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Stage

Ira Kip

A jetsetting playwright brings a local tale of love and violence to Baltimore

Photo: Michelle Gienow, License: N/A

Michelle Gienow


She’Baltimore

Through Feb. 26 at the Load of Fun Theatre.

For more information, visit loadoffun.net.

New York-based theater director Ira Kip, 30, has roots all over the world. She is of Caribbean descent but grew up in the Netherlands, and she and her twin sister Ayra—who divides her time between Stockholm and Amsterdam—run an international arts collective. Through the collective, the pair also runs Art Rules Aruba, a summer arts program in nine disciplines for 300 kids in Aruba. And now Ira Kip has extended her reach to Baltimore. Kip’s play, She’Baltimore—her first foray into writing for the stage—is about a lesbian couple from Baltimore, caught up in domestic violence. Some of the cast are local, some from New York; some are professional actors while others have little prior theater experience. The play, which Kip also directs, has its American premiere this week at the Load of Fun Theatre. She hopes to take the production to Washington, D.C., and New York City following its run here.

City Paper recently sat down with Kip to talk about the project.

City Paper : So how did you come to write a play based in Baltimore?

Ira Kip: Five years ago, I came here and met some folks who I have built relationships with. My best friend is here. And then I started teaching [summer classes] at CCBC [the Community College of Baltimore County] at Dundalk and then I also started teaching in D.C., theater classes. And I was always very interested in the city and knew that one day I wanted to write about the city.

CP : How come? What is it about Baltimore that struck you?

IK: It gets me out of the craziness of New York, but it actually reminds me a lot of home, as well. I’m from Amsterdam. It’s a lot slower, people are a lot nicer, but there’s a lot going on here. It’s in development on certain levels and on other levels it’s still very behind. So there’s a big contrast that I always found very interesting . . . . I’m here very often, every other weekend. A lot of people ask me, “Why don’t you move?” or, “When are you moving?” Because I’m always here. So I also see it as my second home.

CP : And what inspired you to write this particular play?

IK: In 2006, I went to the New School for Drama, and a good friend of mine who is a director as well, we were in the class together, she’s from Baltimore. And she’s the one who told me about a friend of hers walking into the emergency room after she was beaten by her girlfriend, and they didn’t want to help her because they couldn’t tell if she was the aggressor or the victim. . . . Because with women, you can’t really tell. Or people often think it’s the woman who’s more masculine, not the woman who’s more feminine. So I was always intrigued by that story and I started writing about it. . . . And then while I was doing my research, I found out that it’s actually a big issue, domestic violence in the LGBT community, but nobody really talks about it.

CP : And it premiered in Amsterdam, right?

IK: In 2009, yes. It’s a totally different production. The play has grown, my thoughts about it have shifted. It’s not so much about who’s the aggressor or the victim now—it’s more about there’s a problem that we need to talk about. So I’m investigating more the love between two women but also how the outside responds to that. And then the complexity of domestic violence. What does that look like? Because this is something that happens behind closed doors, so as a director, that’s an interesting device. How much do you show to your audience? Do you see women slapping each other across the room, or not? You will know when you come to the play.

CP : Do you feel like this story is particularly pertinent to Baltimore, or did you just set it here because you like the city?

IK: Mostly because of that story in 2006, and then my personal connection with Baltimore and wanting to write about the city. And also, this story reflects Baltimore, what these two women go through, almost like their love life is a reflection of the city. It’s charming, it’s beautiful, it’s passionate, but it’s also raw and it’s violent and it’s poor.

CP : Domestic violence is one of those things that’s difficult for people to understand from the outside. Like, why don’t you just leave, right?

IK: Exactly. And even when you see a friend of yours go through it, how do you as a friend approach the situation? Because you know something is going on but nobody is really talking about it, nobody really knows what to say, and nobody knows if she hit her. We all know something is off but nobody is really saying anything.

CP : Can you tell me a bit about work that you’ve done in the past?

IK: I’ve been directing for 11 years, and this play actually reflects a little bit of my first play, which was Agamemnon. Agamemnon comes back from the war and Clytemnestra is waiting there to kill him because he killed their daughter. So I posed the same question: Who do you choose when you know both are wrong, or right? And it was actually also set in a boxing ring. (I’m giving something away right now.) . . . I’m all about Greek tragedies, classical stuff. After this I’m doing The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare.

CP : She’Baltimore seems more activist-oriented than what you’ve done in the past, directing Agamemnon, say. Does it have a different quality because it’s pretty specific to a real-life problem?

IK: I guess it has to do with becoming older as well. When I did Agamemnon, it was really about my style as a director and finding out what kind of theater I wanted to direct. Now it’s more about the questions I want to ask the audience and myself. . . . So there’s definitely an activism to it, but that’s also a heavy title. I’m 5-foot-1, I have size 5-and-a-half sneakers, I’m just a girl with an idea. [Activism] becomes part of it because you’re touching on such an interesting and necessary subject, so yes it definitely becomes part of it. . . . And I think being an artist is partly being an activist. It’s asking questions, provoking thought, taking your audience on a ride.

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