Directing the Kids in the Hall with director Jim Millan

Directing the Kids

Amy Martin catches up with Kids in the Hall director  in Austin, and chats about their current reunion, which comes to Dallas Sunday night.

published Friday, April 25, 2014

Photo: Scooter Smith
Jim Millan hanging out in Austin for the Moontower Comedy Festival

Austin — You just can’t keep a good troupe like Kids in the Hall down. Not when writing for it is so fun. In their Texas mini-tour—Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin on Friday and Saturday and Dallas at the Majestic Theatre on Sunday—“They’re writing as much as rehearsing. The ideas are flying,” according to Jim Millan, director of the latest touring show. The Canadian troupe, known for their late-night sketch show from 1989 to 1995 on CBS and HBO, features Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson.

Millan has known the Kids since the ‘90s in Toronto and been director on all their tours since the 2000s. In a chat on the second floor balcony of the Intercontinental Stephan F. Austin Hotel, which had been commandeered by the Moontower folks, he shared how this show is powered by a large amount of fresh writing. “Plus some of the new material is with famous old characters, so you get the best of both,” said Millan. Now that troupe members are getting up there in years, so are their creations. Hecubus, for instance, is truly vexed by aging. Indeed, being no longer young is a sub-theme that threads the show.

Kids in the Hall has enjoyed a few reunion tours since their show ended. But when the Canadian performers gathered in Toronto last December at The Rivoli, which hosted the troupe in the ‘80s, a creative wellspring arose. With production and promotion support from the Toronto Sketch Fest, said Millan, “We sold out five 500-seat shows with just an initial email blast. No press release, no nothing. We wanted people to just find us. It was exciting.”

That boon is Texas’ benefit. “We love it here,” said Millan. “Everybody has so many projects that when we all come together we want to make sure it’s the right circumstances. This Texas tour was intended to be the next stage, because we had so much great material. We’re so excited about it that we decided to do two weeks of shows in the Northeast in June.” Fresh Kids comedy for Yankees, baked right here in Texas.

“It’s just exciting to see them so happy to be writing together again. They’re so good at knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses that they fill in beautifully for each other” said Millan. “The last two days of rehearsal I’ve laughed as hard as I’ve ever laughed. To watch Bruce McCullough holding his sides because he’s laughing so hard is a great sign.”

“They’re great writers,” continued Millan, “but they’re amazing at re-writing. They will take a scene that’s already set and push it. Like I brought up in rehearsal yesterday ‘I don’t think we’ve really nailed the ending to that scene.’ They ended up writing an amazing monologue for Mark to end a scene called ‘Foodies.’ It went in a completely different direction. Individually, they’re brilliant; collectively, they’re genius.”

“They’re brave enough to write right up to the last minute,” assured Millan. “They’re brave enough to trust in the structure and play it out. And then there’s that little room for madness when they’re on stage. One of them might get up in another’s face like they’ve never done before and it’s like ‘OK, game, on!’ And that’s so exciting. The audience senses it, too. They sense that this is a live sport. They have a great love and freedom for each other, and they also know that if something goes off the rails, or goes a little different, or somebody adds something, there might be an opportunity to find the genius of it.”

As director, Millan brings to the Kids show a deep knowledge of theater: “When they’re working on things, I’m there to remind them of story and focus. I also help them envision how to transform something that’s a club scale kind of comedy to something that will fill the stage in a 2000-seat theater. I’m outside eyes when we’re picking a set list. Is the show getting too much in this or in that direction? And helping Dave with scenes that can be cut. I help bring them people who get what they do, the right costume designers and lighting designers. Working with these guys is always a lot of fun.”