By: John Taylor
Like so many artsy college students before us, we decided to meet up in a coffee shop. I would say I was late because she had to wait for me, but, in truth, she had arrived early. Kelsey did not passively wait for me to arrive but instead whipped out her laptop and began her work for the night. If anything, my meek “hello” felt a little bit like interrupting. Kelsey Hogan, writer, director, actor and senior at Emerson, greeted me with open arms.
Any nervousness or discomfort I might’ve had going in was instantly swept aside by the warmth of her salutations and the sincerity in her “hello” hug. I thanked her for taking the time out of her busy schedule to meet with me on a day when she didn’t have rehearsal for her upcoming show, “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and long before we began the interview we simply caught up. We talked about seeing our families over winter break, not seeing them for spring break, current classes and all that. When it came to my younger siblings, she didn’t give the customary “D’awww!” but instead asked me if they were talking yet, how were they liking school, could Charlie read? The genuine, mature response to toddlers let me know right away that she wasn’t a typical college girl, she wasn’t baby-crazy and she knew the right questions to ask. She made me feel like she actually cared about my brother and sister instead of the usual “necessary courteous” questions. But we couldn’t talk about my adorable siblings all night long.
Mozart is famous for his skill developing at such a young age, and even Stephen King tells stories of writing as a child. It seems obvious that a sure sign of talent is it showing up when the talented is young, and Kelsey certainly supports this theory. As a child, a cornerstone of holidays in the Hogan family was the show that Kelsey would orchestrate. “All the cousins would have to come report to me at the very beginning of the event. We would go into one of the backrooms, there would be costumes, I would write a script, and we would learn it, although some parts would be, I would say, ‘you can improvise but it has to be about this.’” Already Kelsey was practicing writing and directing, and even acting as she mentioned; “I told them all what they had to do, and I had my own part, and then we would show the story to my parents or any of the adults that were at my house.” The most famous of Kelsey’s customary shows were the annual “Thanksgiving Programs.” She would orchestrate a cabaret, from skits to original music and even had the determination to make handmade programs with her sister. It’s no surprise that her family took notice of Kelsey’s raw talent at such a young age.
By the time she was in 4th grade, Kelsey’s grandmother had noticed her intrigue with mysteries and handed her an array of Agatha Christie novels that she “…would tear through…” But even Agatha Christie wasn’t literary enough for our little prodigy; another amazing tidbit of Kelsey’s youth is her introduction to Shakespeare. In 5th grade, a librarian casually handed her “Hamlet”. Right after completing the timeless classic, Kelsey proceeded to read the entire body of Shakespeare’s work. Kelsey’s resume in elementary school was already intense for a high school student, it’s no surprise that she has continued to go above and beyond in college.
Kelsey has a unique eye in the world of theatre because of her involvement in so many different aspects of production. As a writer, she can envision a world to live in from nothing. As a director, she puts order to the chaos and as an actor, she finds a place in the world where she can live. Few others can boast this multi-faceted talent, but Kelsey has nothing but humility to show for this diverse background.
Kelsey started out as an actor and stumbled upon writing and directing almost by accident. As an elective class her sophomore year she took playwriting, not realizing that it would forever change her career path. Kelsey realized she loved writing almost instantaneously and changed majors to Theatre Studies with an emphasis on Playwriting. She also started directing which, to her surprise, taught her a lot about how to be a better actor. “When I was an actor before I’d ever directed, I didn’t understand what any of the other roles on the production side were or, like, how things happened and the way they happened.” But Kelsey doesn’t let her talent or her new knowledge keep her from learning more new things and learning from others.
As we discussed her influences, from Roald Dahl to Shakespeare, Kelsey surprised me by then discussing her inspirations here at Emerson. Of course there were teachers mentioned, but I did not imagine her discussing her classmates as very strong influences on her career. On this phenomena she says, “So I think now that I’m surrounded by other artists, I don’t have to just take my influence from celebrities so much anymore, or people that are already, like, really well known. I like to take them from people that are real to me and it really helps them seem more real to me which helps me in all of these things.” Kelsey hails from a family of doctors, lawyers, and teachers. The closest relative she has that even comes close to an artist is a distant aunt who occasionally paints with watercolors. Being thrown into a maelstrom of creative angst and purity such as Emerson changed Kelsey’s perspective on many things, one of which was actually herself. She was able to discover her true calling, which she revealed during the interview as writing more than acting or directing. “Thanks, Emerson!”
Many artists think that a screwed up life is the key to artistic intrigue and originality, hence young people making excuses for alcohol and drugs. Kelsey has avoided that self-destructive behavior, but I guarantee you, she is no lesser the artist for it. As we discussed her experience in playwriting she gave me the splendid, unexpected gem of describing her first play to me, “The Descent of Man.” The story chronicles two scientists who decide to challenge the idea of nature vs. nurture in the most grotesque way possible: trying to turn their son into a cannibal simply through conditioning and experiments. I won’t spoil it for you, but she mentioned something about blood and guts. Viewing Hazard: the first three rows will get wet. Her play explores not only the ideas of identity and constructed identity but the ethical values behind experimenting and studying psychological behavior in children, for things cannot be studied without being changed, a line of thought known as the Heisenberg Principle. People say that theatre is dead, but for this play… well… there’s a pun in there somewhere. Kelsey certainly hasn’t wasted her time being happy and healthy; in fact, it seems it’s only made her mind clearer so she can create terrible things with more clarity, or, as a teacher once her described her work, “’Horror Films For The Stage.’”
Kelsey has only a month left at Emerson and she is spending her time wisely. While production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” hits crunch time, Kelsey is organizing and sending out job applications and applications for playwriting fellowships across the country. Her main hope is Juliard but she has a backup plan if that doesn’t pan out, which is a connection at a talent agency in San Francisco that is looking to sign her. Seems like a pretty good backup plan to me. And while her world is currently a flurry of cover letters, resumes and shameless self promotion, Kelsey lowered her voice towards the end of the interview and conveyed a deep desire of hers: “…one of my ultimate goals, years down the line, would be to open my own theatre company.” Let’s all look out for that fantastic dream to come true, where who knows which aspect of Kelsey’s wonderful talents we’ll see come alive on stage.