Talking to Justin Locklear About Ochre House's Mighty Morphing Power

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One reason actor Justin Locklear is sure to stick around Dallas for a bit longer: His car, a 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser, is parked for the next few weeks as part of the scenery in the Ochre House theater's latest production, Morphing. Good thing he lives within walking distance of his day-job as a barista at the Mockingbird Station Starbucks, just downstairs from his loft.

An Atlanta native and 2009 Baylor drama grad, Locklear, now 24, has been kicking around Dallas stages for a couple of years. He was in Shakespeare Dallas' Taming of the Shrew, Upstart Productions' subUrbia, Theatre Nouveau's Measure for Measure and several shows at this summer's Festival of Independent Theatres, including writing music for the premiere of Robert Askins' The Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef. He's started a clown troupe, Grotesquimos, who performed at the recent Bastille Day festival in Oak Cliff. And he makes paintings, designs costumes and performs his poetry at spoken word events. Over the past year, Locklear's also become part of the small gang of actors, artists, musicians and designers working in Matthew Posey's hotbed of avant garde theater, the Ochre House.

Over lunch this week, Locklear talked about Morphing, what he thinks Dallas theaters need more of (besides him) and what he's learned about human behavior from behind a Starbucks counter.

Morphing is Matt Posey's absurdist deconstruction of Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece, Long Day's Journey into Night. You play the mother, Mary. Unusual for a leading-man type to play a woman -- or maybe not so unusual at the Ochre House. Why'd you want to do this role? Justin Locklear: In most art happening right now, there's a lack of risk and danger. Problems arise among people who are in the arts when they're pigeonholed into comfortable positions too early in their careers or when their risk goes unnoticed. I love being in a situation where even I go, `How can we do this?' I'd rather be doing a performance I have to struggle with. Actor training is about learning to become something you're not.

How'd you become part of the Ochre House group? It's not like Mr. Posey holds a lot of open auditions. The first summer I was in Dallas after I graduated from Baylor, I saw Coppertone II [one of Posey's X-rated puppet comedies]. I'm really into puppets. I studied puppetry and took a puppet play to Prague when I was in school. I started talking to Matt because I wanted to learn from him. I love the Ochre House because it's intimate. Some people come there to see shows because they're befuddled every time. Some totally dig it from start to finish. Audience response is never the same there. Every night you have to relinquish the authority and realize the play is above your ability to control it. Nothing at Ochre House follows the American theater model. I like that. We work as a collective. If you jibe, you jibe.

Did you make the puppet prostitute, Rosie, in Morphing? I did. She's a Bunraku style puppet, where the puppeteer's arms and legs are the puppet's arms and legs. Matt's done that before but this is the first puppet he's had in red high heels. [She's operated in the play by Elizabeth Evans.]

Did you study Long Day's Journey to get into the characters in Morphing? How close is your Mary to that play's Mary Tyrone, the morphine addict? Matt works pretty quickly on his shows, so you don't really have time to study. He gets an idea and writes for a couple of weeks, then we have two weeks of rehearsal, a couple of nights of tech rehearsals and then we put on the show. It's all collaborative, which makes it like a family. When you're doing a play about another play, you do the play you're in.

So what do you think the Dallas theater scene needs more of? The rapport among artists in this town is really good right now. But Dallas needs a theater district. The Arts District is not a theater district. And there are so few real theater companies here that they're each like an island. You start getting work in one and you stay there. We need artists in all fields to start acting together, creating together.

Ochre House is in Exposition Park. It's part of Fair Park. With Theatre Nouveau in Fair Park now [at the old Margo Jones space], this could become a real theater district. It's here, it's interesting and easy to get in and out of. The Arts District is not easy. People are confused by it. Expo Park is more of a neighborhood.

What are three things you've learned about human behavior from being a barista? First, human beings want to be recognized. That makes them feel like they're part of something.

Second, the best thing you can do for your business, for your sanity and your social life is just to go where there are people and just talk to them. It takes guts and it's awkward at first, but it works. Just talk to people.

And third, keep your work life and your personal life close. They don't have to be the same thing, but if you can, if you're going to be an artist or anything that involves human beings, keep your work around you. If it's interesting, people will want to know more about you.

Morphing continues through September 17 at The Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave. Tickets are $15 and include beverages. Call 214-826-6273.

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