Winning $20,000 on a game show and working for David Letterman did not make Kim Carney famous, but having one of her plays produced in her hometown could be the first step to Broadway.
Carney's latest work, "Bombshells," is being staged for two weekends in March at the Boarshead Theater in Lansing. The critically acclaimed regional theater first produced a staged reading of the play last year, as did Manhattan's Punchline theater.Carney grew up in Lansing and studied acting at Wayne State University in Detroit, then moved to New York in 1980 to try an acting career, but decided to concentrate on writing in 1983.
"I never really did it seriously until I decided to write a part for myself because I was getting nowhere acting," she said.
That part became her first play, "Blinders," in 1980. Although it was not produced, it helped open doors to New York City theater groups.
"Bombshells," set in her hometown, originally started out as a comedy sketch between two barflies, Carney explained. She eventually developed it into a full-length play about blue-collar workers.
Through humor and poignant drama, the play explores the the sorrow of divorce and broken relationships, the pain of physical abuse, the shame of unemployment and the reality of people simply trying to cope with their lives.
"I really don't consider this play a comedy," Carney said. "I think it's a drama with comedy.
"I find I can make a point better through comedy. Once you laugh with someone, you like them more . . . and you hurt a little bit more when things go bad for them."
At center stage in the play are Betty and Rose, two aging, peroxided blondes, torn by the desire to be loved while at the same time demanding their emotional freedom.
Carney has added two exterior sets, to the left and right of the center action, which serve to highlight and eventually explain the often unspoken emotions experienced by the two "blond bombshells."
One of the exterior scenes features Rose's unemployed and straying boyfriend, Hank, and the younger woman he is dating. The other scene features the battle between Betty and her ex-husband's new wife, for control over Betty's 15-year-old daughter, Debbie.
The conclusion of the play brings the roving and dejected Hank back to Rose, and Debbie returning to her mother.
Unlike most playwrights who scramble for sustenance in New York, Carney's relied on an unusual stipend. She won the grand prize on ABC's "$20,000 Pyramid" game show later the show moved to a different network and became the "$25,000 Pyramid" and seriously began her writing career.
"I also threw a great big party at the Plaza Hotel," Carney said. "Dick Clark asked me on the air what I was going to do with it and I said I was going to throw a big party."
Carney said she lived several years on the grand prize before beginning work as a secretary for comedian Letterman, host of the popular late-night talk show on NBC. Letterman's comedic talent is well known but Carney said his comedy style had little impact on her own brand of humor.
"He's not a real funny guy around the office, so it didn't really have too much effect that way," said Carney.
She currently works as coordinator of program bookings at NBC in New York.
"I spend a lot of time at a word processor and a lot of time writing my own stuff on it, so my job is very compatible with my writing career," she said.
Carney has chosen Michigan for the setting for several of the five plays she has written, noting that she "knows Michigan people."
"The auto industry is something unique to this area and people in other parts of the country are fascinated by that. That's what's special about Lansing," she said.
Although she went to New York with acting as her goal, she started writing at an early age.
"In junior high school, I got a typewriter for my birthday and I was a huge fan of Carol Burnett," Carney said. "I used to write sketches for the Carol Burnett Show. I never sent them, but it was a good basis for starting."
Carney is currently working on a new play, "Swine Before Pearls."