It’s easy for a performing arts organization, be it theatre, dance, or music-based, to stick with the safe bet. Fill the seats by offering shows your audience has become accustomed to. Go to the same old pool, season after season, and keep it all familiar so your organization can pay the rent. And as long as your audience never leaves the city limits they may not realize that one of the responsibilities of an arts organization is to nurture the cultural literacy of its audience by offering new works. Works that challenge or discomfit. Works that take chances. Works that go out on a limb and take the audience with them as they shakily find their balance, but ultimately enjoy the view. While too many organizations in Columbia adhere to this boring, stagnating, audience-offending policy — and we’ll be writing more about this soon — at least, and thank whoever the god of the performing arts is for this, we have Trustus Theatre.
Yes, Trustus has some familiar fun coming up this season (Walter Graham plays the alien transvestite Frank N. Furter in the delicious Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example). But at the same time, Trustus never fails to continue to take chances. Be it via the Trustus Playwright’s Festival which last month gave us Anatomy of a Hug, one of the oddest little, top-notch shows we’ve seen in a while — fresh, brand new, exciting; or via shows like the one opening Friday night on the Cohn Side Door Stage — Tail! Spin!
Directed by Jason Stokes, Tail! Spin! stars Stann Gwynn, Kevin Bush, Clint Poston, Joseph Eisenreich, and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler. We asked Stokes to tell us a bit about where the story came from and how he plans to bring it to the stage. Find his comments below and plan to come out to check out this fascinating and funny piece of political theatre. It’s new and different, and it should be perfect for the political season. – CB
Directing Tail! Spin! by Jason Stokes
Tail! Spin! chronicles the real life political scandals of Larry Craig, Anthony Weiner, Mark Foley and Mark Sanford using their own texts, emails, Facebook messages, IM’s, and interviews. Using their own public and private words to tell the story in my opinion changes this show from being just a strict “by the numbers” bio-play, into a dramedy version of reality. The show hinges on each person’s scandal, but at its core, the show really details the toll their actions take on them, their families, and political careers while bringing them face to face with who they really are thanks in no small part the modern-day twenty-four hour media coverage. Some of the men are unable, or unwilling, to accept this new self-revelation.
From the beginning, the most difficult task of directing this piece was finding the right balance between the acts of these men and their humorous attempts to spin the details to a more favorable outcome. It’s my opinion that in order to get to the US Senate, House or Governor’s mansion you must possess a certain amount of intelligence … even if the intelligence comes from a team; the individual must be smart enough to adhere to the sound advice of others. But the politicians focused on in this play react like children with their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar after their sexual indiscretions are discovered. And their mindset becomes “If I don’t admit anything, then nobody will know.” As is so often the case with political scandal, the denial becomes worse than the act.
We find ourselves in a polarizing political and social climate at present. Compromise is a dirty word, if you’re a republican then the democrats have no validity in their thoughts or policies; and if you’re a democrat, the republicans have lost their minds and their party is a mess with no real hope of salvation and thus should be completely cast aside (Yes, I’m generalizing, but find any two members of either party and ask them to agree on something, anything). Which is why this show comes to Columbia at the absolute right time. While the subject matter can be shocking and their attempt to keep it quiet should be laughed at, hopefully, the audience will see these men as flawed human beings who made really, really bad decisions that when pieced together the way the playwright has, prove quite hilarious. And maybe for a few moments, we can all be Americans enjoying a night of entertainment together, as one people, the way we should be. To quote Dennis Miller however… “Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”
Jason Stokes first appeared at Trustus as Adam in 2002’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Other Trustus roles include Roger in Rent, Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, Luke in Next Fall. Other shows in the Columbia area include The Full Monty, Sleuth, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In January of this year he held a reading of his new screenplay Composure, detailing the murder of N.G. Gonzales by SC Lieutenant Gov. James Tillman, in the Trustus Side Door. He has also written, produced and directed four films, the most recent film blocked was featured in the 2nd Act Film Festival, presented by The Jasper Project.