Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interview with a Playwright: Kevin Artigue

The 2016 Season of Rough Readings continues with a fresh set of new plays still in development. The Late February Rough Readings features The Most Dangerous Highway in the World from playwright Kevin Artigue. We were fortunate enough to ask him some questions about this work and the Producing Partnership with Golden Thread Productions:

Rachel Finkelstein: It's a pleasure to speak with you! I'd love to hear how you first learned about the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway, and what compelled you to write a play on it?

Kevin Artigue: I can’t exactly remember! I think I first saw a picture in an old library book researching a different play (also set in Afghanistan). But it was a series of articles by the journalist Dexter Filkins that sparked the first images for the play. What stuck with me was the idea that these drivers were purposefully risking their lives, driving way too fast, taking stupid risks - and why? The mystery of their death wish stuck with me. And in the middle of the exhaust and chaos was a charming, hopeful little boy eking out a living. 
Kevin Artigue

The image of a car soaring over his head while he directs traffic – I wanted to see that on stage. 

RF: How did you come to know the characters you feature in the play?

KA: I’m not from Afghanistan so I had lots of homework to do – which continues to this day. The process of getting to know my characters starts with a superficial first draft that slowly gets better, becomes more grounded, moving outside in. But the key to my understanding of my characters and the world of the play is thanks to the faith of Golden Thread. They have provided me with moral and creative support for the last three years, including vital introductions to the Afghan community. These contacts and conversations have enriched and transformed not only my play, but my life. Writing this far outside my experience has been tough, but I believe worth the extra effort.

RF: So, what is your connection to Golden Threads Productions and their New Threads Staged Reading Series? How are you collaborating them to bring your vision to life?

KA: My collaboration with Golden Thread began three years ago with a staged reading of an early draft, and has continued to this day. They have championed this play and supported its development. Together, we took the play to the National New Play Showcase in 2014, and out of that successful week we hatched plans for a production. In preparation for production in May, Golden Thread has provided me with all the dramaturgical love a playwright can ask for, including access to experts and cultural consultants. As the first writer of non-Middle Eastern descent to be produced on their mainstage, I feel honored and humbled.

RF: The play has a beautiful dreamlike repetition to it - what was the driving force behind that use of language?

KA: Some of the characters in the play are caught in a literal limbo, wandering off after their car accidents in a state of amnesia. Slowly, in pieces, they begin to remember what happened. As memories come back to them, the language circles and builds until it clarifies and makes more sense.

RF: And to close up, is there anything you'd like the audience to keep in mind going into the reading?

KA: I’d like them to know something that took me a while to really see: that Afghanistan is more than a war torn “graveyard of empires”. We’re bombarded with depressing images and stories of war, trauma, and suffering. While these images of Afghanistan are mostly accurate, they are biased, and override the simultaneous bigger story of the vast majority of Afghans who manage through hope, perseverance, religion, and humor to create meaning and order in their day-to-day lives. A need for meaning and order we can easily recognize in ourselves. 

RF: Definitely - I look forward to seeing it! Thanks again for speaking with us.

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can. The 2016 series begins with "The Most Dangerous Highway in the World" by Kevin Artigue, playing Sunday, February 21st, 5:00pm at Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco and Monday, February 22nd, 7:30pm at Roble Hall, Stanford University.

Read more about "The Most Dangerous Highway in the World", Kevin Artigue, and the Rough Reading Series at

Save a Seat with an RSVP! Email or call 415.626.2176.