Working In The Theatre: Colossal – Dallas, TX


I’ve been very lucky part of this Rolling World Premiere from the National New Play Network first premiered at the Olney Theatre Center outside of Washington DC and then it went to Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. And now here it’s at the Dallas Theater Center and I’ve been been able to be a part of at least part of the rehearsal process reach of the production so that’s been incredible. You know one of the benefits of the Rolling World Premiere is that you get to continually refine and revise the play. It’s sort of like an ongoing laboratory in the best possible way. There’s all the pressures of opening. There’s all the pressures of wanting to put the best possible play up, but it takes away the idea of, I have to get this right. I have to create a definitive production, which I’ve never really believed in anyway. I believe a definitive production is the production that’s right for this community and this moment in time. So what happens when you take a play into a community into a theater that’s different is the responses change. It’s one of the great treats for a playwright because they get to sort of actor proof, audience proof, community proof, their play if they want to. We’ve had writers who totally change the end of the play. We’ve had writers who cut a character. The program began as a way of being able to share the work our member theaters were doing in their own communities with the country at large. We were finding that many of our theaters had great writers in their own home towns that they’ve been working with. And world premieres were happening but then not a second or third production, so we wanted to be able to both share the work of the writers we were all in love with and to be able to share the plays that were being produced by member theaters with larger communities across the country. When Andrew first came to Dallas that very first time when I met him and I just read his play, he walked into the theater space, and I said, this space, this is the perfect space for your play and I still believe that that’s true. Colossal is at the center of the type of work that we do here at Dallas Theater Center. It’s a new play, we do a lot of new work It speaks to immediate contemporary themes that are relevant in our community today. It does so in a boldly theatrical language with aggressive physical sequences and loud music and theatrical surprises. The very first thing that I love about the play, the second that I read it, is the size and scope of its ambition. So for instance the piece demands a complete original modern dance at half-time, so that means you gotta go out and find a modern dance choreographer. In our case that’s Josh Peugh, an outstanding modern dance choreographer who doesn’t choreograph musicals or plays, he works exclusively in dance. Josh Peugh: And then the leading off the balance…shifting that weight. yeah don’t let it, don’t let it come up too high. Make sure your head keeps showing acceleration. Yeah, that’s better. Yup. The cast for Colossal is very diverse. We have real football players. We have professional dancers and we have actors and they all participate in the middle section of the play which is a sort of concert dance performance. [mumbling music] When I’m working, when I’m choreographing, I’m always looking for things to be authentic and to be truthful and so taking from the dancers, from the actors, from the football players, choices that are instinctual and building that direction instead of trying to make them fit into what my idea of what it should look like is He builds a movement vocabulary very organically based on what he sees his dancers doing. The vocabulary for this particular piece because it greets modern dance into a play that’s a kind of about a person who is a football player but who is also a modern dancer. Ok let me know who else is down there. Lots of people don’t know exactly what a stage manager is, some kind of puppet master of the whole show. I make the technical things happen, I tell other people to push a button which is how the lights and the sound cue happens. I’m in charge of all the communication from pre-rehearsal period to the end of the show making sure everyone’s on the same page and communicating clearly and openly. I contacted the stage manager from the Olney Theatre Center which was the first place this premiere this season and kind of asked just a few initial questions about her experience on the show; If there was anything she thought maybe I needed to know. Can we just look at that that…. Joel, can we just do your exit a couple lines back? I would say that we have made some definite changes from the script that was used in the last two places. Mainly around the fact that we have a quadriplegic actor instead of a paraplegic actor playing the role of Mike, so we’ve changed some things in the script and some movements in the show to kind of better reflect the needs of our specific actor playing Mike. That’s been one of the unique challenges of this show. Zack: Of course I have direct parallels between what happens in this story and what happened to me. Of course. He suffers a spinal cord injury. I had a spinal cord injury in my neck in his neck, same thing. Father: You’re almost there Mike, you’re almost there. You’re doing great just a few more inches. [Young Mike grunts] Mike: Jesus, stop! Father: Ok I got you. I’m preparing for this like any actor really prepares for role you, have experiences from your own life that you can relate directly you have things that you have