retrospect?
FINEGAN KRUCKEMEYER: I was nine years old, and Adelaide has the Adelaide Fringe Festival every year. There was a French company called Theatre Velo and they brought a show called The Postman. It’s just this incredibly beautiful work and a naughty postman who does what a postman shouldn’t do unleashes this huge, amazing expanding universe. It was just so full of fruition to my child mind—anything was possible and I think that’s why it became so indelible a part of my theatrical memory. For me, it was my epiphanous moment. From that time I knew theatre would be a love of mine, whether as a maker or a see-er.
What it did do pragmatically was make me fall in love with theatre and a few months later I started going to a youth theatre company. I stayed at that youth theatre, Urban Myth Theatre of Youth, for fourteen years, and when I was fifteen I joined the board, and when I was seventeen I started teaching there, and they gave me my first commission when I was nineteen. I think the seeing of beautiful work just before I started led to the decision to start.
What is a moment in your life that has lit a fire for your career, or inspired movement in what you were doing?
I’ve been helped all the way through my career by very generous people at different points.
When I was twenty-two I was approached by a director of work for adults who commissioned me to adapt Brecht’s Drums in the Night for the State Theatre Company in South Australia. So a real big jump from commissions I’ve been doing to date. His name’s Chris Drummondand that validation of being offered a commission that large for an audience of people who are absolutely senior to me in terms of their theatrical history in the context of the State theatre, and alongside Brecht…to play with language… It was a sense of permission that allowed me to commit to language in that way for the work I’ve done since then. That was great.
I had a show in Adelaide years ago at ASSITEJ, the World’s Children Theatre Festival and Congress, which is held every three years, and an English producer from Leeds, Tutti Frutti Productions, saw the work and asked if I would write one for her company, so that was my first international commission.
At the same conference I met Kim Peter Kovac, who’s a countryman of yours from the Kennedy Center in Washington, and I was speaking with him about theatre and asked him what shows he liked. He named a lot of TYA shows, and I said ‘Yeah, but what real theatre?’ because I thought at the time, that you made it when you’re working in adult theatre. He said, ‘No I’m only really interested in kid’s theatre.’ That was a huge validation to know that a grown adult, somebody at a high point in his career, could commit to this industry even if they weren’t a child themselves and I went, ‘Well that’s what I want to do.’ So, that’s what I have been doing.
So probably those three, as people offering things to me, without knowing it, that really changed my whole sense of what I was allowed to be doing, of what I could do.
Where does your inspiration for your writing come from?
I write from my home and I write a number of treatments usually- Those ideas, I don’t know where they turn up. Usually there are communities which are journeyed away from and then returned to. That might be one thing that resounds throughout my work because I live in this small city with a beautiful community which is very symbiotic and caring, and I love that very much. I live in an island that has the seasons: it’s very temperate, and there’s snow on the mountain in the winter just above our house and then lovely hot summers, and now autumn and all the leaves are changing. The seasons are in my work a lot, and time passing, and what that does. The way that nature is this beautiful clock for the way that our lives run. So I can see that turning up throughout different works, but then ultimately I try to write away from what I know, and try to write each story independent of other ones. You don’t want them blurring too much. I try to think of a place I haven’t really gone to before, a story I haven’t told yet and that becomes my next commission. So it’s writing to the negative, to that as yet nonexistent thing as much as to the positive, that thing that I would want to put in the work.
Do you have any advice for emerging leaders in the field of TYA?
I love that you articulate leaders and leadership. Obviously part of art making is a very insular process where it’s just the idea and ourselves and whatever medium we’re in, and we form that relationship. And the other part is how the art is put across to people and the worth that it has when shared. Because art really only functions, I think, when it’s a shared thing- that’s when it’s doing its job. And there’s a leadership to that, I think there is a power to that which we have to acknowledge. So own that without getting too self-congratulatory about it, but know that you’re working for someone who isn’t you, and even who isn’t necessarily a community of artists. Make work to do something, whatever that cause and effect is.
Don’t presume too much about your audience that allows you to simplify your art. Challenge them. If you’re dealing with children, play to the top of what you think they’re capable of taking in and hold them to that, and they’ll hold you to that and it will become the most exciting conversation.
Think internationally. Particularly in our field I think it’s so possible to do. There’s such a collegial network of people in TYA around the world if you can’t find the opportunities or the points of inspiration you need to in your immediate community. You can go off and find that and approach people and say you want to learn because people always are happy to share in this industry.
At the same time know where your roots are and celebrate that as well because we need to feel grounded when we make art. Otherwise we become that flighty all-assuming artist who maybe needs a bit of a rock to stand on.
Try not to make again the thing you’ve made already. If elementally a lot of it is the same, that there be something new every time, something that makes you a little nervous, a little furtive about it. I think that’s such an exciting feeling to feel.
What personality traits contribute to success in this field?
An empathetic quality is probably the thing that I can think of in most of the people that I admire in TYA. That they will listen to others ideas, they’ll care about a child audience, but they’ll care about them enough that they won’t pander to them or just, you know, be afraid to push them. I think empathy is a quality that every human should aspire to. It’s not necessarily a thing we have, but it’s a thing we aspire to and I think that’s more valid than saying you have to have it, because that’s a very presumptuous statement. And don’t make presumptions. There’s so many bandied in our field about what children can deal with, what artists can write and make, and they’ve got to be done away with before you get to the really brave work because all theater is allegory and the reach of the picture we make, audiences will find in it what they will.
How has TYA/USA Membership helped you in your career?
So much of my work currently is occurring in the states. I think 90% of my commissions are American right now and that’s because of this network of people that I’ve met. It’s invaluable, the amount of opportunity I’ve been given. I look at every part of my working practice at the moment, and there’s an American role being played. I look at what I’m currently sitting down to write and there’s an American audience who will be the first ones to see it. I look at where I’m spending a quarter of my year each year and it’s in America. So, more so than anywhere else except for the place I’m in currently, USA is it and TYA/USA were the ones that invited me to do the speech that I did last year at the One Theatre World Conference. From that came so many opportunities and my friendship with David Kilpatrick led to that. It was a huge, huge thing. It means a lot.
Finegan Kruckemeyer has had 70 commissioned plays performed on five continents, and was an inaugural recipient of the Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship. In 2014, 18 works are presented in seven countries. His plays have been in: over 50 Australian/international festivals; five UK national tours; six US national tours; and at the Sydney Opera House (five), NYC’s New Victory Theater (three), Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and Shanghai’s Malan Flower Theatre. Finegan’s works have received at least one award each year since 2004. He was Keynote Speaker at the 2013 One Theatre World North American Conference, with previous presentations in nine countries, essays published, and plays studied at various US universities.