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KALAMAZOO – When an anticipated summer job in Grand Rapids fell through earlier this year, playwright/director Randy Wyatt wasn’t too upset. “I’ve been doing stuff at the Circle Theatre every summer for about 15 years straight, so I was looking forward to going somewhere else besides Grand Rapids for my summer,” the affable Boston native and honorary Michigander told Between The Lines last week.
That “somewhere else” turned out to be just a short drive south. “I wound up putting something together for Whole Art Theatre [in Kalamazoo], so I ended up back in Michigan anyway, which was fine with me. I love Kalamazoo. The arts scene there is very vibrant. I like being able to contribute to it.”
Wyatt, 35, first came to Michigan to earn a degree in speech and English from “the school which must not be named on the west side of the state.” After graduation he founded Lost in the Cove Productions, a small theater company that specialized in original works and improvisation. After a healthy seven-year run that ended in 2000, wanderlust struck. “I left because I wanted to see what else was out there. I didn’t feel Grand Rapids could support another theater,” he recalled.
So Wyatt moved to Austin, Texas, which was marvelous, he said. But it was too difficult to make a living there. “Everyone else wanted to do what I was doing.”
So upon the advice of others – “I asked people where the Austin of the north is” – he trekked to the Twin Cities where he recently earned a master’s degree in directing from Minnesota State University at Mankato. Now, he’s based in Chicago where he’s conducting a nationwide search for regular employment. “I’m open to going almost anywhere except for the really reddest of red states. If I wound up here in Chicago with a really kick-ass job, I’d be happy. And if I ended up back in Michigan, that’d be fantastic. It’s all about trying to find something that will utilize a very expensive MFA!” he chuckled.
In the meantime, Wyatt keeps busy with a blossoming career as a playwright. One of his works, “Said and Meant,” was recently published by Playscripts, Inc. And a few weeks back, the company decided to add Wyatt’s children’s play, “Rising Sun, Rising Moon,” to its catalogue. Another is under consideration for future release. He’s also had several scenes and monologues anthologized over the past few years by a variety of publishers. “That’s been fun, too, being able to walk into a Barnes & Noble and say, ‘Look! See my work?’ It’s great to impress a date with,” he teased. “Not that I have many of those…”
Another play, “Mint,” was presented this past January at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 5. “It’s the first play I’ve written that has a stable, gay relationship in it. It was honored there because it won the one-act competition the year before, so they did a full production of it. That got the word out.”
So much so that “Mint” was a finalist in this year’s Lavender Footlights competition – a festival of staged readings of LGBT themed plays held annually in Miami.
For now, though, Wyatt is focused on “Man Saved by Condiments!” – a one-man show by Mary Jo Pehl (a founding writer of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”) that opens June 8 at Whole Art’s Studio 246 space. “It’s based on a true story of a guy down south whose car has gone off the road and he’s pinned behind the steering wheel with a shattered leg. He survives for five days by eating the condiments packages in his car – of which, apparently, there were quite a lot,” Wyatt said wryly.
Although the story sounds grim, the director says it’s actually a lighthearted take on a very serious time in the man’s life. “He winds up being this charming schlub in this very dangerous situation. It’s only about 30-40 minutes, but I think its impact will stay with you.”
Playing the accident victim will be Ken Stichman, whom Wyatt cast as the cross-dressing lead in last year’s “Moby Dick! The Musical!” at the Circle Rep. “He’s an actor who really likes challenges. I promised him I’d give him a butcher role some day – and this seems to fit the bill.”
Wyatt can’t say enough good things about his experiences with Whole Art. “Tucker Rafferty, the artistic director, is just so supportive of the gay scene and doing quality, progressive material at his theater. To be doing that in a place like Kalamazoo – his support of good material is just inspiring. I feel very much at home at his theater, and I’m proud to work there.”
Welcome home, Randy.