BWW Interview: Travis Turner Gears Up for an Outrageous Run of BOOTYCANDY at Windy City Playhouse
I had the chance to speak with local actor Travis Turner at Steppenwolf's Front Bar just before he began previews for BOOTYCANDY at Windy City Playhouse, in which he plays the lead role of Sutter. Over the past year, Turner has performed in The Second City's LONGER! LOUDER! WAGNER! parody at Lyric Opera, as well as TWIST YOUR DICKENS at Goodman Theatre, played the role of Avery in Annie Baker's three-hour-and-fifteen-minute long Pulitzer Prize winner THE FLICK at Steppenwolf, and portrayed one-half of a vaudeville duo as Thaddeus in THADDEUS AND SLOCUM at Lookingglass Theatre.
Turner and I discussed his busy year of Chicago theater and his diverse and challenging array of roles, what it's like to have BOOTYCANDY playwright Robert O'Hara as his director, and his thoughts on what it means to be part of the Chicago theater community. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
You've played a wide variety of roles over the past year and are now preparing to take on an entirely different one in BOOTYCANDY. How do you prepare to take on a role and develop your character?
For me, it all begins with the text. Really everything's just based on my impressions of the play and trying to find where the funny is within it. I feel like I'm generally an outside in type of actor. I'm pretty concerned with like how the [character] walks, how they stand...how their voice sounds, the way they interact with other people, what their physical life is like. And then I go from there to see how those external things along with the text inform the internal stuff.
Out of all the roles you've played recently, which one would you say you identify with most?
I think with Sutter right now in BOOTYCANDY...there are certain parts of his struggle that I identify with. There's a scene in the play where his parents are talking to him. His mother and stepfather are seated around the table, and they're talking to him and policing his behavior, and there's just this long litany of things you should and shouldn't do...That feels ripped straight out of my life and some of my interactions with my parents and my other family members. Even up to this day.
For Sutter, there's [also] a part of him that once his innocence is lost, once that curiosity is gone, he goes to a darker place and lashes out. Once he's been humiliated, he wants to humiliate someone else...There are bits of that in every relationship I've ever had. Power is certainly an issue.
With Thaddeus, too, there's something in him that I think is for sure the question of, "What are you willing to do to get ahead?"...And for me it's like, "What sorts of roles am I willing to take, what am I willing to put up with for my career, what am I willing to sacrifice in terms of relationships with certain people?" It's all in there.
What drew you to BOOTYCANDY? Why do you think that Chicago audiences need to see this play right now?
Robert O'Hara. Full stop...But also it's full-circle for me. My very first show at Second City was [a remount of the 2011 Mainstage revue] SOUTH SIDE OF HEAVEN, [which] we took to Woolly Mammoth in D.C., and that was the same season BOOTYCANDY premiered...[Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director] Howard [Shalwitz] pushed Robert O'Hara to take these disparate one-acts and put them into an evening of theater... And when I heard Windy City was doing it, I was like "Done, done." And Windy City is a young theater...Truly it is essentially storefront. It's an exciting opportunity because I've never done storefront before. And it's an exciting opportunity to be in the room with Robert O'Hara to work on this great show. That's what had me.
I think [BOOTYCANDY is] funny. I think there are parts of it that will make people uncomfortable and will shock some people. And that's an evening I want to be a part of as audience member. I think it addresses race but it's not the same old sort of black/white thing...what I love about the play is that [the characters are] just black people who are culturally black and who are specific to Robert's experiences growing up in Cincinnati and then in New York...it's not about capital "R" race. Nor do I think is it tackling capital "G" gay...[Robert] wrote an outrageous piece of theater loosely based on his life experience. And that's it. And he wants you to choke on it. Wants you to choke on it and breath through it and accept the fact that a lot's coming at you. But know that you'll be able to digest it.
Tell me more about what it's been like to work with Robert O'Hara as your director and how that process has been going.
He will read you so quickly. In the best way...And he's so smart. And he knows the show, and this character, and these people up and down because he's directed it four times, and he wrote it. And it's based on his life experiences and his family, people he knows....it creates an interesting dynamic in the room. It's not quite as collaborative "building something together" as other experiences I've had....It can be intimidating. He's the man. Having the playwright in the room is always kind of tricky. At times, he's been kind of terse and a man of few words. But he also brings so much levity into the room...Of course he's going to be hilarious. Of course he's going to have this biting wit...I hope that it's out of love.
What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Chicago theater community?
I've lived in Chicago longer than I've lived anywhere in my life,. I came here for school in 2001 and graduated in 2005. This is my twelfth year as a professional Equity actor, which is really cool and I'm so proud of that...There's emphasis on acting, emphasis on ensemble work...I love the fact that Chicago theater has such ties to academic institutions in the area...and also the variety of work. There's storefront. There's big houses like Steppenwolf, Goodman. There's music theater-only houses, like Marriott and Paramount. And there's Second City. All of these cool things you can do as an actor if you're able to, if you want to pursue that. And I don't think that you can do that in a place like New York or L.A...[In Chicago], I'm always being challenged, and I'm always doing something that terrifies me. And I love that.
See Travis Turner perform as Sutter in BOOTYCANDY through April 15 at Windy City Playhouse, 3914 North Irving Park Road. Tickets are $15-$55. For more information, visit WindyCityPlayhouse.com.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow