BWW Interview: Stars of THE JUNKET and THE REAL AMERICANS Talk Journalism, Politics and 'Cotton Mouth' Syndrome
In an evening of side-splitting laughter and thoughtful political conversation, The Culture Project presents The Real Americans and The Junket - two one-man shows performed by Dan Hoyle and Mike Albo, respectively. BroadwayWorld sat down with the actors to discuss the relationship between journalism, politics, and theatre - and the phenomenon referred to as 'cotton mouth'.
Dan Hoyle's show The Real Americans recounts the true story of his journey across small-town America and his attempts to strip away the assumptions made by and about people who live on very different poles of the political spectrum - a divide often mirrored by geography.
"It is challenging to reconcile this divide in our country," he said in an interview with BroadwayWorld. "At least being able to hold the knowledge of other people's realities, I think, is important on both sides."
In his travels, Hoyle purposely avoided major cities and highways, instead opting for towns off the beaten path and the widest range of opinions possible.
"I wanted to create a show and a series of stories that was representative of what I experienced, and stories that I felt like challenged audiences," he said. "Most of the characters have views that are actually somewhat nuanced, and all these characters have stories that people can relate to."
Hoyle first took his trip in what he called "the honeymoon" of the Obama administration.
"What I really found was the backlash that then became the Tea Party," he said, noting that while the exact political atmosphere surrounding Obama's entry into the White House is no longer relevant, the repercussions are.
"I think that there's a real lack of experience among... urban liberal people about what small town America is," Hoyle - a San Francisco resident - said. "There's often not that many conservative viewpoints in plays. Theatre itself is sort of a liberal bubble, and the challenge is to have people not write people off."
Hoyle balks at the word 'stereotype'. "That term is thrown out a lot if people want to dismiss a character," he said. "I was trying to portray characters that have views that are very representative of the places where I was, but the challenge is that I'm asking audiences to go beyond that and not dismiss them out of hand."
In order to tell their stories accurately and with empathy, Hoyle recorded and took notes on his subjects. Some characters are amalgamations of several people he met on his travels who have similar voices - but all the characters, Hoyle is careful to note, are real, genuine people.
"It's not verbatim theatre," he said. "If there are 75 people that have a similar worldview or if there's a voice from one person and a walk from another then I create that character."
Hoyle's challenge as an actor is to create fully realized characters that remain true to the people he met on the road.
"I hope it makes it so that you encounter fully fleshed out people, and when you see the show you feel like you're really meeting these people," he said.
The Junket is Mike Albo's account of a freelance gig at a massive New York City newspaper and an all-expenses-paid trip to Jamaica on a press junket gone horribly sour - and, on a larger scale, the story of one writer getting caught in the sometime-vitriolic world of blogs, newspapers, and Internet scandal.
"I became sort of a scapegoat figure in this kind of war between old and new media," Albo said in an interview with BroadwayWorld. "As we've witnessed news and information and media changing from analog to digital and all the uncomfortable growing pains that come along with that, I sort of became a pawn in that war."
What makes The Junket even more entertaining is that Albo didn't fabricate anything.
"You would be surprised at how much is actually true," he said, adding that he only took creative liberties to protect identities (for instance - his lucrative freelance gig was at 'The Tomes'. Cough.) "The trip itself pretty much happened as it happened."
Albo has created a fairly unprecedented blend of journalism and performance. When asked if he self-identifies more as a writer or an actor, he blew past the question with the aplomb of someone very used to defying traditional career parameters.
"How does one define oneself? How they make money?" he said, chuckling. "I'm a working writer, I'm a freelance writer... I'll do anything. Give me anything and I'll write it," he said, adding that he's written advertisements, scripts, and two novels - and just finished a proposal for a nonfiction book.
"At the same time, I've been performing since I was 23," he said. "While I was in grad school for poetry... I discovered that I was kind of funny onstage."
Albo has turned several of his written works into stage performances before. The Junket is his most recent. He first released it as an Amazon Kindle single, then worked with his director to adapt it into a show.
"There's been a very interesting crossover between the page and the stage for me," he said. "I can't escape it. As much as I try to do one more than the other they sort of blend together in this weird way."
Albo noted that he hopes The Junket gives audience members cause to reevaluate any corporate presence within their own lives.
"I think I've just always loved and hated our consumer world," Albo said. "I love it when people walk away and think, 'Look at all the things around us, look at the logos, look at the ads and labels we walk through every day', and take a double look at the world we live in."
We asked both actors about the challenges - and the fun parts! - of performing a one-man show. Albo told us he sometimes gets a serious case of what he calls "cotton mouth" - what happens when an actor doesn't get a break at any point throughout a performance.
"It's been an amazing experience in vocal training. It made me realize this is why people train to be actors," he said, adding that "The less nervous I feel, the less cotton-mouthy I get."
Hoyle said his reward is seeing audiences connect with his message. "What's interesting about this show is that I'm playing people based on people I met," he said, "so when audiences open themselves up to that experience its pretty cool. This guy is playing people that he met and that's quite an active empathy in itself."