What’s the appeal of a holiday season revue? When did you first start writing them?
BM: The appeal for the audience is that they really enjoy the idea of poking some fun at people and issues that are going on in their communities. It’s an idea as old as Aristophanes. Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and Colbert do it on a national level, but we tackle the Duluth Superior issues. No one was doing it around here at all until Margi Preus started up Colder by the Lake in the ’80s. I loved going to their holiday revues and was excited when I got the opportunity to join their group in 1987. So that’s when I started writing them, as well. I was hooked!
The appeal for me as an artist is that you get the opportunity to create every aspect of the show from scratch: brainstorming, writing, directing, then performing. And you get to be topical, which is always fun.
Do you ever, after a run of a revue, think maybe you went too far?
BM: Not really. I’ve become a pretty good judge of finding that line during rehearsals. It’s always an interesting process, though. For example, I tried working a Jeno Paulucci joke into this year’s show. I mean, he was such a big part of our Colder and Renegade revues back in the day, and I always strive to be as topical as I can. It wasn’t even a shot, it was a joke about God calling Jeno to heaven because He had some stuff he needed Jeno to fix. But as we rehearsed it, I could feel everyone tighten up as soon as the name “Jeno” was said on stage, and I knew we had to cut it. The audience would have had the same reaction and wouldn’t have even heard the sketch. They would immediately have been taken out of the sketch and would have thought, “They’re making Jeno jokes!” and that would have been it.
You’re a man known for comedy. But, comedy is truth at its base, isn’t it? Do you use these opportunities to get your digs in at society?
BM: I think you absolutely can make some valid points through comedy. It’s the sneakiest way to do it, too, because when the audience is laughing, their defenses are down. You can make them think when they didn’t even know they were thinking! The Occupy Bentleyville sketch in this year’s show, written by Jeremy Churchill, is a great example of that. It’s going to be silly and fun, and at the same time, it points out some ridiculous aspects of both sides of that issue.
What can we expect this year from your latest holiday season revue? What went into its conception and what is your process in getting them from idea to stage?
BM: As previously mentioned, we will tackle subjects like Bentleyville and the Occupy movement, as well as the Fond-du-Luth casino contract with the city, the mayor running unopposed, Denny Anderson retiring, and many more. Plus, there will be general holiday silliness.
The process for a revue is so much different from any other theatrical process…it’s why I enjoy it so much! The first couple of weeks are brainstorming sessions, so it’s great fun to sit around with friends and just riff off each other. No topics, ideas or jokes are off-limits. After that, we divide the ideas up and assign them to writers. As scripts start coming in, the fun continues. You not only hear the jokes as the writer has presented them, but you also get a chance to chime in and add to the scripts. My job is then to take all the scripts and tighten them up, as needed, and then figure out which ones we’re going to do in the show. Then I assign a sketch order, which is an art all to itself. You want to open strong then build to a fun climax with everyone onstage. During the final week of rehearsals is when the show is not as enjoyable as other aspects. You are learning lines, finding props, figuring out entrances and exits, and all that practical stuff that is not as much fun, plus you have heard all the jokes so many times that nothing seems funny anymore. On top of all that, I usually end up switching the sketch order all week as we try to find that perfect rhythm for the show. Patience, as it always is during Tech Week, is a virtue. Then, come Opening Night, it’s fun again as audiences laugh and a good time is had by all!
What kind of director are you?
BM: Collaborative. I want the writers and the actors to keep the ideas coming during the rehearsal process. I enjoy getting to pick and choose the best of the bunch. When I’m directing a scripted piece, I love it when all the artists involved have input as well.
Tell us about the revue’s actors. What do you treasure about them and how do you guys work together so well?
BM: Minden Hultstrom is a fantastic director, but a lot of people don’t realize how talented she is as a performer as well. She brings a fabulous work ethic to the revues and is always striving to bring a three-dimensional character to the stage. On top of that, it seems we always write a sketch to close the show that involves heavy choreography and luckily, Minden can tackle those, too. She knows most of us are not dancers (I’m barely able to walk and rub my tummy at the time), but she still creates routines that look great.
