Going “Head First” into the Creative Process

Head First, a new play by Dennis Bush and directed by Lester Thomas Shane; starring Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin joins the Stonewall50 Fresh Fruit Festival as a featured event. The show will run Monday, July 15, 8:30 pm; Wednesday, July 17, 6:00 pm, Friday, July 19, 8:30 pm; and Saturday, July 20, 2:00 pm at The WILD Project 195 East 3rd Street (between Aves. A & B) New York City. https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527

Kyle’s got a true story to tell you… at least the parts he was conscious for are true. Seizures, sexual assault, humor, love … a romantic comedy according to Kyle.

Dennis Bush combined some powerful topics with some daring dialogue and handed it all to two actors and a director. How did Lester Shane guide Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin to opening night – which is next week. here is a look at their creative processes:


Cooper Koch:

Cooper.Koch_HEADFIRSTFor me, it feels like this play was given to me as a blessing from the big bigness of the universe. I chose to audition, but I didn’t choose to be a part of it. It chose me… in that the universe made the lovely duo, Lester Shane and Dennis Bush, decide to cast me. The first time I read it, I was a little hesitant to be honest. I genuinely thought, “how in the hell could I ever be able to, one, pull this off, and two, get all these words in my brain!” It was daunting and continued to be as I started working on the twelve pages of sides that were given for the audition. I’ve never done a two person play before, so the intimacy and the amount of dialogue was definitely a concern, as well as the graphic nature of the text. I was scared, but I like to go after fear. I think taking risks, and doing something you think you can’t do or that scares you is how you grow as an artist. As I continued working on the audition and reading the play over and over again, I started to not only fall into a deep love with the writing, but I really began to connect with Kyle’s journey and how it parallels to mine, in a way. I didn’t have a traumatic brain injury, but I’ve had major struggles in navigating my relationships with men and just being a gay man in general.  My shame has built walls in my life that go up in my work, my relationships, and my overall self worth and value as a human and an artist due to internal and external forces. So, after finding a very deep connection to Kyle and his story, it all came very easily. I think this play was given to me as an opportunity to rid all of the weight that my shame has left me with for so long and finally find freedom and acceptance through a character who goes on a very courageous journey and is extremely comfortable in his own skin. 

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Austin Larkin:

Austin.Larkin_HEADFIRSTMy process varies with each role I play, but in general I spend a lot of time studying and analyzing the words on the page before I explore them physically and vocally. I really like to nerd out while doing my research and asking questions about the text in the early stages. I find that helps me to understand the piece on a deeper level and frees me up to play around a bit more in rehearsals. Head First has been its own challenge in that I play eight incredibly different men. Dennis has written them each so distinctly, that a lot of my work has been picking up on those nuances and playing around with how they manifest in my voice and body. It’s been a blast discovering who these men are, and really identifying how they’re different, but also the many ways in which they’re similar. 
[Telling a story like this, you need…] the ability to listen. This piece is particularly intimate. Each of the relationships we see over the course of the play is fueled by its own unique form of intimacy, and portraying those relationships effectively hinges on our openness and our ability to listen to one another and respond truthfully and honestly.

Lester.Thomas.Shane_web-friendly.jpgLESTER THOMAS SHANE, director

On the surface, Head First, is a sort of coming of age story of a young man exploring his identity and sexuality. The journey is complicated by his having been thrown head first through a windshield of a Volkswagen one rainy night resulting in a traumatic brain injury that then produced a seizure disorder. As Kyle starts to fill in the gaps and learn his own truth, he is confronted by those who would hijack his narrative, shape his truth, molest him physically, and try to support him emotionally. While he shares the story one truth at a time, the other characters grow into finding their own rich truths along the way which allows for a really sweet denouement.

I believe our work — all of us — is to reveal the truth of the text. Imposing a personal auteur stamp feels a bit like ego driven narcissism. I keep asking myself, “What story are we telling? How can we best tell it?”  The process is mining the text, beat by beat. By first rehearsal I have done a lot of preparation including blocking.  This process tells me that if I can’t stage it, I probably don’t fully understand the moment.  Once that is in place and rehearsals begin a rich collaboration with the actors blossoms. In this case, we are blessed with two incredibly smart and sensitive men who pick up on the nuance and rhythms with such grace. Collectively we keep building and in so doing, reveal more. The process is both joyful and thrilling.

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The Fresh Fruit Festival is presented by All Out Arts to celebrate the LGBTQ community’s unique perspective, creativity & diversity, and to build links between the LGBTQ artistic communities, be they local or international. The Fresh Fruit Festival encompasses theater, performance, poetry, comedy, spoken word, music, dance, visual arts and some talents that defy categorization. Artists come from around the city, nation and, indeed, the world. Australia, Canada, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, France, Mauii, Israel, Italy, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and all of New York City’s boroughs and suburbs have been represented.


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