Meet the Artist: Robert Koon

Previews for “HUMAN TERRAIN” begin on Friday, and we’re so glad to be joined in this process by one of our company’s earliest collaborators, Robert Koon, who plays the role of Colonel Alford in this latest endeavor. Company Dramaturg David Weiss took the opportunity to send him a few questions.

BNT: To start off, how would you describe your character in “Human Terrain”? In what ways do you think you’re similar or different from him?

RK: I think Col. Alford’s character is really summed up by the line, “My job is to protect you, protect my men. I can’t do that if we don’t trust each other.” He’s a professional, trying to get an unpleasant and dangerous job done while guarding the safety of those under his command, including Mabry. This requires that these people not only trust him to look after their safety, but that he is able to trust them to do their jobs with the same sense of mutual regard. He thinks there is great value in simply doing your job, that if you are conscientious in performing your duty you achieve a kind of significance, of nobility. He’s a loyal man, and expects loyalty in return.

This is actually your third time collaborating with BNT over the years – having previously worked as a voiceover artist in “Beautiful Broken” and a playwright in “Bechdel Fest.” Can you talk a bit about what those experiences were like?

Well, “Beautiful Broken” was about as painless as anything can be. I came to a rehearsal, they gave me my lines, and I recorded them. When I came to see the show, there they were. I was on stage every night and did no work, which is a pretty sweet gig. As a writer in the first Bechdel Fest, I came away feeling like there was no reason that more plays shouldn’t pass the Bechdel test. I mean, it’s not like it really taxes dramatic skill to have two women talk about something other than a man, so more writers just need to get with the program. It was also pretty painless, due to the terrific women involved–the director, Mary Rose O’Connor; and two wonderful actors, Jodi Kingsley and Carla Marchese.

How have you approached playing a military character for this production, especially given the nature of the story being told?

I come from a military family, so the idiom is familiar to me. My father was a colonel in the Air Force, my great-uncle a colonel in the Army, my grandfather went ashore in the second wave at Utah Beach on D-Day (with the 4th Infantry Division, which is cited in the play)…we go back in the military to the American Revolution. One thing that all my military relatives had in common was the idea that they were in the service to try to do something good. The idea that there are good people who are willing to go to some pretty bad places to try to do some good is pretty powerful, and it dovetails with Col. Alford’s drive to save lives – both American and Iraqi. When someone tries to thwart him in that objective, that defines them as the enemy in his eyes.

And finally, in 100 words or less: why do you do theatre?

Because it’s made fresh every night, never canned or frozen, and it’s made in community with other artists and the audience. Everyone is necessary, no one is superfluous when it comes to performance. It’s dynamic in a way film and television can never be. And in storefront theatre, it’s also as intimate as film, so the truth (or lack of it) is right there for people to see. There’s no slack, you can’t BS someone who is four feet away from you. And the audience is also aware that the play is happening right in their laps – there’s no comfortable distance like there is in a big theatre. Everybody’s going to have to come up with something.

“HUMAN TERRAIN” begins previews on Friday at The Voice of the City, 3429 W Diversey Ave. All Tickets to the Chicago Premiere are Pay-What-You-Can. If you would like to support Rob and the rest of the artists who make up our woman-centric fourth season, please consider making a donation/joining our season-long fundraising campaign to support our artists. Find more information here:

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Spenser June 6, 2016 Uncategorized