Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exclusive Interview! Molly Brennan!

Okay, enough of the Broadway news from my two previous posts. Time for something unmistakably Chicago.

As has been well established, I'm a fan of the work of the troupe 500 Clown and particularly Molly Brennan, who created the character of Madam Barker for 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal and inhabited Harpo Marx in the Goodman's Animal Crackers. Well Madam Barker is back in The Madam Barker Holiday Variety Show, which has two more performances, this Friday, December 4th (which I'll be attending, with review to follow), and next Friday, December 11th, at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston. Showtime is 11 PM. Among the many special guests will be Top Chef Rick Bayless, making guacamole with the group. You can get tickets here. But do it fast--they are flying off the metaphorical shelves.

I recently exchanged some emails with Brennan, and here's the interview that resulted. You can only see this here, folks; tell your friends!

First off, for those not familiar with her, can you explain who Madam Barker is?

Madam Barker is an aging singer who was never a star, with a love for a live paying audience, a passion for dirty glamor, and a thirst for the apocalypse. She was originally based on the Widow Begbick from Brecht's Mann ist Mann. When 500 Clown was developing 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal, John Fournier, the songwriter and co creator for the project, came up with the name "Madam Barker". She moved from being a secondary character in the piece to the mc of the piece, and enjoyed toying with the clowns in the Chicago premier of 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal at Steppenwolf in the Summer of 2009.

Has she ever appeared without the rest of 500 Clown? Why is she on her own this time?

Madam Barker and John Fournier have hosted their own show twice before this little run: Madam Barker's Cabaret and Madam Barker's Cabaret II: Have a Drink on Me at Prop. These shows served the purpose of me figuring out how to be the authority in 500 Clown. I needed to learn about hosting a real variety show before I could host a show gone wrong. With 500 Clown Macbeth and 500 Clown Frankenstein, there is a text to which I can refer. I have to know the actual thing before any kind of useful deconstruction can happen. In knowing how a variety show can work, I can examine what the stakes are, and what is interesting when it DOESN'T work.

We had such a GREAT time doing those shows and the Elephant Deal, that John and I just wanted to keep working together. 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal is a big, expensive show, and hard to just put up for fun. But the Madam Barker Show can happen in a tiny space with just me in my hat and John with a piano and a bunch of my friends, including 500 Clown, performing awesome variety acts.

In developing The Elephant Deal, we discovered Madam Barker isn't a Clown. She's a character. She is smarter, driven by results, has more authority, and because of these things, has more limits than a clown. But she can exist outside a 500 Clown show in a way that "Kevin", my Clown, doesn't seem able. Kevin exists in connection to the other clowns onstage. She is defined by her relationship to them and the actions they are performing. Madam Barker sings her songs and makes her jokes and changes her outfits, and as shit falls apart, she is not as flexible or resilient as Kevin. Her sense of play is less chaotic. She's eccentric, she's certainly not human, but she's not Clown.

How much of what you’re singing has been in previous shows? How much is original?

In this version, the Madam Barker Holiday Variety Show, one song was written for 500 Clown Christmas, 3 were written for Elephant Deal, and one was written for the Madam Barker Show, and the other 3 are from John's catalogue, which, by the way, is massive. So half are from 500 Clown Shows.

And, by the way, "My Love Will Kick Your Ass" and the "Madam Barker Theme Song" will be available as singles before Christmas! Hooray!

Are there any special guests?


Chef Rick Bayless and 500 Clown
Actor Noah Simon
The Galaxie Girls (dancing!)
The Barker Dames (my backup gals)
Jessica Hudson as Mr. Cellophane (burlesque)
Donnell Williams as Ventrilla Kiss (also burlesque)
Tim Simeone and Jeff Trainor (Physical Comics)

What can we expect from the evening?

Entertainment, not art.
Hot chicks, funny guys and gals, Bayless guacamole, free stuff and me singing some great songs by Mr. Fournier.

The last show you did was Animal Crackers, where most of the material was written in 1928. How was that experience different from your original pieces? Do you plan to get back to theatre scripted by other people any time soon?

I will be performing in TWO pieces scripted by other people: Oklahomo for the Holidays with About Face Dec 11-14 and Lookingglass Alice with Lookingglass Theatre on tour this winter and spring, and back in Chicago in the summer.

In terms of working with the Animal Crackers script, I had all actions, no lines, like we do with 500, so that wasn't so strange to me. But I was also playing a guy who actually existed, so finding a balance between me playing the character and me mimicking stuff the real Harpo did was a challenge. Paul Kalina, also of 500 Clown, was the Clown Director, and he helped Jonathan Brody (Chico) and me with a lot of our "dialogue" and bits. So, again, there was some familiarity there. Paul has been my performance partner for 10 years, and he's one of my greatest friends, so being able to work in that comfort zone was a blessing.

The crazy thing about working at the Goodman after all the clown and avant garde stuff I've done was how BIG everything is there. I felt I had a true Harpo experience...I was this clown in this super fancy place. And I couldn't quite figure out why I was there...but I had a fucking BLAST.

What would Madame Barker say if we asked why we should come?

Because I love you. You're my favorite. And I'm broke. I used to work at the Goodman. THE GOODMAN!

1 comment:

Blanche said...

....and she was GREAT as Harpo at the GOODMAN!! Wish I could see her as Madam Barker!!