Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

The art of a 'bro-mance'

Monday, November 04, 2013

An interview with director Michael Cotey

by Matt Wickey

Michael CoteyAs most regulars around the Broadway Theatre Center know, MCT's mission is to produce intimate, high-quality, professional theatrical works while employing, supporting, and nurturing local talent.  It is this dedication and mission that allows both MCT and its friends to celebrate the work of artists like Michael Cotey, director of MCT's upcoming quirky, 'bro-mantic' comedy THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE by Wendy MacLeod.  Michael is a Milwaukee-based director and actor who enjoys an incredibly impressive resume, working in nearly every theatre company in the city.  His work has also been featured in places such as both the Utah and Illinois Shakespeare Festivals, not to mention Youngblood Theatre Company, where he was a co-founder and artistic director from 2009-2013.  As a young theatre artist myself, people like Michael Cotey truly inspire me, so I was thrilled to be able to talk with him and gain an insight to his perspective on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. Michael was generous enough to let me "pick his brain" on all topics regarding the upcoming production, where the special relationship between man and man is investigated and uncovered. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

For context on the conversation to follow, a bit about THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE's featured characters.  In the play, we first meet the character Bill McGinnis.  Bill is a seemingly stable and well-mannered man, and he has just moved in to a new condo with his wife, who we soon learn is "at her folks."  While Bill awaits her arrival alone in his new home, he hears a strange voice: "Hello?"  Jack Foster, his new next-door neighbor, has arrived.  And thus, our 'bro-mance' is born.

Matt Wickey (MCT): What is it like working on a script that examines a 'bro-mantic' relationship, with the unique perspective of a female playwright?

Michael Cotey: I find it fascinating when a playwright captures a voice other than his or her own so completely.  And (playwright) Wendy has done that here with two distinct male characters.  Just as actors use their great capacity for empathy to understand and relate to unfamiliar circumstances and emotions, Wendy has successfully empathized with what it means to be a man-and further, with how two men, seemingly different from each other, will stumble upon what unites them if left to each other for long enough (with just the right amount of beer to lubricate the conversation).  I couldn't be more excited to begin working on Wendy's marvelous and well-paced dialogue with the two "bros" of this 'bro-mance': Ryan Schabach and Dan Katula.

MW (MCT): This unique opportunity to speak with THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE playwright, Wendy MacLeod, fascinates me.  What has this connection provided to the process?  And further, what has it been like, in general, to have the chance to communicate with the playwright of this unique work?

MC: It's always great to have the opportunity to speak with the playwright, and Wendy has been very receptive to any questions I toss her way.  In my experience, I have often found that playwrights, while willing to help, enjoy seeing how we answer the questions of the play through our own exploration of it.  I imagine that's part of the excitement of writing a play.  Unlike a movie, which exists in a more permanent medium, a play can be revisited and the same set of questions can be addressed with a wholly different set of answers by the simple virtue of putting different people in the room to work on it.  My conversations with Wendy have been primarily simple clarifications and gathering her thoughts on what worked or didn't with previous productions of the show.  The rest I'm leaving up to the fun of the rehearsal hall.

MW (MCT): What first struck you about this script/piece?  How does this script "speak" to you?

MC: I'm drawn to the exploration of the relationships Bill and Jack have with the women in their lives; specifically how much they stake their personal identity in the loves of their life.  That's something I absolutely relate to, and in the two and a half years I've been married, it has been strange (in a great way!) to see that line between "mine" and "hers" or "me" and "us" blur.  Part of this show questions who we are if we aren't defined by our relationships with others.

MW (MCT): How well do you envision this script translating to the Studio Theatre space at the BTC?

MC: This script is perfect for a space the size of the Studio Theatre.  Scenic designer Steve Barnes has transformed the Studio Theatre into what looks like the skeleton of the same generic condo you'd see in any city of any state in America.  It feels empty, a bit of a suburban wasteland with something essential missing, not unlike how both our main men are feeling in the show.

MW (MCT): What excites you most about working on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?  Also, what are some of the challenges that you face (as a director) with this production?

MC: This is a real genre shift from what I'm used to tackling as a director.  Many of the things I've directed either have had a lot of moving parts, multiple scene and/or time shifts, larger-than-life characters, or all of the above.  In THINGS, we have two people in the same room, measuring each other up through their conversation.  At first glance, I wondered what I would bring to this script.  Upon continued study, however, it became clear that the real gymnastics of the play lie not on the surface with theatrics, but deep in the thoughts and in the thread of the conversation.  Peeling away the layers of this story one by one and at the right time will be the challenge, and that is very exciting for me. Thankfully, Dan and Ryan are both exceptional actors and Wendy's script is a strong foundation for any production to stand on.

MW (MCT): What would you like the audience to take away from THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?  What would you like this production to accomplish?

MC: This show asks a number of questions about relationships, love, mortality, expectations, and preconceptions (among other things), but it offers few answers to those questions-and smartly so, in my opinion.  A major theme in this show is about taking honest stock of where we are in our lives, hence the title: THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE.  What we do with that knowledge after we cut through all of our defenses and deflections, and get to the honest, core truth of it…well, that's up to us to determine.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this play is hilarious!  It does all of the above with humor and wit.  Like any good comedy, honest revelations are sudden and slipped in at just the right moment to sneak up on us between the laughs.

THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE runs November 20 - December 15, 2013 in the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center, located in the heart of Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward.  Hope to see you at the show!

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