|McEntire performing CHOP|
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 about his show revolving around isolation, amputation fetishes and sacrificial love 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 the last decade. 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 for a play 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, a few sound cues, a few props 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 the prevailing sentiment in South East Asia doesn’t allow so much for loud, independent Americans. I felt really removed, at a distance. And that’s approximately when 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. this character is the protagonist – this guy that just can’t connect with anyone – and then explore 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?
I also began exploring this stage image that kept coming to me, of an 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 I thought, ‘Oh yeah, let’s explore this axe thing, find a place for it in there somehow’ and that led to the, well, chopping...
Chopping led to amputation and this strange and unlikely love story started to emerge. Actually, I didn’t initially know that the amputation thing - the way it is referenced in the play - was a real thing! About a week before I opened the first show I was at a party and a friend of mine commented, ‘Oh yeah, Apotemnophilia...’ Now, as I’ve travelled with the show for the last year and half, occasionally I’ll have a sex therapist or a psychologist come up to me and say they’ve had a patient experiencing that exact issue!
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 this really quite charming and sweet romance involved given the unrelentingly weirdness! With no softness to it, no tenderness, it would just be this horribly dark, bizarre story!
Rosie is the protagonist's compass, a literal compass rose, giving direction to an otherwise unfocused, aimless, detached existence.
Early on, I leaned on the dark humor and weirdness 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. My fiancé and technician backed up this thought.
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!”
I used to stand in line for other shows playing at the same festival, in the same venue as CHOP, to see what people were saying about CHOP. While in line I'd chat up people around me. I would ask potential audience members while they waited to buy tickets, “Heard of this show CHOP? What do you think about it?” 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. They heard the title or seen the axe of the graphic and formed these kind of grotesque impressions of the piece.
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'm not sure how interesting this discussion is to people who haven't seen the show yet.
BM: I have embraced the softness of the opening of the play.
EL: How so?
BM: I have include a lot of exposition at the beginning of the piece, which I think is important. The audience gets lot of initial background so you know where this guy is coming from. And exposition 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. My hope is that it clicks with them and they’re really drawn into the story!
Original post HERE.