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Face to face: Writer Kris Saknussemm interviews playwright Kris Saknussemm about his Fringe Festival play

Didn’t you start your writing career as a playwright 3 million years ago? What made you stop?

I won a major playwriting contest when I was 17 and thought I was going to become rich and famous overnight. More the fool I. Then theater union rates in New York changed dramatically when I was in college. Broadway became a place for big shows. What had been Off Broadway became Off-Off Broadway, and even then, going to the theater was usually out of my reach. I thought, why write for a medium I myself can’t afford? This was before the great renaissance of regional American theaters. There was a period there in the ’80s when very little original dramatic work was being presented. Today, things are totally different. Regional theater is alive and dynamic across the country, from Asheville to Seattle. Ticket prices are fair. People are hungry once again for live performance.

So, what brought about your Fringe Festival play, The Humble Assessment?

I was relocating back to America, having lived overseas for nearly half my life. I started shuffling through things, as you do during a big move, and I remembered how important theater had been to me growing up. It suddenly felt like a refreshing change from the fiction and nonfiction I’d been working on — a return to a deeper base camp, even while leaving the past behind.

On the surface, this play deals with a middle-aged man going for a job interview. How much personal experience is in that?

Well, as most people who have sought employment of late know so well, you’re lucky to hear back from employers at all, let alone get an interview. The job advertisement may not have been even real, or just a legal formality. But at some point, everyone of a certain age has interviewed for a job, so it seemed like a good, universally understood starting point of conflict and desire.

The play has already been published by Lazy Fascist Press. You mention in your afterword that the “psychiatric interview” also influenced you. Explain.

One of the jobs I had in college was as an orderly for the psych ward of our local hospital. I at one point thought about becoming a psychiatrist. One thing the best books on the initial diagnostic interview always stress is the importance of determining why the patient is there at all. What brought this meeting about? This is the crucial question when it comes to any transitional phase in our lives — a job interview, buying or selling a house (or moving), dating. There’s always a backstory. What went wrong? What’s brought about the need for change?

Did the economic situation in America influence the theme of the play?

Certainly as a starting point. I think theater is essentially a social art form, so it needs to have topical community relevance. And I confess I am tired of the sparkly vampires and zombies other media bombard us with as pure distractions when we’re in such a crisis. But I knew from the first scene that there would have to be some evolution into the surreal and the metaphysical to hold my interest as writer.

What are you most proud of about this play?

I’m very pleased this has been published by an innovative small press that I’ve worked with before. That validates the work. But plays are meant to be performed, so I’m most proud of the outstanding Las Vegas cast, which features well-known local actor Mark Brunton in the lead. The play is directed by Jason Defreitas, and he’s done an exceptional job at highlighting the nuances, while using his and his wife’s Cirque du Soleil video expertise to introduce a very peculiar and compelling multimedia element into the live performance. He’s had some great production ideas I’d never have thought of. I’m a firm believer in the notion that the future of art lies in collaboration, not individual authorship or ownership. Working with quality people is the best experience there can be.

What do you hope audiences will say, walking out of the theater after the show?

I hope they say, “I want to see more live theater.”

THE HUMBLE ASSESSMENT Saturday, June 1, 8:45 p.m.; Sunday, June 2, noon; Friday, June 7, 6 p.m.; Saturday, June 8, 7:45 p.m.; Sunday, June 9, 6:30 p.m.; Mainstage at Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive,, $12.