On paper, it makes sense that Lisa Kron succeeded in helping to transform Alison Bechdel’s celebrated graphic novel memoir into an award-winning musical , but that doesn’t mean it was simple or easy.
Kron, who wrote the lyrics and book for “Fun Home,” has a background as both a person and a playwright that in some ways put the project squarely in her wheelhouse.
“Obviously, Alison and I had in common that we’re lesbians of the same age and that we had come up in lesbian culture,” Kron told the Capital City Weekly. “What I understood when I read ‘Fun Home,’ is that the book is essentially a personal essay and that what she was doing was questioning narratives. She was taking received narratives from her family and saying, ‘Are these true?’ I understood that move because it was in a way what I had done with my play ‘2.5 Minute Ride’ and my play ‘Well.’ We were similarly drawn to create stories and then rigorous about knowing that a story is created, and it may or may not be true.”
However, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” was challenging source material. It lacks forward-moving action and characters in a theatrical sense, Kron said. It was also Kron’s first time writing a musical.
Ultimately, Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori were able to forge a resoundingly successful musical — it earned Tony Awards for best musical, lead actor, direction of a musical, original score and book of a musical among other accolades —that is now running at Perseverance Theatre.
Kron, who was in town for an artist talkback held at the theater this week, took time to talk to the Capital City Weekly about the work that went into “Fun Home,” her approach to its lyrics and the transformative power of theater.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Kind of an obvious question, but I’m curious, going into working on “Fun Home” did you ever thing it would one day reach a stage in Alaska?
I don’t know what we envisioned. We didn’t really know what was going to happen, but I’ve known about Perseverance Theatre for a long time —my spouse is Madeleine George, a playwright whose play “Seven Homeless Mammoths…” was here in 2015, and she had been here, and I know (Perseverance Theatre founder) Molly Smith very well, but Madeleine came here, and she had a really great experience here.
Theater is only what happens between an audience and a stage, and the theater that changed my life was a little lesbian theater collective in the East Village that had 50 seats. It can and it does happen anywhere, and money and size don’t enhance the quality of the experience. That’s not the point.
I saw you quoted as saying nothing about making “Fun Home” was easy. Tell me about what in particular was challenging, because just adapting it and trying to strike a balance of putting things to music and taking from very rich source material seems like its own tough tug of war.
It wasn’t easily dramatized. We worked on it for seven years, and even in the final rewrites we did we were still looking at that text. I spent so much time with it and every single time I found something that I hadn’t found before. It’s so detailed, it’s so deep, and it’s so rich and multifaceted. The brilliance of that memoir is that it feels like it’s a forward-moving narrative. You go into it, it’s the kind of book where people read it, and then they buy it for everyone in their family, it’s such a powerful and meaningful book, and it pulls you into it, but the mechanisms are not theatrical.
I’m curious about your approach as a lyricist. Not having written a musical, in some songs, a rhyme scheme will drop, but then things will recenter, and that takes confidence to decide that the audience will sit and follow.
I always say the best advice I have for anybody who wants to work on a musical is to do it with Jeanine Tesori. I mean, she is an absolute master of the form. Her thing has been to find playwrights who she has a sense has a capacity for lyric writing, and then to train us up. Her music theater form is so complex —the lyrics do one thing, the music does something else, the orchestration does something else, the counterpoint, the individual singing vs. solo singing.
Something I’m always curious about when a work is written about a ton over the better part of a decade —what do you see people misunderstand about “Fun Home?”
There’s a thing I talk about a lot, people would say to me, this is so much bigger than a story about a lesbian. And I wouldn’t say this, but what I would think was “This is exactly the size of a story of a lesbian, but what had happened was you had the experience —the sort of revelatory experience —of understanding that a lesbian is a human being big enough, prismatic enough to be a protagonist.” We were talking about these moments in the theater where you feel these kind of internal moments of transformation happen, and I think that is one of the biggest kind of internal transformations that can happen in the theater. Where the humanity, the full humanity, of someone who is not like you opens up.
The fact that there are all kinds of different people in the world. We talk a lot about looking to see someone who is like you, and of course that is very important for marginalized groups, but it’s a step on the way to the other thing. What you’re getting reflected back to you is humanity, it’s presence. There are two ways that happens, and I think the most exciting moments in theater is when it’s happening in both directions, and that certainly happened in “Fun Home,” particularly in the beginning.
To see lesbians in the audience, particularly butch lesbians, see themselves in that kind of incandescent version of humanity of the stage, but then that also happening for other people to say, “Oh the world is bigger than I thought. When I go out into the world, something is going to be visible to me that was not visible to me before.” I think that’s an incredible, expansive moment of internal transformation that carries out into the world, and that’s what theater does at it’s best.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt
But wait, there’s more
The run of “Fun Home” has been extended another week, Perseverance Theatre announced.
Initially slated to run through May 8, performances are now scheduled through May 15.
Additional showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on May 11, 12, 13 and 14; and 4 p.m. on May 15.
Tickets are available through https://www.ptalaska.org/ticketing/.