Oct 21, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 509: Randall Colburn
Hometown: Mt. Clemens, MI
Current Town: Chicago, IL
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Currently writing a play about Christian youth at an Acquire the Fire-type festival, which is on commission from Writers' Theatre. Also adapting one of my plays into a TV pilot, which has been an intense, but satisfying experience. Other productions in the works, but unannounced as of yet.
Lately, I've also been dabbling in Chicago’s storytelling scene. I'm not really an actor, but writing and performing first-person pieces analyzing current events through the filter of my own experience is scratching an artistic itch for me.
Q: Tell me about B-Rated.
A: Ha. Well, I’m giant fan of bad movies, horror movies, and bad horror movies. The show began in college, when my friend Tim Marklevitz and I would babble on about stupid movies in the film department’s editing bay. We, along with several other friends, were working on shows that aired on the campus TV station and would be up into the wee hours editing. Somebody always had a video camera, and that’s where these videos began. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5Y9KF6N-RU
Once Tim moved to LA, he decided to spruce up the format a bit. We changed the title to B-Rated, amped up the production values, and started scripting our material, wherein I’d use all the bullshit I learned in grad school to dissect movies like Evil Bong and Shark Attack 3: Megalodan. Unfortunately, since Tim and I live across the country from each other, we were only able to film new episodes when we were in the same time zone, and it’s been a long time since that’s happened. It’s too bad because with the release of every new episode we’d garner good press and increased interest; I wonder where it could’ve gone if we were able to crank ‘em out regularly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN7dM297MrA
The best thing to come out of B-Rated was the chance to appear in Best Worst Movie, a popular documentary about Troll 2, which some consider the worst movie ever made. The makers of the film, who were also the stars of Troll 2, caught wind of our series and asked us to host a Chicago screening of the movie at the Music Box. Tim and I had to pinch ourselves at Ann Sather the following morning, when our bad movie heroes bought us eggs and expressed honest interest in our endeavors. Then they interviewed us for the documentary, and we ended up prominently featured as talking heads. Bragging rights for life.
Q: How would you characterize the Chicago theater scene?
A: Chicago is a city of ingenuity. Chicago is a place to experiment. Chicago is a place to self-produce. Chicago is a place where a couple hundred bucks can produce that show. Chicago is a place to indulge artistic whims. Chicago is a place where houses are typically a quarter full. Chicago is a one-critic town. Chicago is a place to begin, a place to reside, a place to die. Chicago is a place people often leave. Chicago is a place people are afraid to leave. Chicago feels like home. Chicago is a place where brilliant works of art extinguish like flashbulbs in the bowels of a Pilsen warehouse. Chicago is a place where enthusiasm often trumps talent. Chicago is a place where you work for free. Chicago is a place where you discover your aesthetic. Chicago is a place where people embrace poverty and PBR.
Chicago is focused on companies. So many companies. A new company every day. Chicago is a place where anyone can produce. And that’s important. And that’s why Chicago produces hard workers, passionate artists. Chicago theater is a weary beast with sad eyes, coated in a glistening sheathe of sweat.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I had a giant collection of action figures, mainly from the WWF, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, and films such as Jurassic Park and Aliens. I was really into WWF, so I’d make them all converge in the ring, to the point where I’d basically created my own federation rife with humans, dinosaurs, and monsters alike. Since the storylines and rivalries I’d create we’re so intricate I’d say this, in some ways, led to my passion for ensemble storytelling. When, in fifth grade, I decided to write my first novel, I orchestrated its action with these same action figures over several months, fine-tuning each moment with the utmost care and concentration. It was building the world I liked, creating a world. When I finally wrote the novel, a 125-page rip-off of Jurassic Park called Death in the Making, it consisted of about 20 main characters spread across seven or eight different plot threads. I love exploring the nooks and crannies, the quiet moments in-between the loud ones; that, I think, is where the heart of a piece lies. Though the action figures have long since disappeared in dust, I try to build worlds in a similar way, by fine-tuning every small moment, every throwaway phrase.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Things that need to stop:
* Ghosts onstage only one person can see
* Plays about rich white people learning how to be a little less awful
* Plays that should be movies
* Saying theater is dead
* Speaking in simultaneity for no discernible reason
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Spalding Grey. Chekhov. Jeremy Menekseoglu. Stuart Carden.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that’s uncomfortably, almost unbearably, honest. Vulnerability. Ambiguity. Theater that pushes buttons without resorting to sensationalism or gimmicks. Theater that experiments with genre—show me an affecting horror or sci-fi play and I’m smitten.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Make your own opportunities. If nobody will produce your play, produce it yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Also, never write a scene you don’t want to write.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: DON’T GIVE THAT BEAST A NAME with the Chicago Mammals. It’s a show I co-wrote with Bob Fisher, who’s a damn genius. Appalachian gothic comedy/drama/horror with music. Info here: http://chicagomammals.blogspot.com/