BWW Spotlight Series: Meet John Wuchte, a Talented Actor/Director/Writer/Composer and Tribal Acting Theater Creator
This Spotlight focuses on John Wuchte, a talented actor/director/writer/composer and amazing Tribal Acting theater creator, who I first met during last year's Hollywood Fringe Festival when I attended his masterful musical production Scarlett Fever which told the true story of the great search to find an actress to portray Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind in 1939. The production utilized John's unique style of performance, which he calls Tribal Acting; a combination of movement, gesture, song and dance, all accompanied by live percussion. And I was hooked!
Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?
John Wuchte (John): I started my career in NYC as an actor attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. During the 80s, I performed in lots of Off-Off Broadway productions ranging from the long-running The Boys in Cellblock Q, to portraying Dorian Gray, Jesus on several occasions, and originating a role in Robert Patricks' Untold Decades.
In 1990, I became involved with RAKKA-THAMM!!! Theater Company which had just been started by a group of NYU grads. The company was notable for performing outside in unconventional spaces; Washington Square Park and the West Side piers, in particular. After a few small pieces, I had my directorial debut with Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead in 1993. It was a cast of 23, and I also was crazy enough to take on one of the roles. I had been inspired by the Steppenwolf production I saw as a teen which utilized the music of Springsteen; but, of course, I wanted to put my own stamp on it. I was friends with 2 classical pianists and had them both on stage during the production scoring the entire show with turn-of-the-century romantic music by Debussy, Saint-Saens, and others. The show opened with a grand 4 hand piano concerto... and somehow it all worked.
I then directed a piece I had been writing since 1986, Vivian Vance is Alive and Well and Running a Chinese Take-out. It's the story of how Vivian Vance fakes her own death so she can go on living without being associated with Ethel Mertz any more. Recently I picked up the script and have started expanding the idea into a full musical.
It was during this period where I was introduced to the concept of Viewpoints and physical theater when I took over the role of Artistic Director at RAKKA-THAMM!!! and wanted to continue our yearly tradition of performing outside in Washington Square Park. Each summer we had always performed Shakespeare, but I wanted something different in its presentation. The prior year we had done Taming of the Shrew and had a drummer to add some ambience. I liked it. And I purchased my first hand drum, a doumbek, and still perform with it to this day. From then on, all my productions have included live percussion.
(SB): I remember feeling that driving beat in my soul during Scarlett Fever.
(John): For the next 6 summers, I adapted a new Greek tragedy each year. They were 75 minutes of drumming and chanting, performed between the hills of a now defunct skateboarding park in Washington Square. Each summer thousands of New Yorkers would attend the free events, while I continued to explore my style of performance, which has developed into a combination of movement, gesture, song, dance, all accompanied by live percussion. It was during this time I coined the term Tribal Acting, to help define the work I was doing.
In 2000 I relocated to Los Angeles. I immediately fell in with Sacred Fools Theater Company and have remained a member ever since. In 2006 I was given the opportunity to direct my first production with Sacred Fools, an original adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit, entitled Claire Z. It went on to be nominated for Best Original Script at the L.A. Weekly Awards. For the next decade I continued performing with Sacred Fools, Theatre Movement Bazaar, Rogue Ensemble and others.
It was in 2019 that I decided to create my first original project in some time called Scarlett Fever, which premiered at the Hollywood Fringe and told the true story of the great search to find an actress to portray Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind in 1939. I knew that I wanted to utilize my love of percussion and movement to tell the story, but this time I decided to take my musicality to the next level. Along with award-winning composer Michael Teoli, we created 4 original songs for the show for which I wrote the lyrics and we collaborated on the music. The show was honored with several nominations, including Best Dance/Physical Theater at the Fringe. It was truly the culmination of 20 years of theater creation.
(SB): I loved Scarlett Fever so much I went back to see it several times and am sharing the link to my review on Broadway World: /los-angeles/article/Review-Stylistic-SCARLETT-FEVER-Recounts-the-Mostly-True-Story-of-David-O-Selznicks-Search-to-Find-his-Unknown-Star-20190624
(SB): With such a spectacular Fringe experience, no doubt you had something in the works for this year's Fringe as well, which of course has been postponed from June until October.
(John): Within a month after closing down at Fringe 2019, I already had my idea brewing for the next Fringe: Housewife 1952. It's a mental exploration of 4 housewives in the 50s told, once again, through movement, gesture, dance and song. Michael and I had finished 4 new songs and the audition dates had been set when the COVID-19 outbreak halted our progress.
(SB): How did you communicate the postponement with your production team?
(John): I had already secured my musicians for the project, all Fringe veterans, so they understood the situation immediately. I was in the process of scheduling actors for the initial auditions, and waited until the last moment before I realized I could not even hold the auditions. I sent the actors a note and will contact them all again once we know the future.
(SB): Are plans in place to present Housewife 1952 at Fringe this October?
(John): When Fringe was postponed until October, I said I was all in for that. But as of this writing, I don't feel horribly confident with October. The actors and I may feel comfortable rehearsing and performing, but I don't know how the huge Fringe audiences will feel running from one space to another crowded into small theaters. And with my production schedule, I would want to be auditioning actors next month. So ultimately, Housewife 1952 will premiere in the future either at Fringe or otherwise since that has been my main focus this year. But sadly, my home theater, Sacred Fools, has gone dark and we are trying to figure out our path during this time also.
(SB): Since theaters are closed, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?
(John): I created a video for Housewife 1952 utilizing material I had previously recorded, and I had some wonderful actors remotely record sections of songs that I took and put back together. I may do some more video work, but Zoom performances just don't feel right, especially for this type of theater.
(SB): I understand. The live and totally unique Tribal Acting collaborative style you incorporate just isn't possible without the performers working together in the same room with the musicians.
(John): My work best speaks when you see it in action. You can check out various videos of my creations at www.tribalacting.com.
(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?
(John): Create. Don't create. Perform on Zoom. Sit on the couch. There is no right answer. No one is judging what you do at this time. Don't feel pressured. We as theatre creators get terrified and lonely when we can't be together in the rehearsal room and create. But this is not the end. Watch old movies. Pick up some plays. Just take care of yourself and your families.
And stay in touch with your friends and family, actors or not. Find me on Facebook at Tribal Acting Please also check out www.sacredfools.org. We are a non-dues-paying company with an open policy and welcome new faces. And as soon as we can, you will be welcomed into our group with open arms!