Theatrical Tendencies, a new company
An interview with Theatrical Tendencies’ co-founder David Carter:
TCD: Why did you and Mark Schuster form Theatrical Tendencies?
David Carter: Mark and I had been doing shows around town for other organizations in various capacities, most recently at Soulstice Theatre in Saint Francis. It wasn’t often that we were able to do shows that had meaning to us. We knew the process was much more fulfilling when we really cared about the material. The next logical step was to form our own company and do shows that resonated in our souls.
TCD: How long did you and Mark work with Soulstice?
David Carter: Mark brought me in to Soulstice about 5 years ago to light The Sum of Us. He’d been on the board for several years before that. Working with Char Manny and Soulstice gave us the confidence that we could make Theatrical Tendencies work. Starting from scratch on a shoestring budget and growing into a respected company is the path we are on. We gained tremendous insight into that path at Soulstice and owe Char a debt of gratitude.
TCD: How did you select Milwaukee Gay Arts Center (MGAC) as Theatrical Tendencies’ home?
David Carter: We were comfortable at the MGAC. I had done a number of shows there and knew the space would work for us. Mark did The Sum of Us at MGAC in 2006 after its run at Soulstice. It’s a natural tie to our mission of diversity and offers the LGBT community an opportunity to see their lives represented on stage.
David Carter: Thrill Me was always at the top of our list of plays we wanted to produce. We really like its darkness and the very real story it tells. Our best work has revolved around relationship stories. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb’s relationship is the heart of Thrill Me.
TCD: How does it fit your mission?
David Carter: Our mission is to present diversity. Diversity comes from many places. Its shape has changed and evolved over time. In looking back at our history through a subject like Leopold and Loeb, we can explore how attitudes of the times play a role in shaping the destiny of young people. Would Leopold and Loeb have had the same outcome if they had lived in today’s more accepting times? Having to hide who you are from society can have an incredibly adverse affect on how you live your life and the choices you make. Life isn’t always pretty. We need to remember some of the ugly history in order to move on to prettier, happier times.
TCD: And the play’s message?
David Carter: There are many messages. Most will be personal to each audience member. At its core, Thrill Me is a relationship story. The actual murder is not the focus. The story revolves around Nathan and Richard’s passion, their anger, their lust, their desires, their brilliance, and their youth and naïveté – both were 19 at the time of the murder.
The message involves how people react to being in love, particularly a one-sided love. It poses the question, how does that kind of relationship influence your ability to make choices? We have to consider the answer in light of the closeted lives they were living. There are lessons to be explored. Some performances will be followed by Talkbacks to give the audience the opportunity to discuss all of this, the psychology involved and the relevance to our lives.
And more about Thrill Me:
Take two handsome lovers, Nietzsche, a roadster, a gruesome “crime of the century” thrill killing, and a parole board. Add them up and what do you get? A musical, of course!
First performed at a New York City fringe theater festival in 2003, Stephen Dolginoff’s Thrill Me ran off-Broadway in 2005 to critical acclaim. Since then it has played in cities across the USA as well as in Australia, Brazil, Greece and Japan. Currently, it’s playing in Kansas City and in Seoul, South Korea.
On Sept. 17, Theatrical Tendencies launches its inaugural season with the Milwaukee premiere of Thrill Me – The Leopold and Loeb Story at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center (MGAC).
Theatrical Tendencies is Milwaukee’s newest stage company and the only one dedicated to LGBT-relevant theatre. Within MGAC’s 19th-century walls, Theatrical Tendencies will create a 1920’s warehouse environment and present a historic exhibit of the Leopold and Loeb story.
A conversation with playwright Stephen Dolginoff:
A number of books, films and TV specials have chronicled Leopold and Loeb. Dolginoff’s version is unique. Aside from being a musical, it’s a dramatization, not a documentary. However, none of Leopold and Loeb’s immediate family or friends survive from the period of the murder. That allowed the writer a certain creative freedom. Dolginoff recreated the lovers’ relationship based trial transcripts and newspaper accounts.
“Thrill Me is solely about those characters (Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb,),” Dolginoff said. “In fact, there is little mention of others in the play. It’s an intimate view of a relationship. It’s about power, codependence and love. This is the fabric of their relationship. You take an audience on a specific journey when they only get the point of view of two people. It’s about a love relationship gone wrong. By limiting the number of characters I could liberate myself from simply creating another documentary.”
Dolginoff said that current run of Thrill Me in Seoul, South Korea, is “a giant hit. The audience is 98% 20-something women. They’re obviously relating to the love story. The show is in a mainstream theater and the advertising showing the men kissing is on buses, billboards, in the subway – everywhere. It’s having its effect on the public consciousness I’m sure.”
When asked about the critics who suggest the work is a modern opera, Dolginoff shrugged. “I wrote it as a traditional musical about a non-traditional subject. Still, it’s more than a typical musical where the dialogue is interspersed with songs. In Thrill Me’s the songs tell the story,” Dolginoff said.
Marty L. McNamee plays Richard Loeb, the criminal mastermind. McNamee is a familiar face on the Milwaukee stage. He appeared at the Skylight’s Plaid Tidings last winter. While rehearsing for Thrill Me, McNamee is performing in Hula Hoop Sha-Boop at the Stackner Cabaret.
“Thrill Me has been on my radar for years,” McNamee said. “It’s a creepy show. My purpose is to make audience care about the characters. Given the subject matter and the seemingly frivolous love affair, it will be up to us, the actors, to portray Leopold and Loeb as human beings who really existed. Their love was dysfunctional in a Bonnie and Clyde way. Their conflict is in part about their being gay in 1924 – perhaps being criminals was their way of being something worse than gay.
“Musically, it’s a piece with meat on its bones. I’m used to doing more conventional musicals. I truly enjoy that. But, Thrill Me’s music creates the characters. I need to be a great actor in addition to a competent singer to communicate the role. It’s exceptionally challenging.”
Matt Walton plays Nathan Leopold. Walton is currently pursuing his BFA in Musical Theatre at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He already impressive resumé includes his exceptional Fabrizio in Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza at the Waukesha Civic Theater. But this role offers something new.
“It’s the scariest role I’ve taken on – scary because Nathan’s real,” Walton said. “My usual roles are the typical, larger-than-life characters of the classic musical. Playing Nathan I have to be true. And, unlike the typical musical, the action takes place around a gruesome event. Again, it’s all true.
“Nathan Leopold is difficult to figure out. Both the characters are ambiguous, in terms of who’s the bad guy. Nathan is more a realist, yet he goes along with Richard, the criminal mind, because he loves him – they even make a contract. Richard seems out of touch. He over-analyzes. The love affair is just a part of his plot.”
Walton added “the score is inseparable from the play. The music is modern and flowing without a lot of slow spots. The underscoring sets the tone. It leads into the songs. It can seem like one continuous song.
Theatrical Tendencies’ Thrill Me – The Leopold and Loeb Story opens Friday, Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 2 at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, 703 S. 2nd St in Walker’s Point. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Thrill Me runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission. For tickets or more information visit Theatrical Tendencies’ website.