Interview with Andrew Baughman and Melissa Baughman of Landless Theatre
– With this interview, DC Theatre Scene is thrilled to introduce our newest writer, Joe Brack, DC area actor, teacher and writer. –
Beneath the pleasing din of Indian radio and the bustle of Adams Morgan, on an unseasonably gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I am sharing a table with Andrew and Melissa Baughman. They are little more than an hour away from beginning their first day of tech for Landless Theatre’s DC premiere of SPIDERMUSICAL: A Second Chance for Awesome, (tagline: (“None of the budget. All of the danger”) just across the street at the DC Arts Center.
For those not familiar with this daring little company, Andrew, Landless’ Producing Artistic Director, and Melissa, Director of SPIDERMUSICAL, had this to say about Landless, their mission, and their upcoming production.
When I hear Landless Theatre, I think of Cannibal! The Musical, Evil Dead, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, and High Fidelity. You seem to have a strong connection to film and especially to more kinds of cult films. Why is that?
Andrew: Our mission is specifically to try to generate new audiences for live theatre, so with everything we do, we try to hit some kind of different cult audience or some kind of audience that might not normally be coming out to see theatre. A lot of the shows we do, I guess, are geared towards young audience, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, that’s probably the biggest tie-in. People in that age group tend to go to the movies.
Melissa: So, we rope them in with both.
When you’re trying to draw in these younger audiences, with adapting these cult films into live theatre, is there any kind of element of satire or social commentary, perhaps some kind of deeper meaning in choosing the works?
Melissa: I look at everything like an audience member. I was schooled in old school theatre, Oscar Wilde whatever, but I like film, and so in order for me to go to the theatre it has to be something I am really interested in. These kinds of pieces draw me in. I actually want to experience it live, and I feel like there’s a lot of people like me out there. They might not want to go to the theatre because they don’t want to see Oscar Wilde fifty times, but they might want to see Evil Dead onstage, where they actually get hit with the blood and they experience the craziness. It’s a chance for them to laugh and escape and interact with something they’ve never been able to interact with before. I’m interested in those things and I feel I’m a good indicator of what our audience is interested in, the non-traditional theatre goers. So, we might as well get the new generation, who aren’t accustomed to theatre to come in and see what they want to see.
Which brings us to your next project, SPIDERMUSICAL. This piece has been showcased in New York and your run here in DC will be it’s regional premiere. How did it come about?
Melissa: Andrew has a personal relationship with Randy Blair (one of SPIDERMUSICAL‘s co-writers) because we did Perez Hilton Saves the Universe and Randy Blair had written that. He had invited Andrew to see SPIDERMUSICAL, so we saw it and we liked it.
Andrew: I didn’t know Randy at all before Perez. We saw that piece that was done at New York Fringe and we thought, “This is pretty cool and out there.”. And, yeah, it was a little controversial, like a lot of the pieces we do. ‘Fun’ is the word I use. we think fun is sometimes going up to the line of being, you know…(laughs)
Of what’s acceptable?
Melissa: It’s fun for us.
Is it because you get to see people’s reactions to something, that’s maybe outside of their comfort zone?
Andrew: It’s kind of like a “Springtime for Hitler” moment, you know? That whole, “Did they actually do this? They actually had someone put that on stage?”
It was like the low budget version of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, basically. I think they just asked themselves, “What the hell can we do here? They’re spending millions and millions of dollars on producing it downtown, what can we do with fifty bucks?”. And we laughed, it was very funny, so we thought, “Yeah, let’s bring it down to DC.”.
I assume we have our Peter character and other fan favorites, but what is this show really about?
Melissa: It’s about Peter who gets bit by a radioactive spider (we all laugh) and is visited by the spirit of a spider, and he becomes the Spider-One, kind of a loser superhero. You know, he goes around saving people and has an arch-nemesis…I mean…it’s pretty much the plot of Spider-Man (we all laugh heartily).
Andrew: It is similar, but we were noticing today that “Madagascar” and…(to Melissa) what was that other one we saw?
Melissa: “The Wild”.
Andrew: And “The Wild” by Disney are very similar. I assume there was no copyright infringement there.
Melissa: It’s silly, but, yes, it’s pretty much the plot of Spider-Man.
But, is it a full musical?
Melissa: Yes, a full musical and full of stunts.
Melissa: Yes, stunts, but no one gets injured. It’s definitely low-budget stunts. I don’t wanna give it away, but it’s magical.
(She says with a knowing look.) Once you’ve decided, “This is the show we’re going with”, you cast, finalize the design, then once you get into the rehearsal space, what is the process like?
