BWW Interviews: Playwright Kris Thompson Talks BAD MEDICINE
BWW: BAD MEDICINE is your second completed work! Could you tell us a little about it?
Kris Thompson: BAD MEDICINE is a classic melodrama. At Theatre Suburbia they've renamed it "meller drammer" because it's a little bit more than a classic melodrama. Not only is it melodramatic, with the heroine, the hero, and the villain, but they also have the audience in the production. At the very beginning of the play, they'll get instructions to "boo" and "hiss" and toss popcorn at the villain, "ooh" and "aah" for the heroine and cheer for the hero. That's why it's called a "meller drammer." The classic melodramas also have a secondary name. I don't know why. So the play is called BAD MEDICINE, GOOD TO THE LAST DROP. It's a really fun play. It's about two hours long. At Suburbia, in between the acts, there are singing and dancing numbers. The audience gets song sheets so they can sing along. That's fun too. And they're always really old-fashioned songs that are related to the play. This time they're also going to do single numbers in between the scenes. So, after Act 1, Scene 1, there'll be a number. Then, during the intermission, there'll be a bunch of numbers. And, during Act 2 between scene 1 and 2, there'll be another number.
The play itself is set in the late 1800s. It is about a snakeoil salesmen who comes to the town of Bagwell, Colorado. He, Bodkin Shamley, and his villainess (Sally) are in cahoots to entice Becky Trueheart, our heroine, to fall in love with him so that he can get her ranch. Becky Trueheart's father passed away several months ago, unexpectedly, and left her with this huge ranch. Bodkin and Sally, his cohort, have become aware that Union Pacific Railroad, the expanding railroad in the area, will pay a pretty penny for her land should she choose to sell it. So he's going to marry her, sell the land, kill her, and then marry the bad girl, Sally.
Part of their plan is to use, because he's a snakeoil salesman and has all kinds of different medicines and concoctions, a love potion on Becky. But when they get there, they find out Becky is practically engaged to the sheriff and they are childhood sweethearts. So they have to break them up first. The love potion is used. Becky is broken-hearted. A truth serum comes in to play as well as an antidote.
BWW: I'm liking the magical elements.
Kris Thompson: Right? But then, they're out of the truth serum and -- I'm spoiling the show for you! Let's just say that true love saves the day.
Kris Thompson: Have you ever seen the movie Love Potion No. 9? It's a movie with Sandra Bullock, in her early years. It has that love potion element in it. I was a little bit inspired by that. It's a really fun show and, of course, these "meller drammers" always have very happy endings where the bad guy goes to jail and the people get married. Everybody's happy!
BWW: Cosmic justice.
Kris Thompson: That's right!
BWW: Well, you've sort of answered my next question: What inspired you to write this [Mispronounces] "meller drammer"?
Kris Thompson: BAD MEDICINE is actually the first thing, as far as a stage play, I ever wrote. The reason I wrote it is because we do a melodrama at Theatre Suburbia every summer. I got involved with Theatre Suburbia about two years ago because my youngest was acting in plays there. I would stage manage and things like that. And the first melodrama that I saw there I said, "I could do that." That's when I started writing BAD MEDICINE.
Another reason I did it is because Theatre Suburbia does a call for melodrama scripts every year. They encourage people to write melodramas and submit them. Then they'll read them all. If there are none that are satisfactory, they won't do one but if there are, they'll pick the best one from the group and do that one.
I submitted it a year ago and it was rejected. I didn't feel too bad. It was the first thing I'd ever written. But the artistic directors at Theatre Suburbia, Elvin Moriarty and Doris Merten, had a sit down with all of the playwrights that submitted and didn't get in to critique their work. We had that and I had a little bit better idea of how I could improve the script. And so I did. I spent the next year working on the script and resubmitted it. I can't remember how many scripts that were submitted this year, but there were quite a few. I was very excited that they selected my script.
BWW: This is not your first time working with several of the artists involved in this production. Why did you choose to work with these artists again?
Kris Thompson: While Elvin and Akia make all the decisions about cast and crew, I was totally pleased with their choices. Alice Smith is our piano player. What I failed to mention before is that at Suburbia there is a piano player - she's got a keyboard - on stage the whole time. She is playing continuously through the whole thing. Not sheet music. This is just music she plays watching the story unfold.
It's really cool. It really moves the story along and it really gives emotion to the story. She'll have certain little pieces of tunes for certain characters. When the villain enters, he'll have villain music. When the heroine enters, she'll have heroine music. And, of course, if there's a wedding, you'll hear a little bit of the wedding march, what have you.
She has been the piano player for the melodrama for many years. I've worked with her for the past two years because I've stage-managed the melodrama for the past two years.
Castillo was our hero last year. He auditioned and he got the hero part again this year. He's awesome. He's been in multiple productions at Theatre Suburbia and elsewhere so I've worked with him. Because I do publicity, I get to communicate with the actors and directors for every show. Sometimes I'll do little interviews with them and post what their experience is like during the show and things like that.
