Photograph by Thomas Sandelands
Kevin Kling performing 'What Fools These Mortals Be' at the Lab Theater
Kevin Kling, 'What Fools These Mortals Be'
Things haven’t exactly turned out like Jeanne Calvit imagined. The classically educated theater artist had grand aspirations of a life on the stage, but some early-career freelance gigs producing shows featuring people with developmental disabilities ended up changing her course. Two Ivey Awards, winning the most competitive national theater grant in the United States (more than once), and a lot of blood, sweat and tears later, Calvit’s world-class arts organization dedicated to celebrating the creative skillsets of people with disabilities has become her life’s work. As the theater and visual arts gallery turns 20, we talked with Calvit about the journey.
You originally had aspirations in traditional theater. What changed? I was educated in Europe, and [Jacques Lecoq Theatre School] really prepared me for the kind of work I do with people with disabilities, because it was all about using improvisation to develop shows where everybody was part of the creative process. Then I moved to Minneapolis because I had a dear relative here who told me it was a good place for the arts, and I ended up working with people with developmental disabilities and putting shows on, just as a freelance artist. I kept getting hired, and so that really developed into my mission, and I ended up starting my first program.
When did that become work that you deliberately sought out? A friend of mine, who is now the founder of Wilderness Inquiry, asked me and my partner at the time if we would come up with a theater residency for people with developmental disabilities up at this camp, and we did three separate weeks and came up with three separate plays. It was through the work that I did there that I kind of became known as the person who does theater with people with disabilities, and it was very successful. So I didn’t search it out, it just kind of found me.
You started primarily with theater, and then added in the visual arts. How else has Interact evolved? We’ve just gotten ourselves and our artists out in the arts community, being recognized as artists in their own right. Our theater performed at the Guthrie; we’ve done European tours; we’ve done all kinds of things that just really seem to show that we’re a viable theater company. When I first started, we were performing mainly for families and friends, and then we started getting coverage and more people started coming to our shows. And we’ve also done a lot of international work with the theater. I never would have expected in the early years that we would travel to other countries and work with other theater companies.
“It’s all about human potential, and it’s such a life-affirming thing for people to reach their full potential.” —Jeanne Calvit
Where does Interact go from here? My big thing for the future is that we can bring people into Interact. And we’ve had interests from these other places to start a place like Interact—[I hope] that we will have a training component [where] they can come in and learn how to create a place like ours. There are many other arts programs that just do visual arts all over the world, and some people that do theater, but not too much original theater like we do. It’s all about human potential, and it’s such a life-affirming thing for people to reach their full potential.
What’s it like to see a show at Interact? It’s life-changing to see one of our shows, that’s what I’ve been told by many, many, many people. It’s not just a show; it’s not just going to a play and going out for a glass of wine and going, “Oh, that play was nice.” As Kevin Kling [creator of and guest artist in the upcoming show] always says—I love to quote him—“Seeing an Interact performance makes you feel better about being a human being.”
Interact’s latest production, What Fools These Mortals Be, runs Nov. 19–Dec. 17 at The Lab Theater, 700 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-333-7977, thelabtheater.org. Interact’s 20th Anniversary Party, Nov. 30, is also at The Lab Theater.