Trevor St. John-Gilbert and Alex Kip rehearse a scene from "My Other Voice." Photo: Amnon Steiner

Performer finds 'Other Voice' in new play about young adult cancer

By Dana Casadei

Anne Frank once said, "I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains." For Alex Kip, that quote couldn't ring more true.

Enter his autobiographical show, "My Other Voice," which makes its premiere Thursday, Aug. 15 at the University of Michigan's Arthur Miller Theatre, and you'll understand how he found the beauty in a situation when some would have only seen the bad.

After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma two weeks before graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from the University of Michigan, Kip would go on to lose not only his voice while getting treatment at the U-M Medical Center, but his identity as a performer.

"When I lost my voice, (writing) sort of became my new creative outlet in a sense," Kip said. "It (the show) was allowing myself to explore whatever interested me and not judging it as far as I've never written a play before, and just seeing what happens."

Kip said the show covers an eight to nine month period and takes viewers from life before the diagnosis to him getting better and "everything that happens in-between."

His diagnosis in 2010, where he was given a 15-30 percent chance of survival, came as what Kip describes as a "relief in a weird way." After struggling vocally the entire year, the London Dramatic Academy graduate was finally able to identify what was going on.

Then in 2012, when he was "done with everything," Kip made the move to New York, where he was cast in a play Ari Laura Kreith was directing.

Kreith, who's the artistic director at Theatre 167 in New York and director of "My Other Voice," is primarily a new works director and works with medical students doing professional identity development, using theater as a tool to awaken their awareness.

While discussing this with Kip, it led to a conversation about collaborating between the first-time playwright and seasoned director.

"We had a moment of 'let's just go get coffee,'" Kreith said. "So we walk down and literally, neither of us can remember who said it first, but we both said, 'I think we should write a play.'"

Kip began writing and bringing in scenes - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kreith said she had no idea what the project was going to be when it began, but as the piece evolved, she was "struck by the way that he (Kip) tells his story."

"It wasn't so much me taking a chance on a piece, but reaching out to a person and both of us discovering that it would be something really meaningful and deserved to be explored," she said.

After readings in New York, the show staged a workshop in Columbus, Ohio, Kip's hometown, before coming to Ann Arbor for its premiere - and in a sense, an out-of-town tryout.

"I don't think much will change after this, but it's sort of our chance to really get to work at it a lot and really expose it to a lot of people and go from there," Kip said.

Kip's and Kreith's hopes for this show go much beyond seeing it perform off-Broadway or on Broadway, even though that is a hope. There are dreams to turn it into a film or TV series, a la HBO's "The Big C." But more importantly, the show is about getting people to discuss and ask questions about young adult cancer, which is the number one killer of young adults today.

Kip said that the young adult cancer movement is really starting to pick up, as there are a lot of questions people don't have answers to. He also said that there is a lot of controversy around it, leading to people really getting interested in the specific age group.

"I think it's (the show) a way to expose the problem in the system and expose why maybe we aren't getting better or why people are dying, and to really look at it more intensely - but in an interesting way too," Kip said.

The way that the show addresses cancer is also being done in a way that won't make viewers think of a "movie-of-the-week tear-jerker," Kreith said. Something else they've heard a lot is how surprised people are by the humor in it.

"He's (Kip) someone who's always proven to seeing the hopeful and sometimes the absurd in the moment," she said. "I think that's one of the strengths of the play."

"It's interesting because people think about this play as the cancer play, and it's really a play where cancer catalyzes change," Kreith said. "There's a larger sense where it's an identity play, and it's also a play about truly discovering what matters."

REVIEW:

'My Other Voice'

AKip Productions at Arthur Miller Theatre within the Walgreen Drama Center, 1226 Murfin, Ann Arbor. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15 - Sept. 1. $25. 614-832-8304. http://www.myothervoice.org

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