Jasper had the chance to sit down with Chad Henderson, director of the next play on the Trustus Main Stage, The Motherfucker with a Hat. We had a few questions for Chad and — turns out he had a few answers that we’re happy to share with you now.
1. So who wears what hats in the production of the play MFWAH?
Well, I’m happily wearing the directing hat for this project. I’ve got a great cast too! I’m excited that we’ve got some new talents making their Trustus debut with this production. Alexis Casanovas, who got his MFA in Acting from Rutgers, is playing our protagonist Jackie. Playing his girlfriend Veronica is Raia Jane Hirsch, who studied theatre at TISCH in NYC. Shane Silman, who many know from his recent work on his adaptation of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, is playing Jackie’s AA sponsor Raplh D. We’ve also got two Trustus Company members in the show: Michelle Jacobs playing Victoria (Ralph’s wife) and Joe Morales playing Julio (Jackie’s Cousin).
We’ve also got Preach Jacobs compiling the score for this show from his music catalogue and Kimi Maeda has designed an unbelievable set. She’s designed a set comprised of three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) which allow us to create a lot of movement with the set and get the story moving at a great pace.
2. What about this play made you want to direct it?
Initially, the language was what keyed me into this show – by that I mean the actual words on the page…not the naughty words (of which there are plenty – wink). I’ve been a fan of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ work for a few years now. I’ve seen his scripts produced by NiA, Trustus, and Theatre South Carolina – and every time I’m impressed with how musical the language and word choices can be. He writes in a way that reflects actual conversation. Not to mention, his characters are often quirky and dangerous. Motherf**ker certainly exhibits these qualities, and many critics felt that this show was a prime example of his use of language and his creation of realistic characters that live on the edge – whether they intend to or not.
Ultimately, I like plays that explore human relationships. This script explores many points-of-view concerning love, lust, loyalty, and betrayal. Without talking too much about my personal history, I responded to a sense of dark familiarity with the relationships being explored in the story. Some of the things being said, I’ve said. Some of the situations the characters find themselves in are ones I’ve been in before. This show is about a lot of the things we can’t talk about in polite company. We have to wait until we’re around our closest friends – where the truth will sometimes surface (but not always). And that’s really what the show is about: friendships. I think they’re confusing at times – don’t you?
3. What have been your greatest challenges and how have you met them?
I anticipated a lot of challenges with this show because the language is so specific, and I also wanted to ask for a lot of bravery from the actors. However, that all seemed to fall into place very early on in the process.
So in all reality, the greatest challenge I had with this show was learning to trust myself in a new way. It’s been over a year since I’ve worked on a non-musical – which I had wanted to do for quite some time. While the approaches to directing a musical and a non-musical have similarities, they do diverge from each other at many points. I knew that this show had a title that would be singular in Columbia. Therefore – I wanted the production to be singular as well.
I’m the type who’s always thinking about “what’s next?”, “what do people want?”, “what’s exciting right here and right now?” So, with a mind running on various cylinders at one time I kept feeling like I couldn’t wrap my head around what the final product would be like for The Motherf**ker With the Hat. There was light at the end of the tunnel however because I was able to work with scenic designer Kimi Maeda and score composer Preach Jacobs. Now we’ve got a hip-hop score that’s definitive to the Trustus production, as well as a scenic concept that I haven’t seen explored in other productions throughout the country.
4. The play has a “bad word” in it — a lot of playwrights would have substituted another word to avoid controversy, this one did not. Why do you think that is?
In an interview about the show Stephen Adly Guirgis said that he titled the show “The Motherfucker With the Hat” so it would serve as a disclaimer. In other words, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not family friendly – and that’s because it’s about adult life….or “real” life. It can be expected from the title that we’re going to be examining some of the more difficult human experiences.
I don’t want to be misleading though…this show does have a lot of comedy in it. Guirgis is a brilliant writer, and I think those who are unfamiliar with him will have a great time experiencing a script by one our more prominent playwrights of the last decade.