to make up and imagine through because that’s what this creative processes is. It’s just great to be doing the work. Actor: It’s okay, it won’t hurt you. It has been, quite an interesting journey with all of the testosterone that is in the room all of the time. The testosterone is large and in charge, and I have to somehow manage the testosterone and the boys and keep them as calm as I can. There are some hotheads at times and some wrestling around and a kind of pushing each other. I often have to step in and calm things down. It’s always interesting figuring out how to be their boss, gain their respect, and still be their friend and a person they can talk to you. I have never been around so much testosterone and so much alpha male aggression and attitude in my entire life. I’m a theater geek. This is really intense for me. [singing] This cast we also have legitimate NFL prospects that have that expertise in the room every day to say we want to make sure these drills are right. We want to make sure these moments where the play is asking to be very literal and how it represents football. That we do that not only correctly, but it because we have these bodies in the room. we can embody the ferocity of football, the grandeur of football, the size of it. In a way what Andrew’s done is taken that reality and made it very hyper theatrical. When you see a real football player out there and you’re seeing an actor who has no choice but to be in a chair and you see those amazing dancers that we’ve had in a few of the casts, it starts to break the line between what is acting or what is theater and what’s really happening in these people’s lives. [chanting] Football is a different form of theater. You come to an arena to watch a game you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. They’re primed to be actors because they have been performing in that theater. Marcus is the lover of Young Mike. He’s also a team captain on the football team that Mike is on and he’s struggling with his identity as a homosexual man while being in a very masculine driven testosterone ridden world, like the football world. One more set. It’s very very true about the way that men dialogue with each other, especially in emotional ways. We’re not taught to outwardly emote. We’re not taught that it’s okay to do that. One of the themes in the play touches on homosexuality. It’s a big theme in the show and it’s important that this is being talked about that it runs through this place especially in a play that is so male driven, testosterone aggression driven. Young Mike: That we say exactly what we told them. That we’re captains of his team and that captains can’t get caught in a strip club. Marcus: And no one’s gonna notice that we’re sharing a room? Young Mike: That’s what teammates do. This is a conversation about homosexuality, about how free we can be to express that within ourselves in our society. It’s a conversation that’s happening nationally. One of my favorite lines in the show, and it’s not mine, is that “these things are changin but changin ain’t changed.” The play sets up for us a really deep and profound question about, do we choose to live in a past that can no longer exist? Or do we choose to look honestly at what has been and choose how to move forward into an unknown? Young Mike: I can’t. I can’t feel my fucking legs. Marcus: It’s alright it’s ok. Young Mike: I can’t move my fucking legs. There are a lot of coming-of-age kind of themes becoming a man what it means to stand up to your father. I think that in any young man’s relationship, there’s always a bit of a struggle of trying to, um, I don’t know, break out of your, your father’s idea of who you should be and become yourself. My father wanted me to play football. He wanted me to go to University to play football, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to do me in theater. So I had to follow my dream and me and my parents didn’t talk for a long time about it. My goals, my aspirations, other things it was kind of that elephant in the room And just recently, they’ve accepted the fact that I made a wise choice and that I’m happy and that I’m doing what I love to do, and when I saw that in the script, I wanted to be a part of that story. What you get with this Rolling World Premiere is it’s not only that you get a chance to sort of figure out oh I got it I got that scene wrong now I’m gonna try to get it right in this production, which has happened certainly as well. But also you get a sense of what is the elasticity of the play. How much can it be flexible to suit the specific needs of the room and that’s really exciting because that’s just a core belief of mine as a theater artist that it shouldn’t just be the same production that’s planted into a different city because that doesn’t engage with the liveness of the form. You know every play was new at some point and every play is new for any audience that sees it for the first time. But what happens with new work and the work that we’re supporting is that playwrights are responding to the issues of our times even if it’s not a dramatic play or a play about a specific issue. They’re being able to respond to what’s happening in their lives now. I once famously said in a meeting, “Oh we don’t have to worry about how much money we raise for this program we’ll never get three artistic directors to agree to anything.” And now here we are. It’s changed how we do theater, how we share theater, how plays move across this country and more more around the world. [End Credits]

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