Theatre students in Rochester, NY, are cutting their teeth on a world-premiere collection of short comic pieces — including eight songs — by two-time Tony Award winner Greg Kotis (Urinetown) in Geva Theatre Center’s Conservatory program, which exposes college-age artists to working professionals in an atmosphere of new work.
Sean Daniels, Geva’s director of artistic engagement and a Geva artist-at-large, directs Kotis’ All Your Questions Answered, playing Sept. 19-Oct. 13 in the Fielding Nextstage at Geva, Rochester’s major resident theatre. Kotis, also known for the musical Yeast Nation and the play Pig Farm, was in residence in August at the top of rehearsals and is in town for opening week. The show is billed as “an evening of short, silly, subversive, satirical plays and charming, musical numbers where hijinks ensue.”
The first five performances of the run are part of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, which includes 360 performances at various venues around Rochester. (The Fringe runs Sept. 19-28. Learn more about the Fringe here.)
Daniels explains by email, “It’s a lot of really charming (and in his Kotis way — subversive) shorts and songs that Greg’s been putting together.” The collection is “half older material,” including work that premiered at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company in Atlanta in 2002 and shorter pieces that debuted at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2008 and 2010. “And since then Greg has written a ton of new material to help to tie it all together,” Daniels said. “Greg is one of the few writers today writing smart satirical comedy.”
The admiration is mutual. Kotis posted this note on Facebook: “Having a production of a new piece is a miracle sort of thing, particularly when guided by the expert comic hand of Sean Daniels. What’s not to giggle?” (This just in: Daniels is attached to an untitled musical by Kotis and Hollmann about corporate greed, fast food and zombies. Here’s a short interview with Kotis & Hollmann that I wrote up for Playbill.com in June 2002, around the time of their Tony nominations for Urinetown.)
Six of the eight songs in the piece are new, written specifically for this premiere, Daniels says, adding, “One of my favorites — he wrote a song where the president in 2056 sings a songs about global warming. It’s pretty delightful. [And he wrote] a song called ‘The Middle of the Show’ that actually takes place exactly at the middle of the show. Pretty charming.”
In his director’s notes for the project, Daniels writes of Kotis, “What I adore about him is that he wants to tackle issues large in scope, but do it through the lens of comedy. He wants to write and create comedy with the same rigor and thought you would put into a more ‘weighty drama.’ The math of how jokes work. When you feel uncomfortable, because he’s gotten too close to the truth, he then has someone fall over a couch or break into song to let you off the hook….or perhaps drive his point home even more — it’s up to you to decide. This is full-on court-jester comedy. He is the Andy Kaufman of the American Theatre. …When you find those people you have to scoop them up, encourage them, and most importantly: produce them.
“So, eight months ago, I approached my friend Greg and said, ‘How about we collect your best short plays that you and I have done together, you write some more great short plays, we add in a bunch of songs and see if we can’t put together an evening that tackles, well, everything.’ Greg responded, ‘Yes, we’ll do an evening that answers ALL the questions’ — and a show, and a title was born.
“…I can’t wait until it’s done everywhere and we get to say, ‘Oh, yeah, that show, it was our idea and it started here.’ I love that our audiences will see it first and our town will play a major role in birthing a new comedy to the stage.”
The cast of All Your Questions Answered includes Sarah Melnyk, John Michael Cummings, Kara Dudley, Brian Ziemann, James St. Jean, Nicole Cupo, Teresa Campbell, Stella Kammell and John Amir-Fazli. “They are from three local colleges,” Daniels says. “This is our program where local Rochester students get to work with national professionals on premiering new work.”
The creative team of All Your Questions Answered includes music director Don Kot, costume designer Amanda Doherty, lighting designer Emily Stork and dramaturg Becca Poccia.
Kotis won the Tony Award for Best Book and Best Score (sharing the latter with composer Greg Hollmann) for Urinetown. His works include Michael von Siebenburg Melts Through the Floorboards, The Boring-est Poem in the World, Yeast Nation (book/lyrics), The Truth About Santa, Pig Farm, Eat the Taste and Jobey and Katherine. His work has been produced and developed at Theatre of Louisville, American Conservatory Theater, American Theater Company, the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Conference, New York Stage and Film, Perseverance Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, Soho Rep, South Coast Rep, The Old Globe, Manhattan Theatre Club and elsewhere. Kotis is a member of the Neo-Futurists, the Cardiff Giant Theater Company, ASCAP, the Dramatists Guild, and was a 2010-11 Lark Play Development Center Playwrights Workshop Fellow. He grew up in Wellfleet, MA, and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife Ayun Halliday, his daughter India, and his son Milo.
Director Daniels spent five years at the Tony Award-winning Actors Theatre of Louisville as the theatre’s associate artistic director (directing a record 17 productions in four years, including five in the Humana Festival of New American Plays). Daniels is the former associate artistic director/resident director of the California Shakespeare Theater and before that spent a decade as the artistic director/co-founder of Dad’s Garage Theatre Company in Atlanta. He has developed new plays with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Pulitzer Prize finalist Kristoffer Diaz, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Deborah Stein, Deborah Zoe Laufer, James McLindon, Carly Mensch, Dan Dietz, Jordan Harrison, Steve Yockey Lauren Gunderson, Jake Jeppson and others.
This season at Geva, Daniels is also directing The 39 Steps, Mat Smart’s Tinkers to Evers to Chance and the world premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Informed Consent.
Currently on the Geva Mainstage is a revival of the country-fried musical revue Pump Boys and Dinettes featuring Farah Alvin, Travis Artz, Nathan Dame, Johnny Kinnaird, Erin Maguire and Jonathan Spivey. Artistic director Mark Cuddy directs.
Follow Kenneth Jones on Twitter @ByKennethJones.