King Fool Projects is a small, mobile theater company which is born from our wish to give those voices within us, the complicated ones that might clear the air if they had the chance, a place to speak and be heard.
King Fool Projects brings small epic plays to people in order to spark under-the-surface, hilarious, and/or cathartic “Second Act” dialogues on issues that touch us all.
- Present mobile and inventive performances of 90-minute plays, emerging from known classics or mythologies, that address contemporary themes.
- Engage speakers of stature who work in the given field to introduce our Second Acts.
- Engage audiences in a more visceral and participatory way than is usual in the theater.
- Bring the project to audiences that do not have access to expensive arts experiences.
- Bridge gaps between people of disparate political, cultural and economic backgrounds.
- Renew the experience of a primal theater.
After my father died two years ago, I immersed myself and my artistic team-mates in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The play is the theater’s Everest: it has to be played several times before one can even begin to understand the terrain. When the show closed, there was much more to be done with the material – and with processing my father’s death. I adapted the play into a two-person version with the aim of exploring end-of-life issues more directly. King Fool, the Project’s flagship production, runs 90 minutes without a break. An old man of uncertain sanity wanders off and is discovered by his caregiver daughter. She tries to take him home, but this is impossible: he is close to the end. The play shows the last hour, or the last moment, depending on how you choose to see it, of his life. They go through the old raucous hurts one more time, fighting, cursing, scheming, giving in, weeping and laughing. She feeds him gruel and water, he takes a drink from a flask when she isn’t looking, she calms him with morphine, he soils himself, she entertains him – and so it goes until he lets go at last.
The two characters are named Lear and Cordelia, and the words they exchange are all taken from Shakespeare’s play, but the scenes are refracted, to reflect his disjointed state, and rearranged to focus on the domestic aspect of their relationship.
Every one of us will die, and we will probably witness the deaths of loved ones. We lose things; we lose friends, opportunities and memories, all our lives. How we approach the ultimate loss can make the difference between fear and acceptance – and possibly, teach us something mysterious and deeply satisfying.
Ava Roy, artistic director of We Players, San Francisco, and I performed King Fool to West Coast audiences, and tested a new way of presenting the theatrical experience. After each performance, someone whose occupation it is to attend to the dying, as a spiritual adviser, hospice worker, Alzheimer’s specialist or researcher, gave us his or her response to the play and of her work with the dying and their families, and opened the conversation up to audience members, who talked about their own experiences, struggles and questions. This was immensely satisfying for audiences and performers alike, supplying the kind of engagement that may have sprung up naturally in earlier theaters, all the way back to campfires in primitive communities.
Other projects will maintain this format, and our education program is based upon its basic principles. We will bring small plays with huge, common themes to communities and play them in all kinds of settings, not necessarily in theater buildings. We will honor the great questions more than the right answers and we will do our best to listen to what people have to teach us.
– John Hadden, Project Director