Instead of a bouncer or a box office attendant, you find yourself approaching a psychic. She offers to read your palms and you begin to wonder what kind of night lies ahead. In Andy Baldwin's vision, The Sophistication of the Oldfashioned will be something in between theater and a speakeasy.
"It's both of those things, but not specific to either one. We're calling it an experience," he explains, eyes twinkling. "You'll be stepping back in time to the Prohibition, with a vaudeville-esque show on stage, whores for cocktail waitresses and a Prohibition-era bar."
A favorite on local stages, Baldwin is a local theater instructor and actor who's been described as, "big fun and a whiz at physical comedy." When he invited me for a coffee to hear about this new project, he was midway through rehearsals for Charlotte's Web at the Dallas Children's Theater. He plays Templeton, the barnyard rat.
When he's not in rehearsal, you can find Baldwin at Cedars Social downing a cocktail or in his Bishop Arts apartment mulling his own spices. Two of his main passions, besides a girlfriend and the Texas Rangers, are theater and craft cocktails. He began toying around with the idea of combining the two while visiting New York City earlier this year. He found the milieu of Lower East Side's speakeasies thoroughly disappointing.
"You needed a password to get in, the drinks were amazing and the place felt straight out of the 1920s," he says. "But then they're playing Top 40 music. It felt wrong, which led to this idea."
Upon his return, he began scheming with Dallas actors, comedians and jazz vocalists. His creative team includes Shane Stawbridge, Ben Phillips, Missy Matherne, Major Attaway, Eric Dobbins and Daron Cockerell. They spitballed ideas, wrote bits, composed songs, shared jokes and conducted research before arriving at the show's current structure. Sophistication will contain comedic and musical bits with a loose narrative of Dallas in 1929 when it was considered the "Sodom of the South."
"There's this lore of Dallas during the Prohibition that for every 100 people there was one bootlegger or speakeasy," Baldwin says. "We found a few documents that talk about a large fire started in 1929 when people poured liquor into the gutters to keep the cops from finding it. Someone lit and match and a big chunk of the city at the time when down in flames."
For Baldwin, Sophistication is a site-specific piece in the vein of the local troupe, Dead White Zombies. Of course, Baldwin recognizes that the need for a space is one of the final steps toward production.
"As we begin raising money, we're looking at different spots around town," he says. "Obviously, I think the closer we are to downtown the better."
I mention Prohibition's old spot and Baldwin lights up. "Oh, that would be perfect, wouldn't it?" he says. "We just need the right investors."
Speaking of money, Baldwin is throwing a fundraiser/sneak peek at the Quixotic World at 6:30 p.m., Monday, April 28. Entry is a $10 suggested donation and there will be music, dancing and a cash bar. If Baldwin's history in this town tells us anything, this show is going to be a riot. There's a trial run planned for June, followed by a open-ended run in a space to be determined.
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