Alex Thompson is our heroine. I have a close relationship with her. She's my youngest daughter. [I laugh] Two years ago Alex was in the melodrama, and she's been in multiple shows at Theatre Suburbia. Two years ago when she was in the melodrama, she wasn't the heroine. She was another character. And last year, she auditioned and got the heroine part - Little Nell. And this year, she auditioned again and got the part. She was very excited. She's just an adorable little heroine.
Akia is fabulous. She was an actress for the first time at Theatre Suburbia in a play called THE MAN WHO WANTED TO BE SANTA CLAUS. That was our Christmas show last year. The whole thing took place in a sheriff's office and she was one of the cops. She was awesome as an actress and really great to work with. Then Elvin asked her to assistant direct with him on UNDER A COWBOY MOON, which was a couple of shows ago, and she agreed to do that. And, lord, that girl. She's just - she's just a born director.
Most assistant directors just kind of sit back and listen and learn. She just took the bull by the horns. She has vision. She's very good at blocking and getting people to emote and getting people to understand "Why am I walking over here?" or "Why am I saying this line?" so it doesn't look like the director just blocked you to walk over there. She gives you a purpose and a reason. She's really good at communicating her vision to the actors. So when Elvin was going to do the melodrama, BAD MEDICINE, he asked her to co-direct. She went from actor, to assistant director, to co-director. They actually asked her if she would just be an outright director for the season. She said she wanted to work with another director one more time before she took one on her own. But she could easily do that. She's awesome.
BWW: Why should Houstonians see this show?
Kris Thompson: Because it's hilarious. The kids will love it. It's a great story. And it's got some kick-ass actors. It's got some really awesome actors. Elvin Moriarty decided to direct the melodrama. And he is a fabulous director. That's certainly another good reason to see the show. Traditionally, Doris Merten has always directed the melodrama. She's fabulous. She was just tired of doing it because it's a lot of work. It actually runs two weeks longer than the other shows do. And it has two extra matinees on Sunday. And then there's the whole clean-up afterwards.
Also, Theatre Suburbia is a very small intimate theater. It holds a hundred seats so there is no bad seat. It's a theater almost in the round. And you're just right up close and personal to it. So every show, including the melodrama, is a more intimate experience with the story than you would have, say at the Alley, which does fabulous shows. And those shows are wonderful to go see also. But it's a different experience being up close and personal and actually seeing this close.
BWW: I think you need both.
Kris Thompson: I totally agree. With the big theatres you get more production as far as fabulous sets and awesome costumes and orchestras and what have you. You still get really cool sets in community theatre, but they're more creative cool than money cool. Everything is "beg, borrow, steal" - we don't really steal - to come up with creative ways to do the set. They're always really interesting. Theatre Suburbia is just a very warm, friendly place. All the shows are awesome.
BAD MEDICINE is definitely our most family friendly show of the season. Occasionally, there are some shows at Theatre Suburbia that you wouldn't want to take your kids to. Either because they would be bored or because the content is above their level. Or because it has racy stuff in it.
The melodrama, BAD MEDICINE, is very family-oriented. But it still has enough adult, clever humor to keep the adults engaged as well. And the story, I think, is a timeless story that everyone can get into. The love potion. Being tricked into loving someone that you don't really love. Getting the husband at the end.
BWW: What advice do you have for anyone silly enough to try to eek out an existence in theatre?
Kris Thompson: [Laughs] So, eeking out an existence in theatre, which I really don't do. I'm lucky. I ran a successful business until I closed it almost a year ago so I could write. It was actually really hard. It was my baby. But I told my husband, "I want three years to write and see if I can make anything of it." And he agreed. He said, "You've been working your butt off for 14 years. You deserve some time off." I took the time off to see if I could get some plays produced and published. If I could get them published, I would have the possibility of making money. But if I didn't have the support and the financial support of my husband, there would be no way I could do this.
BWW: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Not that I should be giving advice because I have only been doing it for two years, but the advice is to actually write. To do it everyday. When I was starting to write, I read a lot of books on playwriting. And that is the message from all playwrights - all writers in general. You say you want to write, then write. Write everyday. You get rejected. Write some more. Write everyday. Make it your job. Had I known about this, I could have been writing while I held a full-time job. Just as easy as I can watch TV while I hold down a full time job. So my advice would be to write all the time. Like any other thing that you want to become an expert at, you practice. And surround yourself with successful, like-minded people.
BAD MEDICINE produced by Theatre Suburbia will run July 18 - Aug 23 on Fridays & Saturdays at 8:30 pm, and Sundays, July 27, August 3, 10, 17 at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, and $12 on Sundays. Group rates available for parties of 15 or more payable 48 hours in advance. Reservations can be made by calling 713.682.3525.