Interview: TAMARIE COOPER of IT IS MAGIC at Catastrophic Theatre

We talk THEATRE, Mickle Maher, Drag Parties, and Pay What You Can with the Tamariest Tamarie!

By: Feb. 09, 2024
Interview: TAMARIE COOPER of IT IS MAGIC at Catastrophic Theatre

Interview: TAMARIE COOPER of IT IS MAGIC at Catastrophic Theatre Opening at the MATCH is a brand-new Mickle Maher play called IT IS MAGIC, and the kids at the CATASTROPHIC THEATRE are bringing it to you as only they can. It runs through March second, and they even offer fancy cans of beer on certain nights. Broadway World writer Brett Cullum got a chance to talk to Tamarie Cooper, the company's artistic director, and also in the show about IT IS MAGIC, community theater, and an upcoming gala that promises to be a drag in the best way possible. 

Brett Cullum: Tell me about IT IS MAGIC. What is this show about? 

Tamarie Cooper: Well, we have a long history with Catastrophic Theatre of producing plays by Mickle Maher. He is next to maybe me, our most produced playwright. We've done almost eight productions [sic-editor wonders how you do an almost play]. We've done a remount of several productions. We've received commissions and created original plays with him, and this play is one of his most recent works. He is actually based in Chicago and has a theatre company called Theatre Oobleck, and they almost always premiere his work. We are very happy to be bringing this now to Houston. It has been performed in some other cities across the country.

If you have any history in theater, if you've been an actor or a theater lover. If you've ever gone to the theater. There is a lot of humor and situations in it that sort of are satirical of the experience of being an actor. And specifically, an actor auditioning.

Now that said, you don't have to be a theater lover, and you don't have to be an actor to gain access to this work, because, really, it's just one entryway into this play. 

If you have ever gone out for a job interview, gone on a first date, or just put yourself out there for something you really wanted. Then you can relate to this play, and you can specifically relate to the power of "No," which is certainly one of the themes in the play. Mickle's work is always very funny.

There, of course, are moments beyond just humor. There's pathos as well. But this one is just particularly hilarious. I don't think anyone could go in and watch this play and not be laughing their asses off.

Brett Cullum: (with an evil glint in his eye) One of the things in the summary is mentioned that it's about community theater. Specifically.


Tamarie Cooper: (quickly scrambling and suddenly defensive) It is set in a community theater. I don't, at the same time, though, think that this is some kind of attack or spoof of community theater. Specifically, I think it's more just showing what it's like to work in theater, particularly one that is a little more low budget where a lot of people or a few people wear a lot of hats. Which, of course, I can relate to with Catastrophic. Community theater is a hard thing to define absolutely.

Sometimes, we think of community theaters as being just purely volunteer, or maybe more out in the suburbs. For example, actors that, I guess, don't consider themselves to be professional actors. But then I think there's a lot of grey lines because many actors that we know and work with have worked in community theaters. And I even looked at how we are awarded rights for productions. I always have to say, if we're an amateur or professional theater, and of course, we think of ourselves as a professional theater, but that really does come down to the Licensing House. Some people will only determine you are a professional theater if you have all equity actors. If it's all licensed Union performers and stage managers. Others will call you a professional theater if you pay the actors anything, even just a dollar. So, that definition is vague. I don't want anyone to think that we, as the Catastrophic Theatre, are making fun of community theater because that's absolutely not the case with this play.

Brett Cullum: Oh, I don't think of it as a pejorative term at all. I've done both community theater and professional theatre myself, and sometimes, the community theaters have more money and do better stuff than some of the professionals all over the place (add "SHADE" sound effects). 

Tamarie Cooper: That is really so! I think it is just more of the idea of what you'd find in a community theater where there are people who are just devoting their lives to that specific company. There is sort of the typical idea in this play of the artistic director who is a very powerful person in the play. I play Deb, who is a first-time playwright who is frantically trying to cast her play, which is an adult adaptation of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, and Amy Bruce plays my sister Sandy; it's not entirely clear what Sandy does at the theater, but I am also the entire marketing department. So you can see how there's, you know, we do a lot for this little company in the play.

Brett Cullum: Well, that mirrors life, basically because I know that you, as the co-founder and artistic director of this company. What is your mission as THE CATASTROPHIC THEATRE? 