Greg J. Anderson is a dream to work with on a revue. He creates wonderfully unique and silly characters for every sketch he’s in, plus this year he has really blossomed as a writer. His sketches in this year’s show are very funny and have a nice structure to them, which is not easy to do. As a writer, it’s nice to know that Greg is available as an actor to bring all my sketches to life. We are all laughing and giggling at Greg this week, and getting it out of our systems, so we don’t have too many Harvey Korman/Tim Conway moments onstage.
Greg and Minden have been a part of all four of Rubber Chicken’s revues and I will always be grateful to them for jumping in and playing with me when I started up the new company.
Taylor Martin-Romme has a strong improvisational background, which is always important for a revue. Because a revue is so fluid, and keeps changing right up until Opening Night, sometimes a line or two will get dropped. Being able to adapt onstage and keep a scene moving forward is critical, and no one does it better than Taylor.
Cheri Tesarek is also a strong revue performer. She jumps in with 100% commitment to any character she is creating, plus she contributed a lot of sketches as a writer this year. On top of all that, Cheri has the biggest prop/costume collection in the Twin Ports. She has spent the last week hauling heavy boxes full of wigs and coats and bear ears, etc., up the steps of The Venue and hasn’t complained once. We love Cheri Tesarek.
Is satire something you particularly enjoy? What is YOUR favorite genre of theatre?
BM: I enjoy satire immensely. I had the chance to work on “The Frogs” by Aristophanes at UWS several years ago, and it was the most fun I have had on any theatrical project I’ve undertaken. I would have to say it’s my favorite genre, hands down.
As a trailblazer in the community’s comedic theatre scene, what is the one thing you have always been able to depend on to get the laughs?
BM: I don’t say this out of any sense of false humility, but there are many other people who deserve the title of Comedic Trailblazer in this town, and one of them is Margi Preus. If she hadn’t set up Colder by the Lake, I might not even have done any theater around here. As far as getting laughs, I’ve been doing this for 24 years now, and the only thing I know for certain is that you can’t know for sure what an audience will find funny. You can assume you’ll know, and oftentimes, that assumption will pay off, but not always. The only surefire laugh-getter is Proctor. If you change the name to any town in a sketch to Proctor, that’s gold.
Ever consider doing a Hannukah themed revue?
BM: I don’t know, is there anything funny about Hannukah?
What’s next for Rubber Chicken? And not just your shows, but in your dreams?
BM: Our shows are “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” in April. Written by Steve Martin and directed by Greg J. Anderson. “November” by David Mamet will be next October. It will be directed by Minden Hultstrom and will feature Chris Nollet, Cheryl Skafte, John Schmidt, and myself. Those shows will be staged at the Play Ground.
We are also going to be bringing back “Evil Dead: The Musical” at the end of October 2012 to The Venue. Of course, there will be a holiday revue in December 2012.
More Chicken Hat Plays and Rubber Chicken Radio shows will find their way into our 2012 schedule as well.
My dreams are for Rubber Chicken to become more of a part of the Twin Ports community. Not just by staging shows, but by being a part of other events that help people. Minden and Greg are heading up some great events that Rubber Chicken is going to be participating in: Walk a Mile In Her Shoes, the Polar Bear Plunge, etc. They both came to me and volunteered to do that, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for taking that on. Minden is also the new web designer for Rubber Chicken Theater, and we’re going to be debuting that soon as well.“THE RUNNING (UNOPPOSED) MAN: OR ANOTHER FINE NESS YOU’VE GOTTEN US INTO” Check out Rubber Chicken’s annual holiday revue. DECEMBER 2-3, 9-10, 16-17, 30-31. THE VENUE, 2024 W. SUPERIOR STREET, DULUTH. Curtain time: 7 p.m.