Heights Director Thomas Kail Passionate About New Work

News   Heights Director Thomas Kail Passionate About New Work
The day after the Tony Awards ceremony, Thomas Kail, a Tony nominee for Best Direction of a Musical for In the Heights, will board a train for Williamstown, MA, where he'll start rehearsals for his next project — a new play.

Andy Blankenbuehler and Thomas Kail
Andy Blankenbuehler and Thomas Kail

Kail will direct the world premiere of Nathan Louis Jackson's Broke-ology, to play Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage July 9-20. "New" is important to Kail. He likes the discovery aspect of dawning work — "the thrill of hearing a new scene or song for the first time," he said.

"I've spent more time working on straight plays than musicals, and I've been working on [In the Heights] for six years now," Kail told Playbill.com. "I really wanted to find a straight play to get back into for this next season. It happened very quickly. The play got into Williamstown, I met with the writer, we really clicked, so I've been working on that during the days and In the Heights during the nights."

As with In the Heights, for which he encouraged conceiver-songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda to re-shape the material over the years, Kail said he likes being on the ground floor of a rising project.

"I like getting in early and working with writers in that way," he said. "I'm very committed at this moment to continue to work on new material."

(He'll likely be happily distracted by the success of Heights for a while; although it hasn't been announced, producers are mulling a future national tour, production sources told Playbill.com.) What's Broke-ology about?

"It's a four-character play about an African-American family living in Kansas City," Kail said. "It's a contemporary play about these two brothers who have to take care of their father, who is suffering from complications of MS."

Like Miranda (who is Tony-nominated for Best Score and as Best Actor in a Musical), Kail graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He was a senior when Miranda was a freshman. They met after Kail had graduated.

Kail was an American history major. How did his degree help prepare him for a directing career?

"I have always been fascinated by what came before, and I think it is essential to understand the sequence of events that add up to our present tense," Kail said. "Each moment in the text is the result of a given character's experience, and I learned to respect — and fully explore — every perspective through my studies."

Earlier this year, Kail directed the new play Shoe Story by Ben Snyder as part of Manhattan Theatre Club's 7@7 Reading Series. Kail was the recipient of SSDC's 2007 Callaway Award and was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for his direction of the Off-Broadway production of In the Heights. He is the artistic director and co-founder of Back House Productions, the resident theatre company of NYC's the Drama Book Shop, which developed In the Heights.

Kail is also co-creator and director of the hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme.

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