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Reliving New York’s Seedy ’70s On‑Stage, an Interview With Kassi Dougherty

Kassi Dougherty is a writer, actor, singer/songwriter, and visual artist currently living in New York City. She can be seen performing all over town doing her strange slideshows, singing her songs, and just generally making a nuisance of herself. Her one‑woman multimedia extravaganzas, “It Happened in the Park” and “Auntie Fionnualla’s Magic Disco,” have been recently seen in Emerging Artist Theater’s (NYC) Fall New Works Series, and One Woman Standing, as well as at the Magnet Theater and the PIT (NYC). She has performed as a proud member of many sketch and improv groups: Film Noir and Harsh at the Upright Citizens Brigade and the People’s Improv Theaters, The Sound and the Fury musical house team at the Magnet in NYC, and on Harold teams at Improv Olympics in Chicago. She’s performed at the Del Close Marathon in NYC and at the Toronto, Philadelphia, and Dirty South Improv Festivals. She was recently seen in the Web Series, “The Thing,” as part of the country music/comedy sensation, “The Drelles,” and in “The Pit‑alogues.” She is currently belting out songs as part of the improvised musical revue, “The 29th St. Revue,” has a B.A. in Music and Theater, and is from somewhere in Kansas. We had the opportunity to interview Kassi Dougherty about her solo show, “Song of Seamus and the Psychedelic Squirrel,” and what inspired her to create the piece. James Bartholomew: So much of the magic of “Song of Seamus and the Psychedelic Squirrel” comes from its imaginative and unique premise. What inspired you to write and perform this play? Kassi Dougherty: A lot of the stories we hear about NYC are about the rich, famous and successful. Yet it takes so much courage and character, if you don’t have those advantages, just to put food on the table in this town. I wanted to tell a story about the little people, like me. And I guess you can’t find a lowlier New Yorker than a squirrel or a pigeon. Then there’s my love of Fort Tryon Park, and the many happy hours I’ve spent there in the twenty years that I’ve lived in Washington Heights. Over the years, I created characters based on animals I saw there – mostly to make my friends laugh. Eventually the characters took on a life of their own, and I thought, “Hmm… maybe there’s a whole story here.” With so many different characters all singing in their own style and genre, how did you go about crafting these characters and their songs? Some of the characters, like the Psychedelic Squirrel, whom I always saw as sort of a Jim Morrison type, came with a singing style already. Some, like the Pigeons, came from on‑the‑spot inspiration. I was describing them to a friend one day, saying, “Well, they’re basically like teens roaming the city, bullying people and causing trouble,” and he said, “You mean a bunch of punks?” Eureka! Of course, they HAD to be a pigeon Sex Pistols‑style band. Along with the musical accompaniments, parts of your performance are synced to pre‑recorded dialogue. What challenges did that bring? The hardest part of this is trying to make it all seem spontaneous, and not look like I’m waiting for a line to be spoken. I think of the whole show as a duet that I’m doing with the films. What is it about 70s rock operas that made you want to craft a play in a similar style? Well, this was pure selfishness on my part. I just love the great rock operas of the 1970s—“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Wiz,” “Tommy”—they’re so passionate and heartfelt. They’re my go‑tos when I’ve had a tough day. I am also THE number‑one Fosse fan. “Pippin” is one of my all‑time favorites. I’m obsessed with the 70s in general. How did you go about portraying such a large cast as a solo performer? I rehearsed each character separately, really working to sharpen the differences between them. It helps that I love to put on a voice. I’m one of those people who pepper their everyday conversations with character voices. I’m sure this annoys my friends occasionally. What is your favorite song or part of the show to perform? My favorite character to play is Ye Ye – the old alcoholic cat. She’s been through a lot, but she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I love her song – it’s a big power ballad. And the audience really seems to relate to her. How do you think modern audiences have received your take on a relatively older style of play? I think a big part of the zeitgeist right now is revisiting other eras, and the 70s are really having a moment. On TV, there’s “The Deuce” and “Vinyl.” FX has a series about Fosse coming out this spring. We all romanticize the dirty ol’ 70s as being the scariest AND the coolest time to be in NYC. I certainly do… I would love to have just one night at Studio 54! Song of Seamus and the Psychedelic Squirrel Written and Performed by Kassi Dougherty


JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.


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