Theaterjones: Give us a synopsis of …And Then I Woke Up.
Kris Noteboom: The play is about dreams, and particularly my trouble with them throughout my life. That’s pretty much what it’s all about. There’s a series of anecdotes throughout my life…in which I talk about that. I have a lot of nightmares, I’m scared of the dark, all this stuff. I saw a connection between that and the American Dream and these more conceptual ideas of dreams, and how [they] have mirrored my bad dreams, like trying to find a way in life and at the risk of sounding heavy-handed, I’m able to weave those two concepts together, essentially taking you to a place where finding what I want to do and be better.
How did you come to be involved in the Solo Festival?
I know [Audacity Theatre Lab artistic director] Brad [McEntire] pretty well. I’ve written for TheaterJones now for five years, and I know Brad from covering him over the years. And probably because I’ve never had anything [harsh] to say about Brad—because I’ve always liked his shows—we’re kind of friends with each other. Last year, I covered the inaugural Solo Fest and then when I had my first public performance last August at the benefit for [the now-late Margo Jones Theatre director] Matt Tomlanovich, Brad was emceeing and after that performance went so well, he immediately came to me and said, “We have got to get you set up.” He invited me to come perform at the Audacity Solo Salon, which is a thing that's kind of connected to the Dallas Solo Fest [that] they do every quarter. Then from there he said "Please apply for the festival.” And so I did.
In synopses of your play online you say that one night, when you were three years old, you woke up screaming “I don’t want to die.” It was interesting to me how this real fear that plagues adults was on your mind as a three year old.
A three year old should not even have a concept of death yet, and yet there I am. I still remember it clearly, and I don’t remember a lot of things clearly, but I still remember this. Up to that point—I was only three—I had not experienced any death yet. This is one of my earliest memories. Two of my very first memories are waking up to dreams, one good, one bad. I hadn’t experienced any death. We had recently moved, but I didn’t remember the move. There was nothing to indicate personally that I had been through some sort of trauma. For whatever reason, I’ve just always been afraid of the dark. I never slept very well growing up, so maybe I was tired and a little delusional. Even through this show, I try to figure out what would lead me to have that moment and I have no idea.
Is the comedy of the show real to you in how you approached these fears?
I think so. There’s a scene in the show where I talk about how I got my sense of humor, because I don’t think it’s very natural for me, not according to what I’ve been told about myself. I went from being with the popular kids, however aware of what that is in elementary school, but I knew that they [the kids I hung out with] were popular. And for some reason they left me, pretty much, because I got chubby and awkward. I fell down the social ladder through junior high, and my humor became more defensive, became my armor. Almost ironically, I became cool again because I quit caring.
Smart-ass comments became kind of the calling card of my personality, and for some reason that endeared me to people. [There’s] a part of the show [about how] two years ago, when I had been making a very solid attempt of, “I want to be a writer, I want to write stuff,” so I’ve been really working on that lately and trying to open myself up. I was always told, “You should do stand-up comedy,” and I always felt, “well, I’m not really a joke teller.” Every time I’ve ever tried, I’ve always been very self-deprecating.
And one night I was watching TV, and I had an idea and I wrote it down. I wrote three notes. It was like I had this epiphany where I couldn’t figure out how to be self-deprecating, how to tell embarrassing stories without trying to get the audience to laugh. In the show, I learned how to turn my stories to funny-ha-ha from funny-aww-aww! I think part of it comes from growing up and becoming more secure and confident in yourself. You don’t feel [as] weird as you get older. I think I eventually kind of figured out how to tell a funny, embarrassing story without putting myself down.
You’re one of the newer—if not newest—performers and directors in the festival, especially because you have a background in writing and theater criticism. In light of that, what does it mean for you to be involved in the festival? And as you’re going to school at University of Texas at Dallas?
First, it’s an incredible honor. I have been a critic for the last five years, and the thing is, even though I have acted my entire life, people in Dallas don’t know that about me. Almost everything else I’ve done has been in the academic world. I’m working on my Ph.D.; I’ve been in college for years. I’m always working on writing and performing. I did a bunch of theater in college, my Master’s is in performance studies from University of North Texas and I did lots of performance art and stuff there. Here at UTD I kind of created my own program, where I’m studying with Thomas Riccio, who runs Dead White Zombies, and Fred Curchack, a really prominent, local writer, director and performer.
I created my own kind of writing and performing Ph.D. program. I’ve always worked on it [theater writing and performance], but the Dallas theater community really only knows me as a critic, and not just that but I’ve gotten a reputation with some people for being kind of hard on people. I’ve made some definite enemies along the way. Talking to other people, both in the theater community and in the critic community, the sense I get is that I need to leave town for a while and do stuff, because that’s what it will take for people to reset their judgment scales on me. That’s what I’m doing. I’m moving straight from Dallas to go to LA to perform at the Hollywood Fringe in June and performing at the Capital Fringe in D.C. in July [and then] in September, the Chicago Fringe. Maybe people will see, “Hey, I can do this.”
Getting into the Dallas [Solo Fest] was huge, because I know everything that [artistic director] Brad [McEntire] does is always groundbreaking for the theater crowd. Performing in Dallas Solo Fest is a really great opportunity to work again, get out in front of the local theater people to kind of make a statement to them like, “I am transitioning, I am trying to get into this now.” It’s what I’ve been building up to for years, and it has just taken a very long time to do it. I took the job as a critic because I was in school and I didn’t really have time to do theater, and it was a great opportunity to see a lot of theater. I felt like I was qualified for it, so I took it. It’s been everything I thought it would be. I’ve seen so much cool theater. [But] a lot of people in town only think of me as a critic, so this is a good opportunity to maybe, hopefully change their minds.
