Out of the Loop Fringe Festival is an annual event at Watertower Theater featuring a packed schedule of mostly local acts through Sunday. Cody Lucas returns to his hometown for the fest, with Sweet Chariot, a show about a man in a bathtub. There are two more chances to see the show, Friday at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Midway through its run, we caught up with the Chicago resident and creator of Denton-based Sundown Collaborative Theatre to ask, "what's the deal with the bathtub, yo?"
How long have you been in Chicago? Just since July. I left Denton specifically because I wanted to try new things, reach out. I thought that nobody should be in the same place doing things over again because you're not going to get any better.
So this is your first Chicago winter? Yeah, it's like the first winter of my life. Today was a balmy 20 degrees, and I only had to wear one coat, but during the polar vortex negative 18 was the high and negative 40 with the wind chill.
Damn, that's way too cold for a Texan. Let's talk about Sweet Chariot. It's a script I've been working on and off for a year now. It sort of stems from personal issues with sadness or confusion, things that anyone deals with. I gave myself the stipulation that I wanted to do a show with no blocking, with no movement at all, and just one character to be stationary the whole time. That sort of brought me to this image of a man in a tub. There are so many different layers and connotations you can put into it, and that gave me a lot of room to play with, even though he's stationary or still. It's just one man on stage in a tub the entire time. I don't know if that's bold or naïve but we'll see what happens.
So you were directing the show long-distance through Skype? Yeah, I directed the lead actor, Billy Baraw, here in my living room. He is from Chicago. The other character in this show is a voice on the radio, and Tashina Richardson, the current artistic director with Sundown, was working with that actor there. So we would Skype on weekends and see how it went, keep each other updated. Our lead actor left last Friday for Dallas, and he's been down there working with Tashina to put the pieces together.
Would you direct from a distance again? It worked out a lot better than I thought it would. There were definitely issues where we would have Skype delay, and that would throw things off. But it worked well enough for me to work with the actor who was going to be on stage, and the voice coming through Skype was just as good as a voice being on the radio in the play.
Sweet Chariot is about the emotional psyche of a man in crisis. So, he's having a break down? He is. He's in the middle. The whole show deals with this in-between moment when you don't know. In the show, we don't ever really get into why he is drinking in a tub, and we don't necessarily wrap it up in any sort of easy way either. We try to put the audience in the tub in this in-between moment with the character. So what he doesn't know you don't necessarily know. There's a lot of feeling of not knowing why.
What's the significance of having the character stationary? A lot of time when I write a show I give myself stipulations because it's more conducive to have something limiting you, and you try to work around it. So for this show especially, with an in-between moment there's a lot of indecision and confusion. He is sort of monologuing and talking through a lot of things, and he's fairly illogical. But without any sense of movement, it sort of lets you focus in on his sheer conscious, and it frees the character from other business on stage, so he's not worried about doing anything except working through his own mind.
From the monologue this guy is going through, what does the audience walk away with? Can we expect to be depressed or encouraged or somewhere in-between? Overall, he is very, very troubled, he is very confused, so there's definitely a lot of sadness. You could look at this character and say he's depressed. You could look at him and think he's suicidal. It doesn't necessarily end in any sort of definitive way. But I want the audience to walk away feeling something deeply. And then maybe even going out and discussing why they feel that way.
And this goes back to the Sundown Collaborative Theatre - that mission of inciting discussions. Absolutely. If you're not talking about it after you've seen it then what's the point of seeing it?
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Where did Sundown come from? It was a company I started in college at UNT 5 or 6 years ago to get more opportunities outside of UNT and with the Dallas scene. It was a safe place for us to try out new things, and it just kind of kept growing, and we slowly started to learn the business. It was all actors and pretty much still is, but we all had to learn how to treat it like a business. There's always a pretty good turn over on people to work with. We get people coming in to go to school, other people are leaving. I'm not acting with the company anymore, but it gives me a nice home base here. They were willing to gladly accept that I was going to submit the Sweet Chariot script to Watertower and if it gets accepted, we'll figure it out.
How did Sundown gain such a heavy video-based component, self-documenting rehearsals and making these beautiful trailers? Well a lot of it was, especially when we first started out, our audience base was college students and we all use social media and Facebook all the time so that was the best way to get to people. So we started doing the trailers because we thought that's what people wanted to see. And we wanted to get people who maybe hadn't seen theater before to come and give it a try. So we've done that for a lot of our shows. And a lot of times it's also sort of a different artistic expression of the piece although that might not be it literally. The trailer for this show is shot off stage, it's just sort of a different hook on what the show is. Sundown has YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, everything. And Sundown's Tumblr is all about behind-the-scenes stuff, pictures from rehearsals and things of that nature to try to bring people into our process. We want to be very open with how things happen, how we do our shows because we think it's interesting - the process is just as important as the product.
How do you think growing up in Denton has affected what Sundown is doing? I think Denton shaped Sundown a lot because it's not a theater town, it's very music based, it's a college town, there's a lot of turnover. But I think the best thing about Denton is that it's not Dallas or Ft. Worth or Chicago, it's this free little place to just sort of explore free without fear of failure. Because I think Sundown has a done a lot of where we tried something and it didn't completely work out. But those are the risks you can afford to take in Denton. And that people don't mind. Most won't want to see a small, scrappy theater trying to do stuff. I think that's the way people want to see a theater in Denton. It makes it different.
Do you miss Texas terribly? I don't know if terribly is the right word for it. I sometimes realize now in Chicago how much of a Texan I am. Because I really liked Denton, I really do. And it was comfortable. So maybe I do miss it terribly.