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Shout-outs and murmurs: a self-interview

November 11, 2010

I sat down with myself to learn what I was thinking. I wanted to understand what was driving the plan for “Counterfeit Variety”, “Go Big or Go Home” and other theatrical projects.

Thanks for meeting with me to answer some questions.

Thank you. Shoot.

You’re planning a lot of projects in the theatre: what’s the big idea?

Good question. My vision of theatre is centered around vitality, theatre that answers “yes” to the question: Is this important to people?

That’s a pretty vague question.

Indeed. Let me put it this way, I got very tired of making theatre for theatre-people. In the mind of the public, theatre only exists as Broadway. People in the midwest make pilgrimages to New York to see “Wicked”, but they won’t go see a show in their home town.

Why is that?

Because theatre is very boring most of the time. The great majority of productions fit into one of three categories: avant-garde, schmaltz, or “classic” theatre. These are of no use to normal people. Anyone who is serious about making money and who can tell stories goes into film or tv. Wouldn’t you? You might actually make a check making “Friday Night Lights”, which is excellent.

Why don’t you?

I don’t like screens. I dislike mediated photons. I don’t mean I don’t watch TV: I do, and a lot of it. But once you put a camera between the audience and the actor, the entire premise of theatre is lost. It’s something else, a different form of storytelling. I completely respect filmmakers, and tv-makers, but they work in a different medium. I get tired of Broadway and the Tony awards trying to merge the two.

What makes theatre so special?

Theatre is an exercise in humanity. Taking your physical body, putting it in a room with other physical bodies, and exposing yourself as an audience member: that’s the main difference between screen and live.

But do Americans want to do that? Expose themselves?

They do, actually, but only to a certain degree. There’s a few camps of thought about this. One side would argue: people go to football games, right? They go to big concerts. Why not theatre? To that I would respond that there is a key difference: these experiences are only part of the larger experience. If I am an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, and I go to one game a year, that game is the highlight of an entire season of watching games on TV and reading articles online. If I am a huge Paul McCartney fan, the concert is the culmination of years of listening to Beatles, Wings, solo albums, looking at pictures, reading New Yorker articles, etc. In live theatre, on the other hand, the play is the beginning and end. You’re going to see “The Drowsy Chaperone”? Great. What the hell is “The Drowsy Chaperone”? Yeah you could watch clips on-line. But why would you unless you were already thinking about going? That’s why “Wicked” is so successful: it’s reaffirmed by other cultural products, namely the book, the legacy of the Wizard of Oz, etc. It’s not a bad musical, but it’s not as good as some other newish broadway musicals. Audience members are so leery of being exposed to something new, that even Hollywood has to produce sequels to make money most of the time.

And you want to reform the audience.

No! No, I want to be clear about this. My motivations in theatre are completely selfish. You could ask: do I believe that theatre is better for people than TV? I make no such claim. I just enjoy it more. It’s a lot of fun to put on, it makes almost everyone involved brim with life, and the audience can experience that transcendence. But I’m not about to make some grand claims about the capacity of theatre to reform American audiences. I just happen to enjoy it a lot and would like to make a saleable product out of it without resorting to gross debasement.

So what are you planning?

I’m starting withCounterfeit Variety”.

A variety show? Like vaudeville?

Not really. There is a movement towards vaudevillian acts, burlesque acts, variety shows. I’m more interested in a live game show/comedy show with musical acts. I can’t figure out what else to call it, so I’m calling it “variety”.

Good luck with that.

Yeah, I’m not expecting to retire off it. But I need a launching point. I need to try to get normal people in the door. I love freaks and wierdos, and God knows there are plenty in Cambridge and Somerville. And I love theatre people, people who actually make theatre, who are always the most willing audience members. But I want to see if I can get normal people through the door and enjoy themselves.

What’s your inspiration?

There was a show out of the House Theatre of Chicago called “The Game Show Show and Stuff” which executed perfectly this idea. It’s a side project of the theatre, appearing only intermittently, but it was a hot ticket. I was astonished by crowd when I went. Young Lincoln Park yuppie types! Amazing. I would kill for that crowd. They loved the show and it was just so much more fun than sitting at home and watching SNL.

But this isn’t their main gig, it’s a side project.

True. The House theatre is pretty fun and cool, but they definitely aspire to acceptable theatre practices: they want to get people in a room and blow their socks off with stories, like the rest of us. I wonder how much audience they’ve brought in from TGSSAS. I would bet some, but it’s hard to alter behavior patterns at large.

What’s your ultimate goal?

It would be a playhouse.. a place where people came to drink, see improv, see a musical, see Shakespeare, to gossip. On the artist side, I’d really like to drive the creation of new projects with this kind of venue in mind.

Is that feasible?

I have no idea.

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