A CAST OF THOUSANDS

WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU CROSS A STAGE MOTHER WITH A GROUP OF SCHIZOPHRENICS? A REALLY, REALLY BIG SHOW.

"Architect," someone says.
"Actuary."
"Archer!"
"Abyss," someone offers.
"That's not a profession," Julie fires back, "or is it?"

Here's the setup: 101 architects (or archers, or actuaries) walk into a bar. The bartender says, `I'm sorry, we can't serve architects.' The architects say--

And the CSP teams are supposed to supply punchlines. What turns up, though, is more existential humor rather than shtick. One person freezes on the spot and says, "Oh, phooey"--but this gets a laugh, too.

"Good," Julie says, Mama Rose-like, from the wings. "The more the audience groans, the better it is. Now audience, name some things that piss you off."
"The Fort Logan psych ward!"
"The dog pound!'
"Garbage men!"
"People who interrupt!"

Julie assigns an actor to each gripe and begins conducting what turns into a symphony of catharsis, which is interrupted when one actor turns up late.

"Take off your coat," she says, "and don't you ever, ever, ever do this again. And you," she yells at another performer, "reach in there and get a good grip on her bra strap. Good bit! Good bit!"
Without exception, the cast members enjoy Julie's tirades. They've seen her act much the same way in Four Chairs, No Waiting, the improv group she performs with one night a week at Herman's Hideaway.

"Yeah, these guys come down to see me all the time," she says. "They're interested. They learn stuff. They come over to my apartment, too. We hang out. The truth is, I care more about them than anyone else in my life, and what I am doing here is the best thing I ever do, period." Not to mention the best use of a four-year acting degree. "I sit in my office," Julie says, "and clients come in and and tell me they want to be a janitor. I always say, do you really want that, or is that all your parents said you could ever be?"
Some end up as janitors anyway, but others work as "college professors and travel agents and everything in between," she says. "Clients are much more likely to be employable once they've been in improv."

This may sound like a big therapeutic leap, maybe even a little, well, crazy--but Julie is invited to present her theory at the rate of one international conference per year. "Other places say they do improv, but they don't," she explains. "Either it's psychodrama, where you play you and I play your mother and it's incredibly stupid and depressing, or else it's the staff acting out mental illness. We just do pure comedy, no mental health stuff allowed. And there's weird side effects, believe me."

For Lori, the effect was pretty simple: Improv and lip-synching gave her back the drama that left when she stopped hearing voices.

"I do miss them," she admits. "They said things to me. Most of it was them taking care of me or giving me a wonderful soap opera. It was kind of nice to me, but the clinic didn't like it, and even though I was having fun, it did get on my parents' nerves, because sometimes I wouldn't move until the voices said I could. And I yelled and screamed a lot for no apparent reason."
At 37, Lori has been officially schizophrenic for only seven years, but she's been "in and out of places like this through the years," she says. Unlike other CSP clients, she rather enjoyed her stays at Fort Logan. "They give you an awful lot of attention there," she recalls. "And to tell the truth, I didn't want to leave. Finally I decided to take medication, and the voices stopped. Only problem, it keeps me from having much ambition. I used to have ambition to put on makeup or go to the beauty shop and have my hair done in a French braid."

Since rehearsals began in earnest, though, Lori has had someone to do that for her. ("Oh, I wish someone would dress me up everyday," she says.) Lori wears a blue chiffon prom dress for her "Tammy" number, and during "When I'm Calling You," she is a ringer for Jeanette MacDonald--until she begins to strip. "Yes, I undress down into a sadistical lady prostitute," she explains. "It's a lot of fun. This is all kind of new to me. I love carrying on like a real live actress."

Who doesn't? Steve, who sings Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" in the show's only a cappella song, loves it so much he can't seem to stop parading around the halls in his red devil costume. Clearly, Julie is addressing her latest pep talk to him.

"The whole point of this is a laugh," she explains. "I don't want anyone peeking through the curtains waving hi to Mom or getting caught accidentally-on-purpose taking a leak in their costume. It will blow the whole setup, and I promise you that will make me insane. "Meanwhile, though," she continues, "you guys will be great, and I am just so proud of you. All of you."

"In high school, they used to call me The King," says 25-year-old Ricky, whose Georgia roots show up in his accent. "I guess I have a gift for music. I done six or seven of these shows, but you know, this one, this is as far as I've ever been."
Indeed, Ricky was the logical choice to play not just David Bowie, but Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand at the same time. With his long blond hair and weightlifter's body--you can pump iron at CSP, too--he is the boy ingenue of the troupe.

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