Natasha Sinha (LCT3 Associate): Hi again, Abe and Lila! For this second installment of LCT3-D on KILL FLOOR, we want to hear about the play itself, since that’s what you’ve been focusing on in these rehearsals leading up to tech... So Abe, you started writing KILL FLOOR about four years ago, right? Were you in Austin then?
Abe Koogler (Playwright): Yes, I was in Austin.
NS: What was your first impulse in writing this play? And how did it grow from the ideas that inspired you?
AK: I became very interested in the slaughterhouse environment: what it’s like to be an animal in that environment, and what it’s like to be a human being in that environment. So I was reading a lot about meat production— particularly industrial meat production— in the United States. I became interested in the humane kill systems designed by Temple Grandin. I sort of went down into the weeds, reading about how those worked, and I was thinking about the tunnel that she designed for cows to move along—a tunnel that’s specifically designed to make the cow feel safe and comfortable (not frightened), as it moves towards its death. The tunnel has curves so the cow can’t see what’s coming. That became for me a sort of powerful visual trigger that prompted the play.
NS: You grew up in Washington state and the small town to which Andy returns (after her stint in prison) is set there, right?
Lila Neugebauer (Director): Yeah. The Pacific Northwest.
NS: Why did you want to set it in your home state? Was your experience there connected to slaughterhouses at all?
AK: I didn’t remember when I was writing the play, but I remembered during this rehearsal process that there was actually a small slaughter facility within hearing distance of my house. We certainly wouldn’t hear any of that stuff taking place, but we could hear the animals. So that was probably somewhere in my subconscious. But I also think when you grow up in a wet, dark climate like the Pacific Northwest, it’s just in your bones. A lot of my work ends up being set there, by default. Because I know what it’s like to live in that place; I can smell it, I can see it.
NS: And why did you want the story to follow, in part, a socially-conscious teenager? I think you’ve said before that you’re interested in how people sort of grow into themselves and find their values?
AK: It’s sort of an inherently dramatic situation when you have a character who feels unmoored from their past self and is trying to define a new self. And I think both the character of Andy (the woman who gets out of prison), and the character of B (her son that she’s trying to reconcile with), are experiencing some rupture between their past self and their present self. And they don’t know what their present self looks like. And I think that’s a very scary, exciting and pivotal moment— when things can shift in either direction.
NS: And what drew you to Abe’s play, Lila?
LN: It’s funny that the tunnel was the first image that inspired the play, because it’s the image in the play that stopped me in my tracks. It felt so emotionally resonant as a visceral metaphor for how we move through life—winding along, the past obscured by time and distance, the future unknowable.
NS: Particularly in terms of Andy returning to navigate her world and this small town?
LN: Yes, and in some way almost everyone else in this play. I think everyone in this play is grappling with identity on some basic level. These are not hyper-articulate people saying exactly what they mean to say at exactly the moment they need to say it. They are struggling to articulate newly-formed senses of self—struggling to articulate in order to connect in ways that feel incredibly familiar and human and small and sad… and ultimately kind of moving.
NS: The language of the play itself is very lean. A lot of what is not said or fully verbalized gives you little windows into the background of these characters—peeks into financial status or racism or expectations or teenage insecurities. You can find a lot in between the lines of dialogue. Is that how you usually write, Abe? Do a lot of your characters speak in that spare manner, or is that specific to this particular play?
AK: KILL FLOOR was a new type of play for me. Many of the plays that I’d written prior to it had been overflowing with language. Really wild language. With KILL FLOOR, I was interested in trying something new—stripping a lot of that language away and seeing what was left. And allowing a lot of emotion and thought to build up behind very small words.
NS: I didn’t know your other work was like that—you definitely nail this spare style so well in KILL FLOOR!
AK: Oh, thank you. I have a very poor memory and I think there are a lot of moments in this play when people can’t remember things very well, or where things beyond the playing space of the play become very fuzzy and hazy. And that is absolutely how I experience the world. That’s very interesting to me dramatically and I think it adds to this sense that these characters are sort of unmoored from what came before. They’re a little lost.
NS: Thinking back to the last time we were talking, I wondered about all the other plays you’d worked on together years ago in school, which also had violence in them. We’re on the edges of violence in KILL FLOOR, but did the way violence functions in other plays come to mind while exploring the play in our developmental readings and rehearsal at all?
AK: I really love the writer Wallace Shawn, and he writes sometimes about the way our lifestyles are supported and enabled by unseen systems of violence. I think every play I write is in some way about that—about unseen systems and processes that create our reality and that are often infused with violence or some kind of unequal power relationship. But it was very important to me in writing this play that that violence be largely an offstage presence rather than something we see onstage. And certainly there are moments of violence in the play, but I knew I didn’t want to have big bloody hanging cow carcasses.
NS: Right, we’re not literally set on the kill floor.
AK: Yeah. And I also think plays should be funny. [laughs] So it is my hope that this play is also funny.
LN: I do think this play asks you to consider in what proximity you live to slaughter, literally and figuratively. And in doing so, stealthily proposes that there might be a relationship between small, seemingly inconsequential acts of violence—in domestic spaces, work spaces, in Dairy Queens—and larger acts of violence in the world. But then it’s also really funny. [laughs]