State Of The Artist: 'The Whole World Is Suddenly Tasting Loneliness'
Ean Miles Kessler is a Chicago playwright. He's originally from Hamden, Connecticut, but has also lived and worked in New York City and Miami. In 2018, he "made the leap" and moved to the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago. "It's a great neighborhood in a great city," he said.
Usually for State Of The Artist, I follow artists to the places that inspire them. I interview and photograph them in the locations that are meaningful to them. Because of the quarantine, instead of interviewing Ean in Edgewater or the theaters where he works in Chicago, I had to interview him over the phone. Not only that, in order to get the best possible audio, I had to ask him to sit for 40 minutes under a hot blanket to absorb echoes and other ambient room sounds on a day the temperatures soared into the 70s.
Several minutes into the interview, Ean said, "Can I just hop out from under this blanket for a second?" He laughed and said, "Because I'm going to have a small heatstroke."
It was such a funny moment, and a telling one at that. Right then and there I could hear in his joyful voice that he is a nice man, funny, and a great sport.
So how did Ean make his way from the East Coast and Miami to Chicago?
"I went to school up at Rutgers in New Jersey, and I had three friends there who were all from Chicago or the Chicago area," he said. "I went out for a beer with each of them individually, right around the time we were graduating, and they all said independently, 'You gotta check out Chicago. I think it's really your kind of scene -- the kind of work you'd like to do.' And so that really stuck with me."
The city's many theaters also were (and are) an attraction.
"You're talking about, you know, not just 250 storefront theaters but 250 storefront theaters that are willing to take a risk on newer writers. And that is worth its weight in gold," he said. "The opportunity to make work here I think is different than anywhere else in the country. So as a playwright who wants to make new material, you really can't beat that."
Chicago doesn't just have a lot of theaters. It also has a lot of neighborhoods and it can be tough to decide exactly where to live. Ean chose Edgewater because, he said, "It has the highest concentration of theaters in the city."
Ean credits his neighborhood as being an important part of his personal and professional development:
"Some of the best stuff I've seen has been up here," he said. As for the community aspect of Edgewater, Ean said it's filled with "really warm, wonderful people."
Ean adores people, but he cherishes solitude. He grew up an only child, and now, as an adult, lives alone.
"Writing is very much a sport of isolation," Ean said. "Drama, in particular, is always about human relationships, and people trying to be understood and trying to connect. Solitude is a huge part of that. That's also true in other written forms and other art forms, but I do think it's particularly special or salient in theatre."
Ean said that solitude is a part of his life. He emphasized that he didn't mean that in a selfish way.
He said, "That's what I'm most concerned about -- this will come across as self-pitying, or that I'm not aware of the larger effects of coronavirus." He continued, "I know people who have lost family members, and it's beyond devastating. I'm deeply grateful that I have not." He stressed the significance of the fact that we are all experiencing COVID-19 together. "It's strange to feel like the whole world suddenly is tasting loneliness," he said.
Regarding loneliness, Ean said that as a writer, it has always been something he has "sort of danced on the outskirts of." "It's the thing that I write about all the time -- everything that I've written about is about lonely people.," he said. "If I didn't have that experience, I wouldn't be that writer."
"That writer" has had plays produced Off Broadway. He's been published by Vintage Books and was a semifinalist in the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival. He's been commissioned by Grace Arts in Miami, and he's performed the title role in Hamlet at the Globe Stage in England. You can find him in Chicago at Chicago Dramatists, where he is the director of the network playwright program and head of the education outreach department. His one-woman show A Ballad of Horses received its Chicago premiere at The Factory Theatre. He is a devoted member of the Chicago chapter of Naked Angels Theater Company, where his play Frankie Moon's Long Gone was showcased at their inaugural 1st Monday Reading Series. That play went on to receive a staged reading at Chicago Dramatists last fall.
Ean looks forward to creating live theatre again once the coronavirus subsides. In the midst of COVID-19, Ean makes sure that he and other writers are still writing, taking classes, and sharing their work via Zoom and other online outlets.
Ean said art has been his guiding light for most of his adult life. "It's really the thing that is grounding because I deal with loneliness," he said. "It's just something that's sort of neither good nor bad -- it just is what it is."
To learn more about Ean Miles Kessler, visit his website.