After a Tuesday night performance of their play “Kowtow Rapsody” this August, James Duruz ’03 sat in a bar answering audience members’ questions. He was “really feeling like [he] was onto something, and [he] told a friend, ‘You know, maybe I am a prophet.'” The play Duruz and Scott Kirschenbaum ’03 created in the spring of their junior year was one of 200 shows in the New York Fringe Festival. People they had invited off the street were showing up at performances. He could feel that Thursday would be a good show. 11 p.m. on a Thursday was a good time for a hip-hop show.
But Duruz realized after leaving the bar that he had forgotten his costume — a purple spandex bodysuit — and his guitar. And the Thursday show had to be cancelled because of the Great Blackout of 2003.
“That definitely threw a wrench in the works,” Duruz said. “But it was meant to be, I guess.”
Hoping for a big break, Duruz, Scott Kirschenbaum ’03 and producer Dan Guando ’04 took “Kowtow,” a hip-hop musical which they put on twice at Yale. to the Fringe Festival this summer.
In the show, Duruz plays guitar and sings while Kirschenbaum raps, gets naked and dances with an I.V. pole. Kirschenbaum said the show aims to provide “a broad observation on the way that we’re living.” He said “Kowtow’s” theme is “binarism,” the idea that “we’re split; there are very much always two alternative decisions one can make.”
Because Kirschenbaum wrote the poems at different times, “Kowtow” has little in the way of a narrative, although it has evolved more of one since its inception.
“The point of the show is not to provide a narrative for [audiences] but for them to discern from the content of the show exactly what our objective was,” Kirschenbaum said. “We don’t expect everyone to love the show. We fail as performers if people just love the show, because the show is not intended to be loved, it’s intended to punch people in the face, punch people in the gut.”
Duruz said the music, plot, costumes and set changed “drastically” between the Yale productions and the Fringe Festival production. Guando, whose first non-Yale show was “Kowtow,” said he learned quickly that some things are different in theater in the “real world.” The first is funding, which is easy to get at Yale through Sudler Funds and other sources. Since the Fringe Festival does not provide funding for any of its shows, the trio had to use money from their own pockets.
Shows in New York lack the “built-in audience” one finds at Yale, Guando said. While shows run for one weekend at Yale, at the Fringe Festival “Kowtow” was scheduled for seven shows. On a college campus, performers’ friends are close by and there are fewer productions on a given weekend than in New York.
“We did shows for full houses of 50 people, and we did a show for four people,” Guando said.
In addition to hawking their show in the street, Duruz said the performers also invited a number of their friends to come see the show.
Duruz and Kirschenbaum say they are unsure of their next move. Some producers attended the show, Kirschenbaum said, and there has been talk of a college campus tour or entering “Kowtow” in another festival. But Kirschenbaum said he wants to write things other than rap music and focus on post-college life.
Guando, who still has another year at Yale, said he does not see himself producing theater for a living — he would like to produce film — but that he would “be happy to” work with Duruz and Kirschenbaum if “Kowtow” goes anywhere else. The current Broadway musical “Urinetown” got its start at the Fringe Festival, and Guando said this has caused some Festival entrants to expect what often ultimately turns out to be the impossible.
“I don’t think this was the break that we were hoping it was going to be, but it did nothing but good for us,” Guando said. “Hopefully it will lead to bigger and better things theatrically for Scott and James — I have a feeling it will.”