Brandon Bruce Boldly Bounces Back! With Eric & Andy!
New Artistic Directors are a celebrated people in Chicago. They become our leaders of organizations and have a hand in the direction of the Chicago Theatre Scene, the largest subculture in the continental United States. We had a chance to meet with the brand new Artistic Director of Strawdog Theatre, the great Brandon Bruce on a spacecraft made famous in a Disney movie and talk to him about his future and the future of his current project.
Welcome friends, and thanks for joining us! We've invited Brandon Bruce, the Artistic Director of the venerable Strawdog Theatre Company, on board the USS Cygnus, the spacecraft made famous in Disney's 1979 sci-fi epic The Black Hole. Watch out for Maxmillian the Robot, he's in a foul mood today! Hello, Brandon!
Hello! Thanks so much for having me. It's only my third time being in outer space. I always appreciate an opportunity to be weightless.
I think between the 3 of us, we just lost 700 pounds here in space! So while we are waiting for the Tang Robot to come by, how do you like being back in Chicago? Was it an easy move?
Well, the move hasn't quite been completed as of yet. My wife and I are still in the process of completing the full shift back to town. But so far, I'm having a great time. I'm excited that baseball season is upon us once again.
Baseball is very important for this thriving city, and especially over in Wrigleyville by Strawdog Theater, there are so many reasons to be happy about it.
Absolutely, Strawdog is very much engulfed in the Cubs universe in Wrigleyville. We're apart of that community and, we hope, Cubs fans feel they can be a part of our community, as well.
I hope that everything you said comes true! Now, Brandon, you just came on board with Strawdog. Tell us a little more about your background and where you've been over the years. What are you DOING here?
Well, I lived in Chicago for about 7 years. I was Artistic Director of Chicago's BackStage Theatre for about 3 years. But in 2007, I left Chicago to get my MFA in Directing at the University of Iowa. I had a great time there and really felt I grew a great deal. Now, I'm back in Chicago - the place that really feels like home - to get back into the fight. I'm having a real great time both directing and helming the organization that is Strawdog, as a whole.
Brandon, I need to ask you something very important. Now we are asking you as actors to a director, so please don't be offended. Are you going to be one of those directors that comes back from Grad School with all sorts of crazy ideas about "Theatre" and "Movement" and "Art"?
Because in Chicago, we don't do that Commedia D'ell Arte junk they teach you fancy boys in Iowa.
Well, honestly, what grad school did for me was simply help me sharpen my own ideas. Yes, it's true, I did spend some time in grad school talking to trees, but I also directed a ton of shows and that really helped me ground all those wacky academic discoveries.
So let's start with this play you are directing now. What is it?
It's The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster. I am adapting this with a collaborator-friend of mine, Christine Scarfuto.
Is this your first directing assignment back in town?
Sorta - I did direct The Little Foxes for Shattered Globe back in 2009. I was still in grad school at the time. And I actually got a grade for that!
Was the grade: A PLUS PLUS?
It was just pass/fail, actually, so I guess it was probably like an S or a checkmark, something like you would get in elementary school
What a telling metaphor for Chicago theatre. Anyhoosies, how is the adaptation going? Are you setting it in 1930s London or 1870s Buenos Aires?
No, we're not changing the period at all. It's set in the early 1500s in Italy. The adaptation is going very well. Most of the work on the adaptation is finished at this point. But it was really fun to do.
The Duchess Of Malfi, eh? I feel like I have heard of this--- OH WAIT! This is that play about Werewolves! Isn't this play about torturing Werewolves or a cranky old Werewolf lady or something?
Close! It's about three siblings: two brothers and a sister. The sister, aka The Duchess, has just been widowed and her brothers are swooping in to seize control of her estate. They want to be sure she doesn't remarry or all of that power and money will go into the wrong hands, or, rather, just not the brothers' hands. One of the brothers just wants all the power, but one brother is also in love with his sister - he's the one who thinks he's a wolf.
So, this is basically King Lear, sexes reversed, mixed with Twilight.
Yes, but it's probably a lot more violent than both of those.
Did you know that Edward Cullen was born in Chicago, Brandon?
I did not.
We really like Twilight, so we know about a lot of that sort of stuff.
I'm so sorry...but I've never actually read or seen the stuff. My wife has, however. Does that count?
Horseshoes and hand grenades, my friend. So, this play sounds like a hoot, and it seems perfect for Strawdog's intense ensemble acting style that they have nurtured over the years. You won't be messing with THAT, will you? Don't mess with it, Brandon.
On the contrary, I believe we're taking that to a new level. The show is very much ensemble-based. We're using a hybrid of the movement disciplines Suzuki and Grotowski, with a little Butoh splashed in for good measure. Scarfuto and I even added a chorus to the play. So, there really does not feel like a small role in the whole cast. It's definitely a group effort and the whole thing is very much a charged, collaborative event.
I used to have a sweet Suzuki bike, and if I am not mistaken, Samuel Grotowski invented Martinizing for shirt laundry. I can see how you would add those together to make an excellent theatre discipline. What questions are you wanting the audience to ask when they leave? Or is this just a fun time play?
I suppose a good question to ponder is the effects of corruption and the poisonous effects it has on our culture. I'm not one of those directors that's necessarily interested in effecting change, although I'm not opposed to it, either, but I do want the play to keep the audience engaged and keep them very much alert to all the twists and turns in this play.
We were hoping you would make them ask where the bathrooms are, and then NEVER TELL THEM. Now that's theatre. So, what's next pal? How do you see the future stacking up for Strawdog?
Well, The Duchess of Malfi will be the last show of our current season - a season that had two other very successful shows, Old Times and The Petrified Forest. Duchess will also be the end of my first full season at Strawdog. Next season, we have some pretty exciting stuff: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom - a Chicago premiere by Jennifer Haley, directed by Joanie Schultz, Improbable Frequency
Hey Brandon, the Tang Robot is here. Do you want a Tang?
Yes, please, with salt.
Ok, here you go. Anyway, what were you saying about the movie Frequency with Dennis Quaid?
I wasn't talking about a movie, but Improbable Frequency, the midwest premiere of a new Irish musical by Arthur Riordan and Bell Helicopter. I'm directing that one. And our last show of the upcoming season is Big Love by Charles L. Mee, directed by Matt Hawkins. Should be a fun time. Hope you can all check it out!
Well now that we have talked on and on about you for like, ever. What do you think about us? Do you think that we are Fancy Boys, too?
You sure do have a swank spaceship. Are you leasing or do you own?
Time-share. Joss Whedon is here next week. Thanks for your time, Brandon! Have a safe trip back to stupid Earth!
Thanks a bunch for having me! Wish me luck on re-entry into the atmosphere...
Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer
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