Call Answered: Peter Myette: "Not A Gift" at New York International Fringe Festival
In this political climate we live in, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to interview playwright Peter Myette about his show, Not A Gift, which is making its New York premiere in the New York International Fringe Festival.
With an all female cast, Not A Gift joins Robert Kennedy on his campaign for the presidency in 1968, highlighting the vast inequities he encountered on that journey. Audiences will see how Kennedy’s visceral embrace of those with little, fueled a confrontational challenge to those with much. While informed by key events of 1968, the vital core of Not A Gift is the political campaign as metaphor for self-realization. Robert Kennedy’s identity crystallized in the ideal that to be engaged in social change, IS the United States.
The similarities between the issues of 1968 and today are uncanny, that we are fighting for the same injustices 50 years later.
Not A Gift has one performance left, this Friday, 10/26 at 4:30pm at Fringe Hub (685 Washington Street, corner of Charles Street). Click here for tickets!
1. How did you come to write Not a Gift? In 2008, I carried with me a number of books on Robert Kennedy when I worked for Barack Obama’s campaign in NYC, Philadelphia and Scranton, PA. I drew inspiration from Robert F. Kennedy’s management of JFK’s 1960 campaign and from the circumstances of his own run for president in 1968. The full-on commitment of intelligent, dedicated individuals to a cause greater than themselves that marked the Obama movement, was a mirror image of what RFK generated in his ’68 campaign. But the key that lingered from my readings about Kennedy — what led me to write Not a Gift — was his stated realization that to be engaged in social change in a time when divisions are deep and inequities profound, that is the United States. Fifty years on, it remains a call to action.
2. What have you learned about this show running in the New York International Fringe Festival that you feel will inform future productions? Not a Gift is a history play. It speaks to the present through actions undertaken and objectives pursued in a similar context from the past. Production requisites of FringeNYC — tight running time, minimalist sets, quotidian surroundings — distilled the essence of the play, from which emerged a lean, purposeful creation fixed on ideas of responsibility and service, compassion and sacrifice. As our director, Heather Lanza, put it, “The play as produced at Fringe will connect with an audience in a parking lot or a garage or an open field, if necessary.”
3. What made you cast this show with all women? The ideas of Not a Gift are not the exclusive province of men. Questions of how to best conduct one’s life and contribute something toward the advancement of others— a belief in progress — are universal considerations. In 2015, I saw the Druid Theater Company’s marathon production of four Shakespeare history plays at the Lincoln Center Festival, wherein a number of the male roles were played by female actors, including “Henry IV” and “Henry V.” Their performances were riveting, in the manner of a trooper picking up and advancing a guidon from a fallen comrade-in-arms. Challenges seized and surmounted. Moreover, casting women in Not a Gift introduced distance between play and performers that served to focus attention on the ideas and to bring those ideas closer to present day America.
4. While the show is about Robert Kennedy on his campaign for the presidency in 1968, how do you feel it relates to today’s political climate? That so many social issues of 1968 — racism, violence, economic and social inequity, abuse of women — persist in 2018, testifies to the vibrant urgency of Not a Gift. That the rationales of inclusion, fairness and decency are the tenets that underpin today’s progressive agenda, recalls Robert Kennedy’s abiding commitment to justice for ALL. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young challenger who beat a 10-term representative to win the Democratic nomination for Congress, has cited Robert Kennedy as her political guide.
5. At the vital core of Not a Gift is the political campaign as a metaphor for self-realization. What is something you have realized about yourself through writing this show? I see as vital and present certain people from the past, real in recollection and discovery as they were in life. Regenerating their stories has purpose.
More on Peter:
Peter Myette wrote & directed the feature Wherever Two, which premiered at the Canadian International Film Festival & was screened at the Museum of the Moving Image.