Justin Locklear is on the threshold of turning 30, and he's thinking about ambition. His new musical on the subject, Dreamless, will have its world premiere at Ochre House Theatre, where he's the Artist in Residence.
Dreamless traces the story of a brother and sister who have inherited their father’s restaurant. It follows their ambitions, and the consequences of those ambitions, as well as what Locklear calls an “allegiance to the mistakes we make; the things we hold onto.”
Locklear says the collaborative environment at Ochre House was crucial to Dreamless. He had written a few of the songs during the research period, and when he met with the musical director they were able to use those early drafts to establish an aesthetic foundation for the rest of the music.
“What’s especially freeing at the Ochre," he says, "is that the company is full of people with different perspectives and fields of experience, so collaborating on new material is always a learning experience, and brings the ensemble together through creative obstacles — and a general fear of failure."
Locklear keeps going back to failure.
“Dreamless springs from several themes that I deal with a lot right now.” He trails off a bit, then finds his wording and comes back. “While I have been pursuing a career of storytelling my whole life, now that my hormones and sleeping schedule have somewhat balanced out, not a day goes by that I don’t scrutinize my motives and choices. Why is my dream valuable? What about me is different? Why should I deserve the position of an artist?”
Is it turning 30? Does that milestone scare him? No. It’s not that. He think his generation has had a prolonged childhood thanks to social media, and he's happy to exit it. Things that used to “depress” him don’t anymore. He is able to imagine a long life as an actor and artist.
He says his generation is made up of kids who've been told their whole lives that “we have a voice and that voice is important.” But he says that in pursuit of this dream we fail to realize how many other people have been told the same thing. “The play is about these clowns, and they’re trying to achieve happiness.”
“Write what you can’t show, show what you can’t write. There are many stories that can be communicated without words. The challenge is to find what you are capable of showing, and what you should tell. Some moments deserve a song, and some moments should be whittled down to a look, or a word."
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The beauty of working at Ochre House, he says, is that while most stories have already been told, they have the freedom to experiment and make their telling totally unique. Locklear moved to Dallas from Georgia in 2009 and joined the company a year later, drawn in by their dedication to an artistic lifestyle.
He has been impressed with the courage of Dallas' artists. “Dallas makes stuff regardless of fear. There's a persistence, an ability to forget that people want to see you fail.” There it is again: failure. His feelings about Dallas and whether it can sustain itself as an artistic community are reflected in Dreamless' themes.
“The characters in Dreamless are sprinting headfirst into situations that force them to question and facilitate their happiness," he says. "They are all people that I have been, in different situations." What is a dream without ambition? How do we know when to let go, and to admit defeat — especially when, as Locklear suggests, some people will be happy to see you fail?
Dreamless plays at Ochre House Theater, 825 Exposition Ave., August 20 through September 10. Tickets are $17 at ochrehousetheater.com.