Spotlight on Kevin Armento: A biopic that is spectral in both meanings of the word

Throughout all March and April we’re getting up close and personal with all the incredible artists who are currently building our jazz concert-party-play hybrid, Playing Hot. Today, we’re bringing you an interview with Playing Hot co-creator and co-writer, Kevin Armento. To learn more about the writing of Playing Hot, check out our interview with Kevin’s writing partner on the show, C.A. Johnson, which was posted last week. And don’t forget to snatch up those tickets for performances April 18 – May 12.

Pipeline Theatre Company: What is most exciting to you about being part of Playing Hot?

Kevin Armento: The most exciting part is feeling like we’ve created a family together, and that our family is really just putting on a New Orleans party for folks. It’s exciting because that’s exactly what we set out to do: bring a sweaty swinging vibe to Midtown, so everyone can ease their troubles for a night and engage with a compelling story.

PTC: What do you want the folks reading this to know about Playing Hot? What’s the most important element of this project to you?

KA: The show has like 45 characters and a six person brass band, and it took an even bigger army of artists and practitioners over the past four years to bring that shit to life. Three of our collaborators are from New Orleans, our Music Supervisor and band are all jazz musicians by trade, and we hope this lends an authenticity to both the sound and storytelling.

PTC: Talk to us about jazz. What’s your relationship to the music?

KA: I HATED jazz as a kid because I only knew it to be Kenny G. Then as a teenager I got into 60’s free jazz, which I liked but mostly pretended to understand because it seemed like smart music to listen to. Then I was exposed to New Orleans trad and it’s like my whole body woke up. It slows you down and speeds you up all at once, and you can think about it or numb your mind entirely, and enjoy it just the same. Part of the show is trying to create those dualities in a piece of theater.

PTC: Talk to us about the very beginning of you work on this? How did it start?

KA: It started when Jaki was like, “There should be a theater piece about New Orleans jazz.” And I was like, “Yeah.” We’re both obsessed with all things NOLA, and had been into the lore surrounding Buddy Bolden, so that felt like a good place to start. We did a bunch of research trips to the jazz archive at Tulane, and befriended Buddy’s biographer, who’s now a character in the show. And then we set out to find the collaborators who could make something like this possible…which led us to the magic makers at Pipeline.

PTC: What drew you to this story in particular? What makes this urgent for you?

KA: Half the urgency lies in my yearning for a night of theater in which we just laugh together and drink together and move together, and our cerebrums can take a fucking night off. I mean there’s plenty to chew on in this show, but any time we’ve tried to intellectualize it too much, joy wins out. Soul wins out, and the meditations on theme happen more by osmosis. That said, this is a show about the pioneer of jazz, America’s Art Form, who got zero credit or money for it and died alone in an asylum. So on a personal level, I feel an urgency to help correct that. And C.A. and I are trying to do that by telling his story in the very style he created, a biopic that is spectral in both meanings of the word, because history has left us so little of this man, and also because it’s more fun that way.

Check out Kevin’s short films at Boston Film Festival, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Aspen this spring! He’s also currently working on commissions from Ars Nova and Manhattan Theatre Club. Follow him on Twitter at @kephen and on Instagram at @kevinarmento. And don’t forget to snag those SUPER EARLY BIRD tickets to Playing Hot, before they’re gone.