Melissa: For me, I’m not sure about other directors, but I approach every show like the worst audience member in the world. I think of, what am I going to find annoying and not funny and what is going to captivate me. I just approach every script like that. I look at the script for what it is, we do it as is, and we make sure not to go too whacked out from, you know…because, sometimes actors get carried away, you pull them back in, it’s that kind of thing.
You try to stay true to the script and stay true to the audience, which is the most important thing. You don’t want to hammer them over the head with a frying-pan, you don’t want to treat them like they’re dumb, you just want to give them the story and have them be amused. You gotta think like them. You can’t think like, “Oh, I’m a director, let me put my stamp on it.”. You have to think, “How can I make this fun for people?”. That’s how I approach every show. With this, everybody knows Spider-Man’s story. Everybody. I don’t care who you are, you know Spider-Man’s story. And, you’re probably aware of Spider-Man, the musical, so how do we get them to enjoy this show on both ends? I just want people to understand it and have fun with it.
Andrew: I’m just an actor in the show, so I just go out and make an ass of myself.
With a piece like this, it’s a story everybody knows, you’re going to do it on the cheap, it’s got stunts. How does your rehearsal process unfold?
Andrew: The music is pretty difficult. We have a music director, Charles Johnson, so we started out really working on the musical numbers for the show. Believe it or not, I choreographed the show, which sets the bar really low, but that was our second step, choreographing the dance numbers and the stunts. Our fight choreographer, Steve Custer, does epic battle scenes for the show, some involve live actors, some involve –
Melissa: Fireballs –
Andrew: Yes, fireballs, some stunt action-figures, and things like that. At that point, Melissa comes in and starts to string the whole piece together. On our budget and working at the DC Arts Center, we do a lot in the last lap. At this point, I think, Melissa is down to refining the comedy and trying to get us all to see what is funny about this piece, because are we spoofing the movie, are we spoofing the Broadway show, are we spoofing Julie Taymor?
Melissa: I’m spoofing Julie Taymor! It’s like a giant puzzle. There are all these pieces that feel like they’re scattered. There are all these designers off working on their stuff. You have the music director working on all his stuff. When it gets to this point, I’m supposed to put it all together and that’s the tricky part, because if it doesn’t mesh it feels disjointed. And that’s kind of an art unto itself to mesh it all together in tech week. That’s really the first time it’s all together. And it’s really neat to see it all come together to become a show.
What do you feel is the toughest obstacle to overcome?
Melissa: Well, I guess, that’s a tough one, there’ve been a lot of obstacles because it’s such a wacky show. I think the toughest thing is getting all the actors to gel, because it’s a comedy. And, a lot of people think comedy is easy, but it is not. I think it’s the hardest thing to do. When it’s a comedy, there’s a certain pressure where actors have to feel comfortable in what they’re doing so that they can loosen up, and be able to be honest to the script, honest to the character. When they get nervous, they do weird things so you just have to get them to get the piece to a comfortable place, and that’s really hard to do. It’s getting them to know the show by heart, so that when they go up there, no matter what happens, that show is going to happen. That’s my obstacle.
Andrew: To add onto that, from an actor’s perspective, the script is very sketch comedy-like. It was clearly, I think, written with Randy’s friends in mind, up in New York, and they just have that kind of sketch comedy actor quality to them where so much of their personalities went into the characters, that I think it’s a challenge for the next company to find where they fit into that. What is their thing that makes the piece their own? That’s a challenge.
What is the biggest opportunity you have presenting this show? What are the things you enjoy about this art form that you get to showcase by producing SPIDERMUSICAL?
Melissa: I just love ridiculousness onstage. I just love silly comedy and I’m looking forward to giving them…it’s going to defy expectations, let’s just say that. And I’m looking forward to that, of them going in and thinking, “Okay, what in the world is going to happen.”. And I’m pulling out all the stops. They’re going to be like, “Oh my gosh, what is this?!!”. I look forward to that. I really do. Just keep them guessing.
Andrew: I think our opportunity is to surpass, Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark. I even put this on the website the other day, because I re-read the contract very closely, and the full title of the show is actually, “SPIDERMUSICAL. A Second Chance at Awesome.”, so that’s what we’re going for. And it doesn’t have to cost millions of dollars.
Melissa: No, it doesn’t. Lots of that awesome is free.
SPIDERMUSICAL. A Second Chance at Awedome runs April 5 – 29, 2012 at the DC Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Joe Brack is a local DC theatre artist, teacher, and free-lance writer.