BWW Interview: A 21st Century Brothers Grimm, Kruckemeyer Travels the World Writing Fabulous Tales

By: Mar. 16, 2016
Photo Credit: Essie Kruckemeyer

First Stage World Premiere The Snow arrived this winter to the Todd Wehr Theater, while famed playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer traveled from half way across the world to appear on March 6 for the play's production debut. Commissioned by Oregon Children's Theatre and Magik Theatre in collaboration with First Stage, Kruckemeyer's The Snow told a tale of two towns both named after Margareta "Mama" Kishka and the huge snow walls surrounding the towns in isolation, cut off from sun and supplies. A tiny boy Theodore together with a gentle giant named Oliver try to solve this never-ending winter through their courageous adventure written in the tradition of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.

Kruckemeyer relates to these timeless classics in all his writing, and on this afternoon, he had just arrived from his hometown in Tasmania, dressed in a knit hoodie, sweater and jeans after spending 25 hours on a plane while his luggage "was having a holiday in Dallas." The internationally acclaimed 34 year old playwright visited Milwaukee before traveling to New York's Lincoln Center to open The Boy at the Edge of Everything, an Australian Writer's Guild AWGIE Award winner previously staged by Trusty Sidekick.

On this Sunday afternoon, Kruckemeyer finished watching two performances of First Stage's The Snow, and afterwards answered questions from the audience, adding that most of his more than 75 plays carry longer names and he thought, as he told one child with a chuckle and grin, "The Snow was short, and would be less annoying to publicists and theater companies, who need to write out these names. I thought I would try something different."

"I'm on the other side of the world," he continues. "Underneath the snowy mountains. Perhaps that's why there's the snow."

Kruckemeyer goes on to explain he presented First Stage with six story ideas, scenarios, gleaned from, "The stories I loved as a child---stories that stood the test of time, and often included a journey, a series of obstacles they [the characters] need to overcome--and fill this pattern with new ingredients."

When someone asked Kruckemeyer what he hoped the audience would take away from his play, he returned the exact question to the young girl who asked: " I would want you to think about the lesson you want to take away from the play."

With a big smile she answered immediately: "No matter how small you are, you can do amazing things."

Kruckemeyer agreed, and adds he asks everyone, adult or child, to determine what they learn, observe and see in the play's meaning other then what they think he wants them to take away as the play unfolds during a performance. The he explains, "While I adjust the story for children, I approach the work as family theater instead of children's theater. I respect the audience of any age I'm writing for while remaining respectful to this relationship to children. There's a story for everyone to enjoy and works at multiple levels."

While writing The Snow began four years ago, 21st century technology (Skype, smart phones and email) makes sending drafts of plays, and then comments from directors and designers easier and quicker, with the final touches to any production being tweaked during rehearsals and tech week. Kruckemeyer acknowledged in one question there might be a touch of Monty Python humor lingering subconsciously in his thoughts when he writes. Artistic Director Jeff Frank and Kruckemeyer also agreed music might be needed about a year ago during the planning process when composer Andrew Crowe entered to write the play's original score. Since The Snow bends this tale to tell of two enchanted villages, the story being sung as a troubadour could and would be produced as a moment similar to when a story warms the heart while being told sitting around a fire.

"It's always an amazing experience watching the words you write come to life on stage," Kruckemeyer adds. "It's so easy to write [the action and plot in words] it down and then let the company figure out how to accomplish this on stage."

Kruckemeyer realizes this from his vast experience of theater training and teaching he brings to his playwrighting. While he was born in Ireland, he eventually began his career at Australia's Youth Theatre when a young boy of eight, and then embraced acting at nine. He loves the theater, and stayed until he was twenty, when he moved to the Urban Arts Center in Adelaide, Australia and began writing plays along with continuing to perform community outreach, working in detention centers, and teaching.

To date, he's written more than 75 plays which have garnered a vast amount of awards to mention in only one paragraph. These do include four Australian Writer's Awards, the David Williamson Prize for Australian Playwrighting, the Rodney Seaborn Award and a 2008 Oscart Award for Best Playwright, although Kruckemeyer clearly states with sincere humility, "I'm rubbish at math."

Nevertheless, Kruckemeyer's plays travel to far reaching places, being produced in illustrious venues worldwide: the Sydney Opera House, Edinburgh's Imaginate Festival, Ireland's Dublin Play Festival and Abbey Theatre, Shanghai's Malan FlowerTheater, New York's Victory Theater and Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center. Overall, since Kruckemeyer turned 20, he and his plays have visited five continents and been translated into six languages, while he was the premiere recipient of the Sidney Myer Fellowship.

During the past 14 years, the extremely prolific Kruckemeyer writes at least three to four plays a year, while some years he has written as many as nine scripts within a 12 month period. Now married and living in Tasmania, he travels to the United States about twice a year, the country that commissions the majority of his award-winning work, which also includes plays for adult audiences such as a translation of a Bertolt Brecht play titled Drums in the Night.

Kruckemeyer relates he usually writes from nine to five daily, although his toddler Moe transformed his strict schedule that requires more flexibility when he's home in Tasmania. After stopping in New York, the playwright begins work on a commission for Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center titled Where Words Once Were. This new plot contemplates a time when language has been taken away from some people in a community, while other retain words usage. What would a place be like without language? "It's a huge concept," Kruckemeyer concludes while he heads off to catch a long awaited dinner with collaborator and now friend, Jeff Frank. "Perhaps the more economic the sentence, the more satisfying the conversation."

An interesting concept that in Kruckemeyer's mind and then written words will translate to the page and stage in adventurous style, similar to his existentialism of darkness caused by sadness described in First Stage's The Snow. Will he write another play for the Milwaukee theater company? "What a joy it's been, " he answers a parent in the audience who asks the question. "I'd be thrilled to work again with First Stage."

Whatever this industrious and inventive playwright produces, Kruckemeyer claims, "In writing theater, [we want] people to reach, lean in to feel, heal and understand."

First Stage presents the World Premiere of Finegan's Kruckemeyer's THE SNOW in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through March 20. For information, please call: 414.273.7206 or