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The Devil Went Down to The Observatory

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I’ve been to three baseball games in my life, none by choice. Is baseball the one with halftime? Maybe it’s football. Either way, I call it intermission, betraying a background in theater.

The blog post doesn’t concern baseball, nor “Damn Yankees,” a play about baseball, a convergence that always puzzled me. What baseball fan wants to see a play? What musical theater fan cares about baseball? But throw in the devil and you’ve got something universally appealing. Still not this blog’s focus, but getting closer. I saw “Damn Yankees” as a kid and fell instantly in love with the devil, a dashing deliciously wicked villain who made evil exciting.

Vincent Truman’s new play “The Observatory,” the story of an everyday Joe temped by government money to spy on an alleged terrorist, broadcast via hologram into his attic, is about as far from “Damn Yankees” as you can get. However, watching Truman breeze his way through the small but key role of amoral government contact, Victor, I was reminded just how much fun malevolence can be.

Our Town What inspired “The Observatory?”
Vincent Truman According to my diary, it was a “neat idea” I came up with [while] attending Columbia College in 1987. At the time, I was studying film, and thought the concept of someone watching a hologram would be challenging to shoot, as it turns out, a bit too challenging! There are multiple mature themes: dissolution of a marriage, a shifting of protagonist/antagonist statuses, bad decisions for good reasons, none of which a young film student knew anything about. The idea lay buried for twenty-two years. I discovered the notes during a move, and thought, maybe I’m old enough to write this now.

OT What’s your writing process like?
VT Terribly rudimentary. [My] sketch comedy pieces and plays are all rooted in things I find disturbing and/or irritating. In the case of “The Observatory,” it was [peoples’] creeping lack of privacy and rights and the false sense of security that results. At the draft stage, I host a workshop, for which I invite fellow writers, actors, directors and producers to critique and challenge the script’s arguments. From that, I either kill the project or shape the final. My ratio is three killed for every one finalized.

OT You act and write, which is a better fit?
VT Acting came first. However, I soon discovered I had, to lift a line from Dennis Miller’s assessment of Sylvester Stallone, “the range of a Daisy Air Rifle.” I retreated from the stage and focused on lighting and sound design. [Now], having produced or directed for so long, I see roles in my own shows to be less about acting and more about supporting proper actors.

OT Did you know you wanted to play Victor when you wrote the part?
VT Yes, even started his name with a “V” so I wouldn’t get lost! I meant to change it, but since his name describes his role a bit, I left it. I knew I’d most likely be working with younger performers, so I wanted to have my minimal role be a launching pad for them, like a football coach giving his team a rousing speech before the game. I had to give the character some purpose beyond that, of course, but that’s how he was originally conceived.

OT You directed the show as well. Ever worry about not having an objective eye on the piece?
VT I believe strongly in the team dynamic: the director is active but cedes great responsibility and authority to the team, mostly my assistant director, Angela Jo Strohm, a fierce writer/producer/director in her own rite. This [stabilizes] a potentially volatile or ego-driven atmosphere, and permits the actors to get the most from the experience. In addition to letting my peers critique the piece in development, I go to great lengths in my shows to [encourage] balance is maintained and collaboration.

"The Observatory runs through December 18th at Charnel House. Purchase tickets here.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually.

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This page contains a single entry by Sarah Terez-Rosenblum published on December 14, 2010 2:15 PM.

Chicago is for Actors was the previous entry in this blog.

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