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Storyteller, actor Kling credits Interact Center with recovery from major accident – MPR News

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Kevin Kling is a wild man whose adventurous spirit has got him into a few scrapes over the years, many of which he has then related in stories he’s told on stage and in books. But he admits Interact Center for Visual and Performing Art’s gala celebration in his honor has made him nervous.

“I really have no idea what they are going to do to and for me,” he said with a laugh. “I never know when I walk in here for rehearsal what’s going to happen. All I know is if I am having a bad day, it’ll be gone in 10 minutes.”

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the event on Thursday evening, in which Interact Center is marking 20 years of collaboration with Kling. The playwright, storyteller and actor, in return, is celebrating Interact, which he credits with pulling him through a traumatic motorcycle accident 18 years ago.

Interact’s many artists have a variety of disabilities. Some of those disabilities are physical, some are developmental, but all of the artists contribute to the work. Kling, who was born with an undersized left arm and no wrist or thumb on his left hand, had worked with Interact over the years, even as his profile as storyteller grew on other stages, not to mention regular appearances on NPR.

Then in 2001, Kling’s life changed. As he rode his motorbike through Minneapolis, a car pulled out in front of him, and he didn’t have time to stop. The crash caused horrific injuries. He lost use of his good arm.

“And I really wasn’t sure if I was ever even going to perform again,” he said. “Because I sustained, not only bodily injury, but brain injury, so I can’t memorize any more.”

Interact’s founder and artistic director Jeanne Calvit says Kling was in a bad way.

“He was in a lot of meds, he was in a lot of pain,” she recalled. “But I had this little evil plan.”

• Listen: Six funny stories from Kevin Kling
• In 2007: Frenetic storyteller Kevin Kling turns his tales to text

That plan involved a powerful combination: spicy New Orleans gumbo and the ancient Greek god Hephaestus, “who was the only disabled god in the Pantheon and he married Aphrodite,” according to Calvit.

Knowing Kling was a fan of gumbo, Calvit, a New Orleans native, cooked it for him a few times and began telling him about a show Interact was putting together called “Cloud Cuckooland.” She needed someone to play Hephaestus.

“And I dangled it in front of him and he jumped at the bait,” she said. “So, he got in that show. We ended up taking it to England. It was a great show, and it was his first role back in theater after a while.”

It was the first of many shows, and other international trips with Interact. Kling says when he came to Interact, he found his home. He also developed a new appreciation and understanding of his craft.

“What I used to think was, you can work for years as an actor to try to achieve an absolutely authentic moment,” he said. “And at Interact, that’s where they start. They are absolutely authentic performers.”

From Calvit’s point of view it’s a perfect match of goofy sensibilities. She says unlike many other people, Kling can walk into an Interact rehearsal, which can be a little chaotic, and immediately get what’s going on.

“The putting the disability out there like, in your face and confronting it and having fun with it,” she said. “And making people, like, challenge their own views of disability. But it’s all in a comedy bit. You don’t feel like you are being hit over the head with a message.”

• More: Interact’s Jeanne Calvit raises the bar for artists of all abilities
• MPR News Presents: Cathy Wurzer, Kevin Kling and Matt Sanford on the power of storytelling

Calvit says the Thursday evening event at the Calhoun Beach Club will raise money for Interact to do more work with Kling — but mainly she says to celebrate a wonderful human being.

Kling is still not convinced.

“I can’t wait and I am terrified for this thing,” he cackles. “Bring the mercurochrome, that’s all I am saying!”

Jeanne Calvit just smiles and refuses to reveal a thing.

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