5. Can you talk a little about the set design?
The scenic design by Kimi Maeda is just as “in transit” as the main character, Jackie. From the moment of the inciting incident of this show, we follow Jackie through a series of circumstances and choices that make him careen forward through his already difficult life. He’s in and out of apartments continuously and Kimi’s set allows us to go there with ease. Three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) cover the stage, allowing the audience and the characters to move through space and time in an engaging way. In my opinion, plays should often equate to a theatrical EVENT; turning a show into an experience that the actors and the audiences can travel through together. In other words, once the curtain speech has ended I like to make people feel like the safety bar comes down on a rollercoaster and you’re not admitted off the ride until it’s over. Kimi’s set is one of the more effective sets I’ve worked with in allowing the show to take on this “rollercoaster” quality. And boy, with these characters IT IS a rollercoaster.
Kimi and I had a lot of conversations about the role the imagination plays in moments of infidelity. Jealousy can begin to take control and has the potential to make someone view their life through a more aggrandized point of view. Hypothetically, if I were to find out from someone else that my wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever had slept with someone else…I might start to let my jealousy and imagination take over. I might imagine them having wild passionate sex, I might imagine them laughing at me behind my back, I may also imagine KILLING THE MOTHERFUCKAH THAT TOUCHED…see what happens? Haha, the darker side of creation can just take off in moments like that.
What Kimi did to respond to that idea was to lace Lichtenstein inspired elements into the set. Making the whole show take on that paneled “comic” style look. Both Lighting Designer Danny Harrington and Costume Designer Brandi Smith have made bold choices to marry the other visual elements into this unique pop-art inspired world.
6. Of the actors in MFWAH, who, or whose role, do you think the audience will be talking about after the play is over?
I think audiences are really going to enjoy watching this cast work together. They couldn’t be a more diverse group with varying ranges in experience, style, approach, and education. However they ALL bring these characters to life beautifully, and more importantly AS AN ENSEMBLE!
Trustus audiences will be seeing Alexis Casanovas and Raia Jane Hirsch on the Main Stage for the first time, and I think they’re going to be viewed as very welcome additions to the Trustus family. Alexis brings a lot of swagger and heart to the character of Jackie, and Raia exhibits absolute uninhibited work as Jackie’s fiery girlfriend Veronica.
I think audiences are going to be talking a lot about these characters that they’re playing. We pull for both of them, and this show takes them on a journey where their strength is constantly challenged. Jackie is a recovering addict and Veronica is a current addict – so their dynamics are always running on two different cylinders. I tell ya – I know a few couples like that.
7. What’s this I hear about a “hat night” and whose brilliant idea was this anyway?
HAT NIGHT?! You mean one of the coolest opening night events this season at Trustus?
Yes, we had someone post on the Trustus facebook page that they hoped there’d be a “hat night” for the show. I believe it might have been the editor of Jasper magazine (insert winky emoticon here). So, myself and Larry Hembree thought we could turn it into a fun contest online.
So here’s how it works: audiences come on opening night, and they wear a hat. My awesome marketing interns Rachel and Victoria will be going around and taking pictures of those wishing to compete for a Trustus Flex Pass. On Saturday the 9th, we’ll upload a photo album on facebook and tag the shots. Whoever’s photo has the most “likes” by midnight on Saturday the 16th will win a Trustus Flex Pass (8 tickets to Main Stage shows). 2nd place wins 4 tickets, and 3rd place wins 2 tickets. So – there’s more than one chance to win some tickets to Trustus shows! Plus…it’s fun to wear a hat and have everyone call you a “motherf**ker” all night.
MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY: language, sexual content, nudity, violence –
BIO Chad Henderson* (Director) is the current 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre. This year will mark a full decade in Columbia for Chad, four of them at the University of South Carolina and six of them as a Company member here at Trustus. Past Trustus Directing Credits include: Next To Normal, Avenue Q (Winner “Best Local Production”), Passing Strange (Runner-up “Best Local Production”), Spring Awakening, Assassins, The Last 5 Years, reasons to be pretty, Swing ’39 (World premiere), The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Southern Baptist Sissies, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (Winner “Best Local Production). Chad has been in residency twice at The Studios of Key West, and has also directed at The Columbia Children’s Theatre, Workshop Theatre of South Carolina, Theatre South Carolina, Spartanburg Next Stage, and The Spartanburg Youth Theatre.