Definitely. On a post on your website about the show, you talk at the end about your first performance, and how people came up to you wowed that you weren’t just a critic, that you could also perform. How does that affect your work and how you’ll go forward?
That performance was a weird thing. I just thought this was the perfect time. One, the opportunity to perform for a very good cause, I thought, was really great. Also, on a very personal, professional level, I knew that the entire audience would be theater people. I may not get a better chance to get in front of people who are actually working in the theater community, and show them what I’ve got. I do shows occasionally in the area, but none of them go [to those theaters].
I cringe a little because I know it may sound borderline dumb, but I know this is the best possible situation for me personally, because I get to do something good which makes me feel good, and that [performance] actually helped me. Sure enough, I went out, they scheduled me to close the show, and it was not what anyone thought [it would be]. When Brad walked in that night, he had no idea what I would do. It went really well. Afterward a bunch of people came up. I’m trying to put myself in situations where I can start to remake that vision that people have of me.
It’s so interesting that so many people see you and think, “He’s a critic, maybe he doesn’t know how to do theater,” but then you show them that you do know it. Hopefully that will change this one-sided image some people seem to have of you.
Online recently, mostly on Facebook, there have been some pile-ons, where a local director or actor will write some sort of snarky or snide post about local critics on their Facebook page, and then all the other local actors and directors will pile on. It has ended up with a couple of really messy things being online, and some of that has come specifically from me performing, because I performed a couple more times after that and I performed a holiday show that I was asked to be in.
The other actors and directors don’t go look at my bio on the website. They don’t know I’ve studied performance for years, they don’t see that, they don’t care about it. It’s an interesting conversation, because they really just want critics to go and fawn over them. You either want a puff piece, or you want [an honest] critique, and it’s not always the same thing. That’s been a very interesting thing because there has been a very definite pushback. It’s a very interesting energy in the Metroplex right now, but there is this [strange] energy between the critics and theater people. What makes it more interesting is when people like me and [Dallas Observer theater critic] Elaine Liner step across that threshold and do it ourselves. [Liner's Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love was performed at the first Dallas Solo Fest, as well as at other local and national venues, and twice at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.]
What is the solution to that problem?
I think the single solution is for me to go out there and kick ass. A local actor [on one of the pile-ons] asked “Do you think critics should be allowed to do the actual art of theater?” and of course, all the local theater people pile on and say "absolutely not." Several of [the local critics] responded with, “Actually, history is full of critics who have made the transition.”
[If you’re seeing shows at theaters like] Kitchen Dog and Undermain and Second Thought and Dallas Theater Center every weekend, there’s no better master’s class. You’re going to learn all the good and bad of everything. The simple solution is for me to go out there and kick ass.
George Bernard Shaw in writing, he did the same thing [made the transition from critic to performer]. There are so many, including Mark Twain, who remained very prominent as a critic, so many examples of it, and you realize those are all great names. The thing to do is to come out and to be as good, or better. Which puts a lot of pressure on you, and that’s something that’s very real, is very hard to deal with. I think about it all the time. I know I will be under extra scrutiny, at least in Dallas, because there will be people in that audience who will be looking for me to fail. There [are] plenty of people in town who really don’t like me. I can be pretty relentless when I don’t think a show is good.
I was really struck by the part on your website that says “We’re all born with a thing that is ours. All we have to do is find it and then live it, but that’s easier said than done.” What is your thing? Maybe you haven’t found it yet, but how do you show that in …And Then I Woke Up?
At this point, I’d like to think my thing is writing and performing. The way you phrase that question is perfect because that’s what I feel like it is right now, but I could take it in a different direction at any moment. The key is opening yourself up to that. You’re in America. The idea of the American Dream, especially a person like me…I mean, I am the poster boy of hegemonic heteronormativity: straight, white, middle-class. Marry a nice girl from the suburbs, get your Ford Taurus, have your 2.5 kids, and your dog named Spot. This is what we’re supposed to want, and it’s hammered into us from day one. Besides things like hair color and eye color, we are the exact same person, but I may love opera and you may love medicine and I think that’s cool.
How much time have I sacrificed trying to be the person that everyone else told me I’m supposed to be? I’m 35 years old now, and I’ve been told by people that I was a good actor 15, 20 years ago, and that I should keep doing this. I sacrificed so many years of my life trying to balance the two things [the life I was told to have and the life I wanted]. When I talk about finding your thing, it’s really about listening to yourself, listening to that gut reaction. What do you want to do? If you want to be a car mechanic, be a car mechanic. If you want to be an artist, be an artist. I think success is happiness, and I think happiness is subjective to everyone. That’s kind of the thesis, finally waking up from that induced collective dream of “Hey, I should want this” to more “I don’t want that, but I really want this [other dream].”
Editor's note: At Kris' request, his recent review of Second Thought Theatre's Belleville will be his last theater review for the foreseeable future as he focuses on performance and writing for the theater.
» Kris Noteboom's ...And Then I Woke Up is performed at the following times:
- Thursday, June 4 @ 9:00 p.m.
- Saturday, June 6 @ 10:30 p.m.
- Sunday, June 7 @ 5 p.m.
And you can follow our coverage of the 2015 Dallas Solo Fest in our special section, here.