Tamarie Cooper: I would say about our work that it's less about wanting you to come out of there saying," Wow! That really made me think!" It's more that we want you to come out and say, "That really made me FEEL something." Our work is definitely not always plot-driven. (Brett nods in agreement, trying to recall any plot of any show he has seen in the last few months anywhere)

Some people might find that confusing. It is not message-driven theater, either. What you're experiencing on stage may feel confusing at times, but we always say let it wash over you, and whatever you take from that, whatever you feel is the right answer.

Brett Cullum: You have a big gala coming up, and June 8th is the date. Tell me a little bit about that, 

Tamarie Cooper: So we always have one big annual gala. The word gala is a little misleading because it makes it sound a little bit more formal, and our parties are certainly not formal. They are pretty big and raucous and ridiculous. That is the better way to describe them. This year's theme we have landed upon is "This Party is a Drag!" That means that we want people to come and celebrate the art form of drag. Embrace your inner queens, kings, and everything outside of and in between. We're gonna have wonderful drag performances. Right now, I'm trying to negotiate with some very talented performers already here in Houston. And then it's also fun for people like me, who are not drag performers but who love the art form and look at this as an evening to have some fun. And to just, in a very amateur way, sort of take on a different drag persona for the evening, and people can interpret that as they will. I love it when people who have never done drag go full-on, and you see someone's husband walk in, and he's completely transformed. It's fantastic.

But if people wanna just come in their jeans, that's great, too. And we will have special drag stations where people if they're feeling it with all the wonderful drag around them. We can add some makeup, and we can add some facial hair. We can do all kinds of things. But yeah, it's definitely celebrating the art form. And particularly, if you saw my show last summer, you know that I went ahead and sort of took on the absurdity of the attack right now on drag, which we all know is layered with other attacks on the LGBTQIA+  community (Tamarie raises a tiny Pride flag). So, I like putting this out there. I like to be in support of this art form, and I think there are a lot of similarities you'll find in particularly experimental theater and the type of theater Catastrophic does and with drag; I mean, both are about authenticity about being able to create something, to tap into that creativity without any limits, without rules and restrictions, being able to, really feel safe and present yourself in your true self or in a fun form of expression.

We always try to keep those tickets within a reasonable cost, too. It's usually like $50 to $75 for a general admission ticket, and you get all the food you could ever want (Brett thinks, "Hopefully, eggrolls!"), and free drinks and all that entertainment. So it's really what you would probably spend on a typical night out, anyway. And this time, you're doing it for a great cause.

Brett Cullum: Well, one of the things I always love about Catastrophic Theatre is that you guys have pay what you can, even for your tickets, for your general shows. It's so nice. And you can decide exactly what you want to give. And it's not set. 

Tamarie Cooper: You know, pay what you can has actually become a core value for us. Not just a ticketing model. At first, it seems like, "Well, will that work?" But it does. And part of it is that you will have people who, at this point, maybe they just they're not in a place financially to, like you said afford a high price ticket to see theater or see any art. And so we wanna remove that financial barrier. We feel like it's more important to get people actually into the theater to be able to experience it. 

And then it works because there are other people, then, who do come, who do have the financial means to purchase a ticket at a higher cost. And so, you know, if you are in that place, then you know, when you're buying a ticket, for example, at $50, some of that is gonna go towards this program that will help someone. Maybe a college student, maybe somebody who's just having a hard time, who's in between jobs, whatever! You're helping them get that seat. And yeah. So it's really important to us that we continue to offer pay what you can. 

Every Friday within the run, we will have free beer Fridays, which is a fun way to hang out a little bit. The cast will rush out usually of the show. We'll get changed and come out, and you just hang out. Talk with the audience members who stick around and talk with the cast about the show, and enjoy a high-quality canned refreshment; we will have some that are not beers as well, in case you're not imbibing. So you know, just it's a good way just to build community, I think, and get to know everybody.

We have an opening night party, too. If people come to opening night, that's also the whole audience is welcome to come to that. That's just down the street in the Mid-Main Lofts. And we have talkbacks, too, on some of the Sundays, where one of the Sundays, the playwright, Mickle Maher actually will be in town. I think that's going to be February twenty-fifth, and after that Sunday matinee, he'll stick around, and we'll have just a very casual conversation with him about this play and about him as a playwright and his relationship and history with Catastrophic. So that'll be really fun.  

IT IS MAGIC by Mickle Maher runs through March first at the MATCH complex in Midtown Houston. Don't forget they have free beer on Fridays and a chance to meet the man who wrote the show on February twenty-fifth. And remember, it's not how you think; it's how you feel. Just let it all wash over you! 

Photo provided by Bryan Kaplun who took it during rehearsals.