Monday, November 24, 2014

An Interview with Playwright Kris Bauske

By Don Redman

Playwright Kris Bauske grew up in a rural town in Southwest Michigan and she credits years of hunting and fishing with her father for preparing her to easily write roles for men, especially country menfolk who play so prominently in her melodious comedy, A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas: The Musical, onstage at Slidell Little Theatre Nov. 28 - Dec. 14, 2014.

An avid reader and writer even at an early age, Bauske was involved in theatrical productions
Playwright Kris Bauske
Photo: Samuel French, Inc.
all during her high school and college years. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and went on to be a professional technical writer for many years until her children were born. 

“You may not believe this, but I believe I was told to become a playwright,” she says. “The entire story of ‘Redneck Christmas’ came to me in a dream, and I felt very much compelled to write it down immediately.  I had never written for the theatre before, so here I was, in my forties, learning things like proper play format and how to submit scripts for consideration.  It was a big learning curve, but it came pretty easily.”

While the entire story may have come to her in a dream, the initial inspiration came from an odd combination of a church sermon and a chance viewing of a TV comedy special featuring comedians Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy.

On a December night in 2007, Bauske had been flipping channels on the television set looking for an interesting Christmas show to watch with the family when she stumbled across the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

“Sadly, it wasn't a Christmas show,” she says.  “I couldn't help but think they were missing out on a great opportunity by not having a Christmas special for their fans.  That same year, our pastor gave a sermon on how modern day Christians probably think we would be so much superior to the people who turned Mary away in Bethlehem.  Then he went on to remind us that Mary was an unwed teen mother, probably about 14 years old.  How many of us would take her in today knowing that?  Those two ideas intertwined in my head until the night I had the dream that became A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas.”

Bauske’s church – Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church in Ocoee, Fla. – provided her with an opportunity to workshop the play in 2008 when it produced the freshly-written play over two weekends as a dinner theatre.

“Seeing a play on stage is the best way for a writer to see what works and what needs improvement, so I did some rewriting and kept working to make it better,” she says. “In the meantime, I had sent it out to two publishers to consider.  The first one turned me down, and then Samuel French, the one I really wanted, told me they wanted to publish the script.  I was delighted.  The play has been done all over the country and in Canada since then!”

The idea of making her play into a musical came later, after several performers from the straight version suggested it.

“Fortunately, I have a lot of musicians in my life, and I've been known to write a song or two,” she says. “I really took that suggestion to heart and started looking at sections of the original play that could be reworked as songs.  My husband and children are all super talented musicians, and I can sing a tune to at least get across the idea of what I'm hearing in my head.  I wrote all the lyrics and had the ideas for most of the music.  My husband then orchestrated the songs and played them into the computer so we could create an accompaniment CD and send it off to Samuel French for their patrons who prefer musicals.  It has been extremely successful.”

Bauske says the residents of her fictional town of Christmas really resonated with her audiences, many of whom clamored for more. She obliged by penning a sequel -- A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Wedding, which happens the Valentine's Day after the original Christmas story.

“I'm also working on another Redneck sequel having to do with Halloween,” she says. “Pretty soon, I'll have all the major holidays covered.  I would like to add music to the sequels too, but there are only so many hours in a day.  We'll see...”
Asked what has stayed with her since originally writing “Redneck Christmas,” she says it has been the audiences’ responses. “A lot of people have contacted me after working on a production and told me how much that production and the characters and story touched them; how it meant so much to them,” she says.  “That really stays with me and makes me feel great to have so many friends all over because of this simple little play… If my work gives people a little hope for goodness and sanity in this crazy world, then I'll feel I've done something useful with my life.”

Bauske's other plays include Chloe Nelson and the Remarkable, Unusual, Foolproof Retirement Plan, a top 10 finalist for the Reva Shiner Comedy Award; Simon Says, a comedy; Grandma’s Little Helper, a comedic drama named the winner in the Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 2011 Festival of New Plays; and a stage adaptation of the novel Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy. Her latest play, The Growers, is based on actual events during WWII and is being adapted for film.


Bauske continues to write from her home near Orlando, Fla., and mentors a number of writers and playwrights.


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