By Frank Flanagan
Frank Flanagan is a freelance writer fresh from Rhode Island. This is the second in a series of columns by Flanagan where he explores Orlando with a newcomer’s perspective.
The first time I encountered Christian Kelty, he was shouting out trivia answers at the Hammered Lamb. Some of the people at the Lamb found it funny, but most were just pissed off. Christian found it hilarious. He gallivanted around the patio of the bar in a New York Yankees t-shirt, disturbing players, practically begging for some secret hero of the Orlando trivia scene to take him out. No such hero emerged, and Christian’s reign of trivia-terror continued.
The prize for winning trivia that night was tickets to Christian’s theatre production, Joe’s NYC Bar. Oddly enough it seemed like he might have been there to promote the show. I was actually on the winning team that night, though we left without accepting our prize – fed up with the evening and maybe just a touch too full of ourselves.
The other day I met Christian formally to talk about his theater-work and creative endeavors. Within minutes we were laughing about that night at the Lamb, Christian swearing to get me tickets to the next show. We sat outside the Hideaway in the heart of Ivanhoe Village, greeting many of Christian’s fellow creatives as they walked in.
He asked if his smoke would bother me, claiming it was the “last of the vices” he had been cutting out since his two-year-old son was born. He drank a pair of Millers, and smoked his Marlboro Lights, sneaking a shot of tequila in somewhere along the way. I nursed a couple of Bud Lights, and we talked about Christian’s career, his son Beckett, and the theatre.
Christian began writing at an earlier age, back when he lived in Brooklyn. When he was in fourth grade he wrote his first play, without having been assigned to. He asked his teacher if he could stage it, and she said yes. After a successful first series of shows Christian repeated the process again in eighth grade, writing and staging his own plays throughout his schooling.
Christian’s early influences include silent film star Buster Keaton, and Samuel Beckett – the inspiration for his son’s name. Christian‘s father, Roger, was also a major influence. Christian spoke fondly and with a profound respect for his father, a serviceman whose work ethic carried him to work at three jobs every day. Roger would come back to his family’s Brooklyn home late at night to find a classic movie playing on the television. He would go to the young, sleeping, Christian, “Hey, hey, have you ever seen the Magnificient Seven? No? Okay, c’mon.” The two would stay up all night watching classic movies, making it difficult for Christian’s mother to pry him from bed for school in the mornings.
In 2001 Christian started Joe’s NYC Bar, an immersive theatre production that he recently brought back for a stint at the latest Orlando Fringe Theatre Festival. The show is set in a New York bar, and aims to instigate conversation between audience members and the actors on stage. Christian plays Gabriel, the bartender. Each installment of Joe’s incorporates a unique theme, typically having some sort of current event relevance. The last episode of Joe’s challenged the audience to continue the nation-wide dialogue surrounding being black in America, following the cultural tidal wave sparked by incidents in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Cleveland.
When Christian started Joe’s NYC Bar back in 2001 he didn’t know that it was going to be a running production. It was what Christian discovered when he returned to his theatre on the corner Church and Hughey Street where Joe’s began just week’s prior. In the wake of the then recent September 11th attacks he found that a local artist has painted a commemorative mural on the side of Christian’s theatre. The mural struck something in Christian, and from that point he knew that Joe’s NYC Bar was meant to run again. The mural held a special significance for Christian, who was supposed to be in New York City that tragic day, but overslept and ran late, having been driving in from Pittsburgh.
The next installment of Joe’s NYC Bar will open September 13. Christian laughed and faked a look of terror when I asked him what the next theme is going to be. The first episode of Joe’s NYC Bar was labored over in a 75-page script. Over years of evolution, the show is now unscripted. Part of Christian’s success with Joe’s comes from reusing the same actors who are familiar with the show and its structure, a cast Christian describes as “world class.”
When Joe’s is running, the show occupies all of Christian’s time, and pays all of the bills. Now, during the hiatus, Christian spends his days painting. Before we sat down to talk Christian was up in Titusville, painting and texturizing a Native American longhouse, molding branches out of a concrete-like substance and debarking trees to add to the facade and authenticate the look.
After a day of painting, Christian comes home, washes up, and then grabs his notebook, jotting down his thoughts and ideas from the day. Whether he is writing plays for his son, future productions, or working on older projects, Christian never has trouble writing. Even if he has nothing immediate to say, he’ll simply put the pen to paper, and lets the ideas flow out organically. “They always come,” he said.
In addition to painting, and writing, Christian is currently acting in Stonewall:1969 at Orlando’s Parliament House. Christian is responsible for five separate roles in the show, and happy to be part of a production that was written by a friend.
At 46, Christian has a lot of fire left in him and is planning a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland with hopes of one day bringing Joe’s there. Until then he’ll continue to live creatively, making plenty of time to role-play Batman with young Beckett, and rapping the Beastie Boy’s “Intergalactic” whenever the two-year-old demands it.