SURPRISE! Dr. Ken Haller is back on stage in Briefs: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays produced by That Uppity Theatre Company in partnership with Vital VOICE. Shocking? No. St. Louis knows Haller as an avid performer from his cabaret shows and past theatrical performances. But, in a new twist of events, he has written his own performance piece, appropriately entitled Surprise, that will be a part of St. Louis’ LGBT theatrical phenomenon.
To be brief, Dr. Ken Haller is one busy and ambitious dude. Already a Primary Care Pediatrician at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, he also serves as the board President of PROMO (Missouri’s statewide LGBT civil rights organization), sits on the board for Missouri Foundation for Health, and performs in the Gateway Men’s chorus. And, now, his original work will debut in Briefs at the end of February.
Briefs is an LGBT theater festival composed of several 10 minute pieces submitted by playwrights nationwide. After a successful premier in 2012 with sold out shows, it is back by popular demand. The show involves several members of the St. Louis community, ranging from rising stars to veteran thespians. Haller, always garnering attention with his stage presence, considers himself an old pro.
“I played Juror #8 (the Dissenter) in a 4th grade production of ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ and I’ve never looked back!”
Haller’s extensive performance resume includes Love! Valour! Compassion!, Hair, Macbeth, Bleacher Bums, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Poona the F**kdog and Other Plays for Children. (If you are wondering about the last one, Haller recommends googling it). He has also written and performed two original cabaret shows, Song by Song by Sondheim and The TV Show! After performing in Briefs last year, he was inspired to submit his own original work for consideration.
“I’ve known Joan Lipkin (Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company) for a LONG time, and since I got to act in Briefs last year, I decided to take a shot and submit a play this year. I’m in a writing group that meets every month or so, and I had actually written the first draft of [Surprise] some years ago in response to a prompt in the group. When I decided to submit something to Briefs, I went back and found this and felt that it fit the theme of the evening. So I did some re-writes, submitted it, and the rest is – or will be – history!”
Like all the pieces in Briefs, Haller’s production plays out in a short time frame. His setting involves two longtime partners, Jonathan and David, lying in bed one night and being awakened by a mysterious cell phone found ringing in their bed.
“To tell you more than that would ruin the, well, surprise,” he says.
Is it based on an experience from Haller’s life? “Let’s just say that the best writing comes from writing what you know.”
Haller claims to have no preference between writing and acting, but he actively draws from his acting experiences to enhance his writing. “They are very different, but I will say that I write dialogue ‘out loud.’ By that I mean, as I write, I say it, even in my head, to make sure it sounds like words these characters would actually say. In that sense I really approach writing a play as an actor. I’m always thinking, ‘How would I say this?’”
Likewise, rather than viewing theater as a separate time commitment, he utilizes his acting/writing to better his medical work and vise versa.
“I don’t see writing and acting as hobbies so much as other parts of the whole,” he states. “Stephen Sondheim wrote, ‘Bit by bit, putting it together/piece by piece, only way to make a work of art.’ If we think of our entire lives as being works of art, each part informs and enriches the rest. Being a good actor makes me a better doctor. Being a good doctor makes me a better writer. Being a good writer makes me a better actor. All of this, I hope, makes me a better person.”
Haller claims to be both excited and scared about his upcoming written debut. “I learned a long time ago how to get rotten tomato stains out,” he jokes. He is unsure how viewers will react to his work, but he seems genuinely proud of his work and wants to see the audience’s reaction. More important than the applause, though, is the lasting impression that theater leaves on people.
“I don’t want to pretend like it’s easy to impress an audience in the moment. It’s not. But one of my best moments in performing came about a year after I first did my Sondheim show. I had gone to see a friend’s show at the Kranzberg Arts Center, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was standing with him in the lobby as he greeted audience members…At one point this guy shook my friend’s hand, said he loved the show, then looked at me. He got this quizzical look on his face and asked, ‘Do I know you?... Wait, did you do a show here last year? A Sondheim show?’
‘Yes, I did,’ I answered.
He smiled and said, ‘I gotta tell you. When you told that story about why you take care of kids and then sang ‘Not While I’m Around,’ it just struck me how much I love me own kids and how lucky I am to be a father. It’s really stuck with me. Thank you.’
Moments like that are what make it all worth it.”
Haller feels that Briefs will have the same effect on people. He testifies to the impact that theater has on all those involved.
“It was such a privilege to be part of last year’s show because the audience is seeing real people up on stage. They may be like them or completely different, but they are real, and no one walks out of Briefs unchanged. I hope everyone will come down this year and see for themselves.”
Briefs will be holding four performances again this year, running from February 28th through March 3rd at La Perla in downtown St. Louis. Tickets are very reasonably priced at $15 but, beyond the ticket price, attend to see what surprises Ken Haller has in store for St. Louis! Without a doubt his writing and performance will leave a lasting impact.
WHO - That Uppity Theatre Company & The Vital VOICE
WHAT – Briefs: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays
WHERE – La Perla (312 N. 8th Street, St. Louis, MO 63101)
WHEN – February 28 (Doors @ 7, Show @ 8:00pm)
March 1 (Doors @ 7, Show @ 8:00pm)
March 2, (Doors @ 2, Show @ 3 & Doors @ 7, Show @ 8)
March 3 (Doors @ 2, Show @ 3)
TICKETS – $15 Advance Tickets, $20 at the door
(can be purchased via Brown Paper Tickets: http://bit.ly/briefs13)
EVENT INFORMATION – (314) 995-4600
By DAVID COURTNEY
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