Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Playwright/Actor Chris Harcum on Writing & Playing Martin Denton

 What was the development of Martin Denton Martin Denton?

Several interviews with Martin and some others from the indie theater sector > over 400 pages of transcriptions + other research > first draft in mostly chronological order > fact checking from Martin > second draft with the style of the play more solidified > first reading > fix, fix, fix, fix > second reading > three other drafts (we’re at 250 hours at this point) > Aimee Todoroff’s directorial magic + Marisol Rosa-Shapiro’s creativity in rehearsal > 40 hours of running lines on my own > Matthew Fisher’s design brilliance > stress and sweat > show > interacting with people after the performances and online.

What is it like playing and getting inside the minds of Martin and Rochelle?

This piece is a hybrid of the interviews and my own playwriting. It is Chris playing several characters and Marisol playing like 28 characters. It is a very difficult piece for both Marisol and me to perform. It needs to feel very loose and relaxed but we must be very precise and work at full-tilt for 95 minutes. We switch styles a lot and quote productions from the last 20 years throughout the piece. It is very comedic but turns on a dime and it is quite emotional in places. There are several layers of reality happening at once wrapped around some straightforward storytelling.

Neither of us leave the stage at any point in the show and we each do the work of 10 actors. The physical, mental, and vocal energy is intense. I have a ton of facts, names, and numbers that I dole out throughout the night so I need to be clear-headed. I feel like I’ve done two solo shows when I leave the stage and I have to keep after the athletic portion of doing this thing. Marisol, on the other hand, can have a fried chicken sandwich 30 minutes before curtain and be fine.

Several people have told me that I really captured Martin in certain moments. Erez Ziv from Horse Trade said there are times where I drop away completely and he only sees Martin when I’m performing. Others have said to me how Marisol is channeling Rochelle.

I'm assuming that Martin saw the play and if that's the case, what was it like playing Martin
Chris Harcum and Marisol Rosa-Shapiro
Denton to Martin Denton?

I’ve performed pieces as the person I’m playing for the actual person before now so that wasn’t difficult. Plus Martin had read the script several times.

We’ve had great audiences. Some are loud. Sooz Nolan said last Thursday’s show was like being at church. There were rolling reactions. The show ran seven minutes longer without any changes to the text.

Martin attended our second matinee, which was comparatively quiet but the audience was present. Like no one wanted to miss anything. Lots of laughing under their breath. There was a little more fragility crackling in the air. I try to recalibrate the performance to meet the audience where they are but to pull them along or kick them in the rear, if they need it. This one, I tried to allow more space to let it be received however it was being received.

We went to B Bar after the show and shared a meal. It was a pleasant experience.
Do you have a day-job and if so, how do you organize your creative bad-ass self?

My Clark Kent job is as a staff editor at a news organization. In addition to acting and playwriting, I’m the Producing Director for Elephant Run District and the Director of a Bright Future for the League of Independent Theater. I work on things project by project. I try to get the work and business stuff done first so I can let loose with the creative stuff.

What's it like collaborating with your partner-in-crime/director/Elephant Run District AD Aimee Todoroff?

We try to be very aware when we work with others so they don’t feel like they are in the middle of our relationship but are working on a production. We keep a very professional relationship in the rehearsal room and in the theater. I don’t get special treatment as an actor. We were two months into a project for another company when someone in the cast asked me what my wife did and I pointed in the direction of the director’s table.

It’s sometimes hard during ERD projects because the work comes home with us. The producing stuff and the work to get ready for the next rehearsal. So it can feel like we don’t get a break when we’re in production. We have to carve out time to be a couple and relax. Aimee suggests more fun things to do and I panic that I’ll never be ready if I take a break. But you can’t let life pass you by while you create it.

Of the two of us, she is the more fun and outgoing one. So it’s kind of funny that she’s the director and I’m the performer. She’s much better about talking about a show than I am and people generally like her more. Maybe we’ll get wise and switch places.
Chris Harcum and Marisol Rosa-Shapiro
What's coming up after this?

I don’t know. This was a big rock to push up the hill so I’ll take a bit of time to recharge. I’ll also get back to my advocacy work with the League of Independent Theater. This is an election year in the city so we want to get arts-friendly, local candidates into office.

Anything you'd like to add?

The conversations after the shows have been amazing. People who make indie theater are having some emotional experiences and it is great to talk to them. I heard a woman who is not in the theater saw the show. When asked what she thought the show was about, she said, “How life is pre…” and before she could finish saying “precious” she started crying. This has been quite a special show to make and do each night.

Martin Denton, Martin Denton written by Chris Harcum and directed by Aimee Todoroff plays through July 23th at the Kraine Theater. To purchase ticket, go here.

Photo Credits: Cilla Villanueva

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