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Theater In Conversation

Hello Failure, Kristen Kosmas with Heidi Schreck

Photo: Justin Bernhaut.

Heidi Schreck (Rail): I love the title Hello Failure. Where did it come from and did you at any point consider putting a comma after Hello?

Kristen Kosmas: I have to admit I stole this title off the internet. Someone asked me to make a play a couple of years ago and I was feeling like I didn’t know how to do anything, So I said Sure! I’ll make a play! And it’s going to be all about failure! So I Google searched the word (not something I normally do, and not a way I normally write but) and I found all these curious facts and artifacts and websites—one of them is called The Institute of Failure—that one is really beautiful—if it still exists—and one of them was a blog called Hello, Failure with the sub headline “failure is the new success!” I’m not sure I agree with that last part, but I liked the words hello and failure together, the welcoming of it—it seemed sane to be so friendly toward it but I didn’t like the comma! Somehow the comma closes down the phrase for me. I can’t explain it exactly. It’s intuitive.

Rail: Punctuation is a conspicuous element in your plays.

Kosmas: We’re dealing with this in rehearsals. What all these little marks mean, or lack of these little marks. It’s so mysterious in playwriting because punctuation isn’t about grammar—it’s more about rhythm, and patterns of thought, right? And when you’re punctuating dialogues, and monologues it’s according both to how the playwright hears the world, and organizes her own thoughts, and also the character. It can be very hard to decode from one writer to the next.

Rail: Yes, I’ve noticed that the music of any given line is vital to you, and also that your language can buckle under the weight of excessive naturalism.

Kosmas: It also doesn’t work if the formality is over-emphasized. It flattens out, and becomes only about language. And I hope for my plays to be emotional, moving, as well as structural. I think this balance is being sought by a lot of writers of our generation. And how to perform them is mysterious, and difficult, and it’s a thrilling investigation to be part of—as a playwright, and an actor.

Rail: You began your career in Seattle writing brilliant solo pieces for yourself to perform such as blah blah fucking blah, slip and The Scandal. Now all your plays have huge casts—it seems as though you are enjoying putting as many people onstage as possible?

Kosmas: Certainly my world got a lot bigger when I moved to New York. My life is more populated now, so maybe my plays are more populated. I used to love looking at (and being) one person on stage. I still love it but now I really love looking at all the insanity and tenderness that happens between people. And the more people you put on stage, the more insanity! And the more tenderness! Plus, I like sounds a lot. I write by listening a lot. And more voices make greater complexity of sound. And also I like to do things that feel implausible. And also I think I can follow more threads of thinking now, where when I first started writing plays, I could only follow a couple. That’s the other thing—is that when I started writing it’s also true that I was trying to get to know myself. Now I think I’m trying to get to know my world.

Rail: You directed the first workshop of Hello Failure. Now you are collaborating with the wonderful Ken Rus Schmoll, who has directed you several times as an actor. How did that come about?

Kosmas: Ken came to see it when I directed it at Dixon Place, and he came up to me after and said, I think I should direct this play. And I think it should be 400 pages long, and I said, Great! And that was it. I love the things that he makes, and I love working with him and talking with him about plays and theater and performance. Plus, he directs by magic, and this play—being not entirely real, and not entirely unreal—seemed like it would do well to be directed by a wizard.

Rail: Is the play now 400 pages?

Kosmas: No. The play is about...60 pages. Which is somewhere between a little too long and not quite long enough. Which is kind of the same as 400 pages. The arc of the experience would be kind of the same I think.

Rail: Hello Failure is about, among many other things, the loneliness experienced by a group of submariners’ wives. Have you ever visited a submarine and if not would you like to? Are you claustrophobic?

Kosmas: I am claustrophobic! Yes! I wouldn’t really like to go on a submarine! No! Gosh I hadn’t thought about it. Isn’t that funny? But maybe because, right, the wives...They don’t get to go on the boats. But oddly enough, I was curious about what submarines smelled like. Because I thought that must be a very prominent sensual experience for them—the wives—the smell of the submarine on their husbands’ clothes when they came home from being on a mission. But that was all – I never wanted to go on one!

Rail: Critics and even normal people have often referred to you as a poet. You also seem to delight in the way one word engenders another and another until a kind of crazy logic starts to flower and we find ourselves sipping lemonade in some verdant new universe you’ve uncovered. Are you secretly a poet?

Kosmas: Are you? I guess it’s not a secret if critics and even normal people are saying it. No. I think it has to do more with some kind of mental deficiency actually. I have to organize things in very small bits or else I get confused & go crazy. I usually get confused & go crazy anyway and then I write like that. Simple things / crazy things / simple things / crazy things. That’s kind of what my plays are made out of.

Rail: There is a hairdresser character in HF who is based on your real hairdresser, Shlomy. You got your hair cut by him today. How did it turn out?

Kosmas: Well, I feel we should say that the character is inspired by Shlomy, rather than based on him! There are some critical distinctions between them you know. I did get my hair cut by the actual Shlomy today, and if you want to know how it came out, you will just have to come see the show Heidi.

Hello Failure by Kristin Kosmas premieres March 6–22 at Performance Space 122. Tickets: $10-18. Further info:

Kristen Kosmas is a playwright, actor, and solo performer currently living bi-coastally between Seattle and New York City. She has had plays commissioned by the New City Theater in Seattle and by Dixon Place in New York. Her work has also been produced in theaters in NYC, Austin, Boston, and Chicago.

Brooklyn-based playwright and actor Heidi Schreck has known Ms. Kosmas for over a decade and performed in several of her plays. New Georges will produce a workshop of Heidi’s play Creature on March 31st. For more info:

excerpt from Hello Failure, by Kristen Kosmas

Meanwhile, the New Girl has been telling the ladies that she is learning to be a hypnotist.

KAREN: Do you think you could do it to us?

NEW GIRL: I don’t know I guess I could - give it a try. All right you’ll have to -
Everyone just relax, and think of something that will help you relax.

Pause while the New Girl waits for them to relax.

VALESKA: Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom.

Valeska leaves.

NEW GIRL: You’re crazy. You have a crazy life. I mean—Did I say you were crazy? I didn’t mean to say that. If I say something wrong, just incorporate it into the procedure. My mistakes will only make you go deeper into the state of relaxation, which allows you to access your subconscious mind, making it easier for you to take the suggestions I am making, which are in no way against your principles or beliefs, but are perfectly acceptable to you, and even desirable.

You have a crazy life. And you live in a crazy city. But this will not make you crazy. You are not crazy. (In spite of what I said before.)

There’s too much money here. And you will never have any of it. No one will understand you, and you will never have any money, and you won’t care anymore.

You can be at parties,
where other people are there understanding each other and being understood and having lots of money,
but that’s OK
with you. You won’t need to do that just because other people need to do that.
You will never have a normal life. And that is OK with you too, that is great with you, you will love your abnormal life the way an abnormal tiger mother loves its abnormal tiger baby. You can be at parties with other tigers who are normal tigers and you won’t even bat an eye, it won’t matter to you one bit because you are abnormal, and that is the way it was meant to be and that is the way it is and that is the way it will always be.

GINA: (enjoying it) It feels like someone’s putting pins in me.


Heidi Schreck

Heidi Schreck lives in Brooklyn and is the proud member of two playwright collectives, Vinegar Tom Players and Machiqq. Her most recent play Creature was developed in the 2005–2006 SoHo Rep Lab.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2008

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