Chad M. Rossi’s big ideas
By Charise Dawson
Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre closes its 22nd season with Milwaukee Playwright Chad M. Rossi’s comedy Eureka! The company calls the play a randy comedy of “fourplay,” rife with young-adult growing pains, a love story or two and aliens from outer space. The production exemplifies the Boulevard’s mission to provide training for emerging artists.
Rossi came to Milwaukee from “up north” five years ago. He knew he wanted to pursue a job in the arts and worked at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts as a house manager. Here he had his first opportunity to see a performance on the big stage and watch how people reacted to each production. His interest in theatre “just clicked.”
Eureka! is Rossi’s first try at a production of this scale. Triggered by the theme of grandiosity, Rossi created a character, Clyde, caught up in the mania of a changing world. The title comes from Clyde’s ideas, or as Rossi puts is, his “eureka” moments. “He becomes disillusioned. He creates big ideas to deal with what he cannot control.”
The play is also a relationship play. “It shows the evolution of friendship and how an old college relationship changes when one person meets someone else. Clyde was going through a disgruntled time [and] learning that life was not all roses.”
“How do you deal with the bad and still have love and find beauty?” Rossi wanted to ask. “There has to be a natural balance. An acceptance. How can we connect as human beings and at the same time be worried about what could happen to us? Our society can make people so mean and hardened by experience.”
Strong women, drawn from life
Rossi also used his script to explore the strength of women in male/female relationships. The women characters take over the play from the moment they are introduced. Rossi has always had strong women in his life. “They’ve always run the house. They’ve always run the show. They still do.”
Audience members had a hard time liking one strong female character, Nancy, a seemingly uptight shot-caller. Many called her a bitch and struggled to understand what her male counterpart saw in her. Rossi defended her. “Mark made a great comment the other night. He said ‘If the apartment would suddenly start on fire and all four characters were in the apartment, Nancy would get everyone out.’ She is in control. She makes sure everyone is doing well. She won’t take anyone’s bullshit.
“My wife has read more of my work than anyone on the planet, including me,” admits Rossi. Once his wife “got” the script of Eureka! and thought it was funny, Rossi knew it was fine. Rossi’s wife, who has an academic background in philosophy, will join Rossi on his wild theories and big ideas, but always brings him back to reality. “She is a great critic.”
Rossi was drawn to theatre by his younger sister, who loved to be onstage. When she passed away, Rossi felt there was unfinished business. He said he feels a weird psychological click. He is connected with her through theatre even though he never saw her perform.
A place to grow
Rossi was introduced to Boulevard’s Artistic Director Mark Bucher when he attended Waiting for Godot. He and Bucher struck up a conversation, and Rossi was eventually hired as a stage manager at the Boulevard.
The Boulevard had always been Rossi’s favorite theatre in Milwaukee. He admired the range of work the company produced and their dedication to doing something unique. Once Rossi knew that his play would be produced at The Boulevard, he was thrilled.
Eureka! got on its feet about three years ago. Rossi wrote the first draft and then shelved it. After revising it, he approached Bucher with his idea. Rossi had a reading of the script at his house and made more revisions. He gave a new version to Bucher in August. The two had meetings about the play and Rossi gave him the final script in late November.
“Mark has a very honest opinion. He has a very upfront, thoughtful approach to young artists. It sounds cliché, but I don’t know where I’d be without him. I did a reading of the play for my friends and they all said ‘Oh, it’s perfect. Don’t change a thing.’ But [Mark] says ‘This doesn’t work.’”
Rossi did not sit in during the four weeks of rehearsals of Eureka! This was a deliberate choice by Bucher. During the rehearsals, Bucher made most of the cutting decisions based on actors’ comments and his own observations as the play unfolded.
It wasn’t until the rehearsal process that Rossi started to feel scared. “What’s happening in rehearsal? Is anybody going to laugh?”
Rossi was pleasantly surprised when he saw his play at The Boulevard before an audience. The play’s conclusion, especially, was better than what Rossi had originally intended. Rossi said that he was not taken aback by Bucher’s cutting decisions. “I wanted him to cut more.”
“I’m interested to see what the actors will do from here on out.” Because the piece is new and because the rehearsal time was so short, the actors guaranteed the opening night talkback audience that the play they saw would be different, tighter play by closing day.
Rossi plans to take the notes he has collected from the talkbacks of the play and sit down with Bucher and the actors to get their opinion on what worked and what didn’t in the play. Rossi will wait until the play closes so that he does not challenge the actors’ sense of character. He then hopes to revise the play and submit it to other theatre companies.
Revising is the most difficult aspect of the writing process for Rossi. “The first draft is the most fun. I write until I’m done. Figuring out how to revise is different. I have to decide, ‘How will I structure this?’ and ‘Will this work?’ That is what separates good and great writers. Smart revisions.”
“I want to do this all the time.” Rossi did not hesitate to say that he would do this again. He wants to create off-the-wall work. He wants to write a rock opera. “Maybe there’s another city or company that would do what I do.”
Rossi’s long-term goal is to settle into Milwaukee and enjoy the city. He would like to travel and get work done in Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis and New York City. He does not foresee a move to the Big Apple, however. “I would go insane if my only outlet to the outdoors would be Central Park.” VS