The Door Kinetic Arts Festival Returns, Interview with Eric Simonson on Wisconsin Public Radio

Eric Simonson, dkaf founder 

Eric Simonson, dkaf founder 

Saturday, May 27, 2017, 2:05pm

By Norman Gilliland

The Door Kinetic Arts festival returns from June 11 through 18. Norman Gilliland asked DKAF founder Eric Simonson what to expect from this year's festival:

NG:  You’ve produced an Oscar-winning documentary film about radio playwright Norman Corwin, a Broadway show based on the life of Vince Lombardi, and you’re now writing for the third season of Amazon’s series The Man in the High Castle. What prompted you to launch the Door Kinetic Arts Festival?

ES: I’ve wanted to start a festival in Door County for a long time. I’d been vacationing there with my family since I was a boy, spent summers there working at the Bjorklunden property (owned by my alma mate Lawrence University), and now I own a home there. In the past I found inspiration in Door County. I wrote my play LOMBARDI there, among other things. And I’ve always been interested in all the arts, particularly the moving ones. My career has led me to all sorts of adventures in different mediums, and I wanted to create a place where artists could come together and not only share ideas, but their different disciplines. This is a thinking-outside-the-box festival.

NG: You accepted submissions for plays, film, and dance. How many submissions did you receive and how did you decide which to include?

ES: The plays and dance part of the festival are curated, as are some of the films. I do a lot of research, and go out and see work by artists. I rely on suggestions by other collegues and other artistic directors. Some collaborations are a result of my past artist relationships. Jeffrey Hatcher (playwright of DKAF premiere STRONGMAN’S GHOST) is a longtime friend and collaborator. Some people/groups, like dance company Lucky Plush, are completely new to me. We go over a hundred submissions for films this year, which is a little low, but we’re a young company — this is only our second year and our first accepting submissions. We expect that number to grow. What I found interesting in looking over this years submissions is that filmmakers really targeted our festival for what it is. We got quite a few films which dealt with art and dance. Other films I drew from Academy Award nomination screenings. Short subject films don’t get seen by the general public often, and these are some of the world’s best.

NG: This is the second year of the festival. Any changes from last year?

ES: Lots more outreach. Lucky Plush is doing several workshops in the Door County area. We’re reaching out to the local arts organizations to come and join in the festival. We have a cadre of interns this year who will not only help with the festival, but participate in the Bjorklunden seminar I’m teaching (called THE GREAT SYNTHESIS). There are lots more events and parties this year. We have the New York Times Spirits Critic coming out to do a series of presentations on cocktails. Yum. We’re really leaning on the “festival” part of DKAF this year. Every year we commission and premiere a new short film. This year’s is by Harry Lennix (actor from THE BLACK LIST). A commissioned film is a highlight of the festival, and Harry will be around to present. Mark Clements, Artistic Director of Milwaukee Rep, is developing a play this year. This is a relationship we hope will continue. 

NG: It’s taking place at Björklunden, a Lawrence University facility. What’s the connection with Lawrence?

ES: I’m a Lawrence University grad and I spent college summers working at Bjorklunden. More recently I taught seminars there. Bjorklunden, owned by L.U., partly inspired me to create this festival. They’ve been an awesome partner and we couldn’t do this without them.

NG: What are the plays like?

ES: ONE HOUSE OVER, by Catherine Trieschmann, is a play that deals with a lot of issues like immigration, community and what it means to be living in today’s world. It’s got a lot of humor, but mostly it’s just a very real snapshot of the world today and what people need to do just to get by and hold on to their identity. Jeffrey Hatcher’s play, STRONGMAN’S GHOST is a dark comedy about a writer who gets kidnapped by totalitarian ruler. The Writer is forced to write the Leader’s next potboiler, and fact and fiction become intermingled a matter of life and death. Jeffrey wrote the play a year ago but it has never been produced. But we’re going to change that.

NG: Most of the films are documentaries. Does the short format work better for documentaries than it does for faction?

ES: Actually, we have a pretty even split of narrative and documentary. I like both forms and I think they can serve a similar purpose: to effect change people and make them feel and think differently than they had before.
 

NG: What kind of workshops will you have this year?

ES: We’ll have a fight choreography workshop with actor/direct Joe Faust (seen regularly at Peninsula Players); there will be a playwrights workshop with our invited writers. A couple other workshops are yet to be set and may include a dance program, a musical theatrr workshop and a discussion with harry Lennix. 
 

NG: What’s the Grand Synthesis Seminar?

ES: That’s something I started last year. I teach it as part of Bjorklunden’s education seminars. The class stands out as something unique to the festival. Day to day its schedule aligns with film, dance and theatrr presentations, so students experience all aspects of the festival week. The class touches on the history of arts medium mash-ups. It starts with Richard Wagner and goes all the way up to present day artists Robert Wilson and Robert LePage. I taught this last year. We had a lot of fun. This year will be even better.
 

NG: What sort of dance component does DKAF have?

ES: That’s Lucky Plush from Chicago, an extraordinarily innovative dance troupe that has a very specific kind of theatricality. They’re young and up and coming; a jewel in the crown of Chicago arts. They’re interesting, witty, brave and, yes, kinetic!
 

NG: How does putting on a festival like DKAF help you with your other work?

ES: Last year, our first year, I came away inspired and ready to get on with the next creation. I think other participants felt the same. Which is why I’m doing this. I want our audiences to be inspired as well. I want them to experience all the possibilities there are out there in the artistic firmament.