Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Kylie Vilcins: Stop Kiss

By | Published on Friday 1 November 2019

Opening at Vauxhall’s Above The Stag Theatre this week is a staging of Diana Son’s award-winning 1998 play ‘Stop Kiss’, which tells the story of a young couple – Sarah and Callie – who are subjected to violence in the earliest moments of their relationship.

I spoke to the producer of the show – theatre maker and LGBT rights advocate Kylie Vilcins – to find out more about the production and about Kylie herself.

CM: Can you start by telling us something about the plot of the play? Whose story does it tell, and what happens in it?
KV: Written by Diana Son and first performed in 1998, it follows two women who live in New York, Callie and Sara, who meet and unexpectedly fall in love.

After they share their first kiss, they are the victims of a horrific crime which transforms both their lives in a way they could never have imagined.

‘Stop Kiss’ intertwines both a love story and a hate crime. But essentially it is a beautiful female love story.

CM: What themes does it explore? 
KV: ‘Stop Kiss’ explores relationships; the depth of human interactions and emotions; and I love this quote from Diana Son herself: “I am consistently interested in the conflict between how other people identify you and the more complex way in which you know yourself. I am quite aware of the contrast between how you assume things are one moment, and how they can utterly, irrevocably change in the next”.

‘Stop Kiss’ is written as a non-linear play – apparently this narrative is often used to mimic the structure and recall of human memory which sits perfectly here. With this, Diana Son creates dramatic irony and seamlessly moves the story back and forth in time, between scenes and different scenarios dealing with the intense themes of identity crisis and conflict of emotions, discrimination, violence and victim blaming.

Homophobia is obviously another crucial theme, but the play does not focus primarily on that. It’s a love story and the gradual recognition of their mutual attraction is the heart and soul of this play.

CM: What made you want to stage this particular play? 
KV: ‘Stop Kiss’ is a play I have long wanted to produce and right now, unfortunately in light of the recently publicised homophobic attacks on women, feels like an extremely relevant and pertinent time to do so.

It’s a gorgeous and very poignant play, albeit based on a violent hate crime, but its’ heart is the beautiful queer female love story between Callie and Sara. When I first read it, I just fell in love; I found it really beautiful and truthful and of course extremely moving.

There are so many reasons that now seemed like the right time to stage this play and specifically at Above The Stag Theatre. The narrative is still incredibly relevant today for a lot of LGBT+ individuals, and couples are the most likely group to be the victim of hate crimes.

As I mentioned above, we only have to cast our minds back a few months to the brutal attacks on a female couple on a London bus and the cast members of the play Rotterdam in Southampton to realise this hatred is still prolifically apparent and we most definitely and urgently need this to change.

CM: So it is just as relevant as it was then? Even though it’s been twenty years since it was first staged?
KV: Potently. Whilst there has been some progress and much change has been rallied since it was written, it’s such a travesty that we’re still having the same conversations and these hate crimes are still as relevant and prolific as ever – it goes to show we still, unfortunately, have a bloody long way to go and so much work to do.

People are who they are, believe what they believe and love who they love. No one should be able to take that from you or cause hatred towards and attack you because of that.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about the playwright? 
KV: Diana Miae Son is an American playwright, television producer, and writer. She is known for her work on ‘American Crime’, ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’, ‘Southland’ and ‘Blue Bloods’. She also serves as the showrunner for ’13 Reasons Why’.

‘Stop Kiss’ was her first full-length play, produced off-Broadway in 1998 at The Public Theatre in New York City. It was extended three times and we feel so privileged to be able to revisit it now.

CM: How did you come to be staging a show at Above The Stag?
KV: Andrew [Beckett, the venue’s newly appointed Artistic Director] and I have known and worked with one another on many theatre productions for seven years now!

When the theatre moved to its current venue in Vauxhall we discussed collaborating on a project as they really wanted and needed to be more inclusive and – as I like to say – put the L back into LGBTQ+ at Above The Stag – ie the need to programme lesbian themed work to fully embrace the ethos of the venue.

I’m beyond chuffed that ‘Stop Kiss’ is the first piece of programming from Andrew as the new Artistic Director! I hope that along with their long-standing and ever loyal patrons we can also entice a new and diverse audience to visit Above The Stag, allowing more people the opportunity to experience all this brilliant LGBTQ+ venue in London has to offer.

I am honoured to be working with Andrew and the team at Above The Stag, embracing and implementing their new artistic vision and commitment to exploring the stories of the LGBTQ+ community.

CM: Can we talk a bit about you now? How did you end up having a career in the theatre? Did you always want that?
KV: I love theatre. Theatre is definitely my passion, and to have your passion as your job is quite a remarkable thing! Yes – I always wanted a career in theatre but when I was younger, I desperately wanted to act. I was always trying to create ways to be centre stage and show off I guess. Oh how times have changed!!

Growing up in Adelaide there was not much theatre available and my secondary school only introduced drama into the curriculum during my final year, after we petitioned for it to be included. I had a brilliant year that year as it was my favourite subject and I actually won the first ever drama Award at Seaview High School.

I moved to London in 1999 and took my first show to Edinburgh in 2000. I produced, directed and acted in it. Not the best move, but I learnt so much and I realised deep down, producing was something I was so very interested in.

I have worked FOH in West End Theatres and was PA to the Theatre Manager and as a VIP Host at Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then moved backstage and crewed on ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘The Producers’. In 2012 I began to freelance as an Associate Producer whilst also working full time as a Conference And Events Manager for a breast cancer charity.

I gradually gained more and more experience in production, working on some amazing shows with brilliantly talented people, and realised that this is what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
KV: I adore my full-time job as Assistant Producer with National Youth Music Theatre, so I hope to continue working with them whilst presenting my own productions on the side.

I’d love to work with and meet more creatives and help develop new productions. I have recently met a playwright through a friend and together we are workshopping his brand-new play ’17 Across’ at Above The Stag in late November with a public and industry showing on Friday 29 November.

CM: What do you have coming up next, after this? 
KV: We launch NYMT Season 2020 imminently and begin our nationwide auditions in the new year which is very exciting.

I have a few projects I’m keen to get going with but NYMT is my main focus and am looking forward to welcoming and working with a whole new company of young people from around the UK. We have some exciting international projects on the go as well so 2020 is shaping up to be a very busy, eventful and interesting year!

‘Stop Kiss’ is on at Above The Stag Theatre from 6 Nov-1 Dec. For information and to book tickets, visit the venue website here.


Photo: Claire Grogan