BWW Interviews: BCT Series - Colton Berry Talks Conceptualized Pool Noodles, Skittle Psyche Associations and TRIASSIC PARQ
Very recently, I saw Bayou City Theatrics' production of TARZAN. I enjoyed the look of the production so much that I decided to look into the newly established theatre company. What I found intrigued me. A part of the company's vision and mission is to provide "high-art, conceptualized pieces of theatre" to the Houston audience. I had to find out just what the hell that meant.
In the second installment of the series, I continue my conversation with Artistic Director Colton Berry. This interview is a deep cut in the metaphorical album of this series. Berry provides me with more insight into BCT's artistic goals in this discussion about TRIASSIC PARQ, the theatre's currently running production. I also ask Berry the tough questions. Just what is his favorite color and flavor of Skittle?
BWW: For those who don't have time to scour the internet, please give a snapshot of TRIASSIC PARQ.
Colton Berry: [Laughs] I don't know how to do this without paraphrasing the quote, unquote press release we sent out but, basically, TRIASSIC PARQ is the story of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park told from the perspective of the dinosaurs. It is a rock 'n' roll musical. It is totally absurdist. It is the funniest musical I have read or had the opportunity to work on in my entire career. It is extraordinarily offensive [I Laugh] in the best sort of way. And, to put it in perspective, it makes AVENUE Q look like children's theatre. And it's just an exciting, fast-paced, full-out kind of show. It's hard to kind of verbalize. It is literally, literally the funniest thing I have ever worked on ever. And the music is catchy and incredible. And I'm really pumped about it!
BWW: I can't wait to see it! You said it is offensive in the best way possible. How do you think Houston audiences will react to it?
Colton Berry: We're basically prepping people. In jest, we're putting on all posters, "Not recommended for children, vegans or Republicans." You have to come in with a really open mind and prepare to let your guard down and I think that Houston audiences are ready to just laugh and let go. They're gonna love it.
BWW: Like TARZAN, TRIASSIC PARQ has a reputation for style over substance. Do you agree? Did you have to problem solve for this?
Colton Berry: I did not have to problem solve and here's why: We started working with Playscripts, Inc., the licensure, trying to get the materials. They were hoping everything would be printed and it would be ready to go. And it wasn't in the time that we needed it. So, I actually ended up talking very candidly with Lee Seymour, the original producer and original Morgan Freeman (narrator) character in TRIASSIC PARQ. We discussed the show. We got the materials. I had a whole new perspective on how to approach it.
The spoofed plot is driven forward utilizing a dry, absurdist and very in-your-face style of comedy, similar to AVENUE Q, THE BOOK OF MORMON and SPAMALOT. TRIASSIC PARQ doesn't sugar-coat any subject matter and even blatantly points out holes in the plot of its source material, all in an effort to deliver a sort of honesty that a lot of standard musical theatre does not. Though brash and sometimes offensive, the characters and their journeys also present some very thought-provoking points.
And I am so lucky to have an absolutely stunning cast. Incredible professionals. When we started working on it, it just started to work. I didn't have to fix any of the problems because I found out that they weren't problems at all. And that it takes perspective. And it takes time. And it takes thought. Every single thing in TRIASSIC PARQ, every single beat, every single plot point, every single musical moment is entirely thought out. The writers and original producers and directors really knew what they were doing. It just takes you a minute to get into it but once you've got it, it really does work. I totally trust the piece.
BWW: Could you tell us a little more about the narrative?
Colton Berry: Sure, TRIASSIC PARQ aims to re-tell the story of the motion picture Jurassic Park, from the perspective of the dinosaurs. Our narrator, Morgan Freeman, explains that an amusement park has been built on an island off Costa Rica, where dinosaurs have been re-animated and put on display. In order to create the dinos, scientists have extracted DNA from fossilized mosquitos and filled in missing gaps with frog DNA.
