Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interview with Brad McEntire after his performance of CHOP for Frenetic Theatre’s 2011 Houston Fringe Fest

McEntire performing CHOP
August 22, 2011
www.EaDoLife.com - By Alec Lasar

[Note: Spelling mistakes and some factual information have been corrected from the original version]

CHOP is the account of a character’s own surreal life experiences leading up to the moment when he first appears on stage, nervously greeting the audience – a nervousness that gradually evolves into wonder, excitement and a devilishly keen desire to share a personal gift he discovers about himself…

We briefly spoke with Brad McEntire after he performed the solo act on the stage at Super Happy Fun Land for the Houston Fringe Fest, organized by the Frenetic Theatre.

EaDo Life: How did you come up with the idea for CHOP?

Brad McEntire: Two things sort of led up to CHOP. First, I run a theatre up in Dallas, Audacity Theatre Lab, [Formerly Audacity Productions] and have for about 10 years. I worked mostly as a director and for many years as a playwright, producer and marketer, all behind the scenes. I studied acting, but then I totally drifted away from acting. I started to do a lot of non-acting projects. I love just working with a bunch of people, you know, other collaborators in the theatre. Except, with a big group of collaborators, I was never able to get onto the stage the pure, uncompromising vision of my idea for a project… I was trying to get [where I could perform] exactly the stuff I wanted to. So, I still direct and produce with many actors, but I became really interested in doing something that I could control from beginning to end. For that I turned to solo work.

You start out with the idea and it’s kind of a challenge how much of it you can keep, how much of that original idea and spark you can retain until the audience sees it. I also wanted to do something I could go on the road with, like to here in Houston. So it had to be something low tech and mobile. All I need for CHOP are a few lights, the few sound cues and the back drops – it all packs into a duffel bag.

The other part of the answer involves Asia. Ruth Engel [Brad's fiancé and technical support] and I lived in Hong Kong a few years ago and, for me at least, I found that South East Asia doesn’t really smile on loud, independent Americans. I felt really removed, at a distance. And that’s exactly the same time I started working on CHOP. A lot of the isolation I was feeling, living as a stranger in a strange land, showed up as I was working on the piece.

I created this character that’s just completely isolated from everyone, who is the protagonist – this guy that just can’t connect with anyone – and then say what happens to him. I was just toying around with the idea about this totally isolated character and wondered to myself, how would he get connected with people? And, um, I also began exploring this stage image that kept coming to me, of the axe coming down on something, like a log or block or something. I mean, it's this great percussive sound and action, kinda violent. At some point and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, let’s explore this chopping thing, find a place for it in there somehow’ and that led to the, well, chopping...

Actually, I didn’t know that the amputation thing was a real thing, though! About a week before I opened the first show I was at a party and a friend of mine told me, ‘Oh yeah, Apotemnophilia...’ Now, as I’ve travelled with the show, occasionally I’ll have a sex therapist or a psychologist or someone come up to me and say they’ve had a patient experiencing the issue too!

EL: How important do you feel the character’s “love of his life”, Rosie, is in CHOP?

BM: I think this story does well to have a romance involved with it given the unrelentingly weirdness! with no softness to it, no tenderness, it would just be this horribly dark, bizarre story!

Early on, I leaned on the dark humor and weird factor to market the piece. Then this girl in New Orleans, at the New Orleans Fringe, stayed behind after the show and mentioned how powerful she thought the romance element was.

EL: How has the story changed since the girl pointed that out?

BM: Well, I always used to look at it as this dark, hero’s journey, which it is. I didn't emphasize the love story aspect of the piece. Now with the romantic element, well, for one thing, it has made the character Rosie – who you never see, just hear – it made her a more rounded and believable person. She's not just the catalyst.

Now on the marketing stuff, such as the postcard, it says “Romance on the outer edge!”

What’s good about that is, well… I used to stand in line for my own show, as well as other shows at the same festival, to see what people were saying about CHOP. While waiting I, ah, would ask, “What do you think about this show CHOP?” and they’d reply “I don’t know… does he amputate someone on stage? Does he amputate his own arm? Is it like a freak show, I don’t know?” and, you know, I found that it was turning people off before they had even sat down to experience the show! Their initial perception, or misunderstanding, of it was hurting ticket sales.

So, discovering and then beefing up the love story in the piece has been a delightful benefit, both for perspective audiences, but for me, the performer. The piece continues to unfold, performance by performance as I uncover hidden layers to explore.

EL: Apart from the romantic element, how have you refined the play to make it a little softer?

BM: I include a lot of exposition at the beginning of the piece, which I think is important. You get lot of initial background so you know where this guy is coming from. And back story is difficult. It is not an easy way to hook the audience. So the whole opening is sort of a soft sale. He comes out nervous. And as he grows more and more emboldened throughout the piece, the audience is drawn in more and more. By the end he’s at the front of the room, the center of the room, a place of control and power, with the axe… So, the soft opening has turned out to be a way to handle the exposition at the play's start and the gradual change, with the audience asking “what happens next,” hopefully, clicks with them and they’re really interested in the story!

 Original post HERE.

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