Focused, Fearless, And Alive: A Q&A With A Virgen

<p>We talk to Natalie Kuhn, a performer cast as one of the titular character&#8217;s in <i>Stop the Virgens</i>.</p>

Photo credit: James Medcraft

An integral part of the live element of Stop the Virgens are the titular characters, the army of Virgens that represent Karen O‘s formative self within the loose narrative of the show. The troop of actresses and singers who became the Virgens had the experience of internalizing Karen O’s vision, sharing the stage with a visionary and the immensely talented musicians who helped her realize the concept.

What is it like for a young performer to suddenly find herself surrounded by her idols, not only participating in their work, but contributing, sharing ideas in an intimate creative setting? There’s only one way to know—ask a Virgen. And that’s exactly what we did.

Natalie Kuhn is a performer based in New York. We caught up with her to ask about her time working on Stop the Virgens.

The Creators Project: How did you come to be involved in Stop the Virgens?
Natalie Kuhn: I first heard about the project through the Assistant Director, the lovely and endlessly talented Lila Neugebauer. We were both up in the Berkshires working at the Williamstown Theater Festival. She introduced me to Adam and Brendan at one of the two bars in the town and when I returned to NY after the summer, I was called in for an audition. The audition was unlike any other. First of all, Karen O in the flesh was sitting there along with Adam [Rapp], Mari [Lopez], Debra [Barsha], a lot of the creative team behind those infamous audition tables. That's when my heart ceased to beat. But immediately they were all so open and kind—the working standard that would follow for the rest of rehearsals. The audition included singing, a movement improv with the effervescent wonder that is Mari, a solo movement “game,” a group improv, and choral work. It definitely was intense, but somehow it was also loving and supportive. How? Well, that's just how they roll.

How did this production compare to previous ones you’d worked on in the past?
I have been lucky enough to work with bands and work in theater. Those experiences were very much separate. This production was fully synthesized. The seven of us, the acolytes, and the band were integrated early on in the rehearsal process. For some of the day, the three entities would work separately and then at some point in the day we would all pile into the same room and fuse our work. Most of the time in theater, you see the designers once in the beginning and then not again until tech. But here, everyone was checking in with everyone all the time.

Can you describe the setting and mood of your rehearsals?
I think I can safely say that we all fell in love with Karen's music, so we wanted this show to be the best it could be. Thanks in no small part to Adam's patience, diligence, and appreciation for each person's strengths. That translated into a room that was focused, fearless, and alive. Everyone's ideas were heard and tried. It felt like true collaboration.

There was one night I'll never forget—we had hit a wall in rehearsal and the seven of us were physically exhausted and emotionally frustrated. Adam, Karen, Lila, and Mari sat with us in a circle and Adam asked Karen how she came up with the first song. The story she told was incredibly moving and spoken from the heart. Immediately our spirits were lifted. I think we realized that night that this show was bigger than any one person—that we were working on something very large, something deeply connected to the human soul.

Virgens backstage

What do you think was new, exciting, or special about STV?
There was something in that first recording that she and Sam Spiegel worked on years ago that taps into a visceral place. That song cycle combined with the movement, visual effects, design, etc. is more of a dreamlike narrative. It's not cut and dry. You may not have come away with a traditional "story," but hopefully the audience, at some point or another, felt something inexplicable and saw something that stuck with them.

What was the biggest challenge you experienced in preparation for or during the performance?
I suppose the biggest challenge was overcoming intimidation. When I found myself in a room with all of those incredible people, many of whom I have revered for years, I found myself totally self conscious—laughing uncomfortably, moving stiffly, asking myself repeatedly “Did I really just say that?” But once we all started to work together, that melted away. That, and the fact that I'm in not a singer. I started to see a private voice coach to help me catch up to the powerful voices in that room.

How did you feel after STV’s run at St. Ann’s came to an end?

Depressed, proud, and blue-balled. I felt a deep ache for my fellow Virgens because we had worked just about as intimately as you platonically can for weeks. Proud because it did come together and my family loved it (that always means a lot to me). Blue-balled because when we closed, it felt like previews were over and we were ready to begin a longer run. It seems silly to have had so many people work so hard for so long for only eight performances. But I suppose that is the beauty of theater?

What are you working on now? Do you still keep in touch with any of the people you met on the STV production?

Today is the closing night of my first off-Broadway show, Poetic License. It couldn't have been more different from STV. It is a slice-of-life family comi-drama. I am so lucky to have had these two projects to work on back to back. They have stretched me and challenged me in completely opposite ways.

I certainly do keep in touch with the folks from STV. We see each other's shows, drinks are had, emails are sent. I'm so grateful for them in my life.