The scientists have also altered the DNA to prevent procreation, making every dinosaur a female, Which brings us to the major plot vehicle. The dinosaurs have all formed a religion, praising "Lab," their creator, with the Velociraptor of Faith serving as their spiritual guide. One morning, during a prayer ceremony, T-Rex 2, sprouts a penis, not unlike many species of frog. The Velociraptor of Faith exiles her, saying that the T-Rex would use her "instrument" to destroy their tribe. Full of questions, the youngest velociraptor, aptly named the Velociraptor of Innocence, sets out to find the "Exiled One," who may just have all of the answers.
BWW: I see Luke Hamilton will be playing one of the female dinosaurs. What made you go for cross gender casting? Where you thinking about "queering" the production?
Colton Berry: The roles of Innocence, Faith and Mime-a-saurus are all written to be female characters portrayed by males. I believe this is an attempt by the playwrights to gender-neutralize the story. Having a "gender-neutral" cast of TRIASSIQ PARQ, in my opinion, honesty asserts the question, "What is gender? How do we define it? Is it physical or mental?" Though T Rex 2 has spent her life as a female, she and her tribe are left to decide whether or not she is still "the same," now that she has male genitalia.
BWW: How did you go about designing and constructing this male genitalia?
Colton Berry: The phallus in question was conceptualized using a joking statement that was thrown out during an early design meeting. "What if she just had a pool noodle sticking out of her pants?!" Of course, at the time I thought, "how ridiculous and absurd." After digging into rehearsals, I realized ridiculous and absurd were exactly what the penis should be. I got some pool noodles and started carving!
BWW: [Laughs] Really?
Colton Berry: The original New York and LA productions asked audiences to "imagine" the fences and "believe" a representational strip of ribbon to be a penis.
BWW: Why didn't you go that way?
Colton Berry: We chose to approach the piece with a bit more substance in design. Taking a fully honest approach meant that our suggestions of these and other design pieces throughout the show should be somewhat literal.
One of our primary goals, aside from offering "standards" from a new perspective, is to introduce new or rarely produced material to Houston audiences. TRIASSIC PARQ has never been presented in this region, until now. In the case of new material, we strive to offer a production that speaks for the piece as it was originally intended, whilst maintaining our high-concept design format.
BWW: Where there any challenges to directing this piece?
Colton Berry: Gosh, the first challenge is how do you make people into dinosaurs on stage and have them be believable. [We Both Laugh] And the other thing is, when you're working with provocative material, there's two levels of temptation. There's the temptation to steer clear and try to calm it down. Without altering the script, obviously. You have that temptation in your head. You think "Oh my gosh, that's so provocative, that's so over the line. I don't know if I can do that." Then the other temptation is, once you get really into the material, to push things too far and make it the most lewd thing that's ever happened. I think for me, the biggest challenge is finding that line. Why, first of all, is it provocative? Why was it written that way? And what are the important things to hit after knowing about why? Once I got it, though, the cast and I really just soared.
BWW: What can I expect visually from the production?
Colton Berry: It's a very, very intimate show. There's actually some seats on stage for the show that some lucky raffle winners get to sit in. It is meticulously designed and thought out. It's stripped down but with a really high polish. It's got a rock 'n' roll vibe but it also kind of feels like you're sitting in the middle of a theme park ride, which is pretty cool.
BWW: OK, it's time to get serious. What is your favorite color and/or flavor of Skittle and why?
Colton Berry: How can I possibly choose?! I don't really care for chocolate. I know. You may retrieve your jaw from your lap. So, Skittles have always been my favorite [Pauses]. I'll go with red. No, purple. [Pauses] No, red. Definitely red. Why? Perhaps it's some sort of underlying psyche association. When it comes to artificial fruit flavors, I'm always going for strawberry first.
Like what you see? TRIASSIC PARQ closes this weekend! The musical runs July 31 - August 9, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm at The Kaleidoscope, 705 Main, Suite B (entrance on Capitol St.), Houston, TX 77002*. General Admission: $30 Senior/Student: $25. Tickets are available in advance at www.BayouCityTheatrics.com. Contact BCT@bayoucitytheatrics.com for any questions!
*$5 cash parking is available less than one block from the theater in the Saks Parking Garage located at the corner of Capitol and Fannin.