The Chicago-based Cock & Bull Theatre company isn't afraid to embrace the avant-garde in the productions they choose to bring to life. Putting up plays with titles like "Axe Lizzie" and "The Legend of Ginger Bread: A Story of Sex, Salvation & Baked Goods," the young company's productions have earned them a sort of "bad boy" reputation within the city's theatre scene.
And while their next production's title -- "Titanic" -- might call to mind a more serious period drama, Cock & Bull artistic director Chris Garcia Peak assured The Huffington Post in a recent interview that the production has little in common with the film that brought Kate Winslet together with a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio in doomed on-screen romance.
Rather, their production is of the 1974 script written by Christopher Durang, a playwright known for his Tony- and Obie-recognized brazen, blatantly satirical tone. The play, which in its original incarnation starred Sigourney Weaver, showcases a family on the verge of imminent destruction as they sit aboard the R.M.S. Titanic.
HP: So the mantra for your theatre company, Cock & Bull, is essentially to produce "unproducible" theatre. What prompted you to start the company in the first place and what makes a play "unproducible" in your eyes?
CGP: I actually started the company myself in 2009 and recently added two other company members. I am really interested in experimental plays that have what I call fantastical realism with a high level of design which incorporates multimedia. I started the company to create those kinds of plays. I think the essence of the work is that we also address issues of gender identity and sexuality and kind of reinvestigate societal norms. I think that sounds like a lot, but what we aim to do is kind of fantastical, bizarre and beautiful work that we're really excited and passionated about.
I read that you first read this play, Christopher Durang's "Titanic," as a 14-year-old in a Texas library. What was your original reaction to it?
Yes, I originally read the play when I was 14 in Richardson, Texas, where I'm from. I'm now 40 and it's been a long journey since then. I remember read the play and having my jaw drop. It's really funny work. Bizarre, but also pretty sexual and for me the time it was jaw-dropping. I couldn't believe somebody would write something like this that's so crazy and out there. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever read.
And what inspired you to attempt to bring it to the stage now?
I had wanted to do this play for some time and when I was thinking about what we wanted to produce this year, we had been doing original work, but this time we wanted to do an established work.
I really enjoy Durang's bizarre comedy. I re-read the play and wasn't sure how I'd be affected by it, because I hadn't read it in a really long time. But I thought it was still hysterical, but now you could discover the dark, bizarre moments even more because I missed those as a 14-year-old of course. We actually wrote to him to get his feedback about our producing it. I told him my story and he was really shocked in the first place that a 14-year-old was allowed to read his play. He thought that was hysterical.
(Scroll down to watch the company's video promoting their "Titanic" Kickstarter.)
So what is it about "Titanic" that qualifies it as "unproducible"?
I think it's "unproducible" because it really has nothing to do with the "Titanic" that everyone knows from the movie. Essentially, the play follows the story of this really dysfunctional family on the Titanic and -- I keep calling it polymorphic -- their gender roles transform and they change throughout the show. The characters take so many twists and turns and it reaches such a high level of bizarreness and kind of chaos that I think it can be really difficult to manage it and figure out how to make it work. I love the challenge of reading something and wondering how I'm going to make this into a three-dimensional visual product. My other two company members, Matt Olson and Heinrich Haley, see it as something like a puzzle that we love trying to solve.
Not to make you give away too much, but tell me more about the kind of chaos that this family is going through.
Essentially, this family is kind of longing for the ship to sink. They're hoping it crashes so that their entire family can be destroyed. The play is really about the destruction of the family and about people hating their parents to me. There are some really odd aspects to this play, like one of the characters stores animals in her vagina and, when we spoke with Christopher, he said that referenced Freud's idea of vagina dentate. It's a polymorphic voyage of experimental proportions.
And where are you at with the voyage's creative process currently?
We have been having design meetings and right now we're coming up with the visual elements for the play and we stat rehearsals pretty soon. We're in the middle of figuring out the design and design elements that can help us kind of take the work to the next level.
It looks like you're well over halfway to your Kickstarter goal. Are you confident you'll get the rest of the way there? Put this campaign into the context of what the fundraising atmosphere currently is for the kind of productions Cock & Bull puts on.
As is it with many different companies currently, we're not a non-profit, so it's hard to apply for grants. And as a small company, we're growing. We look to ticket sales and donations to produce our work. I'm really optimistic about getting to our goal because I think people love to support the underdogs. And we're definitely the underdogs. We're the weird kids down the street that people stare and throw feces at. I think people will look to our work and see how passionate we are about it. We've loved to see the range of donations coming in from people that have come from all over all of our pasts. It's enthralling.
Finally, I have to ask: With the temperatures beginning to plunge, was the timing of this production in the dead of what's expected to be a pretty extreme winter intentional? I see the show is planned to open in January.
It was intention because I wanted to do something when people have downtime in their lives, after the holidays. I love the challenge of it being possibly during a snowstorm, just like the Titanic. We could run into a giant iceberg in Chicago. So I think it's kind of the perfect time for it. It's also running for only three weeks, so hopefully that will kind of entice people to get out and see the show -- assuming we survive through January.
With just about two weeks to go, Cock & Bull has raised just over $4,400 toward their $6,525 fundraising goal. Click here to help them get the rest of the way there in their quest to create "unproducible" theatre and here to learn more about their company.
If you have a Chicago-based Kickstarter or IndieGoGo project that you'd like to see featured in "Can They Kick It?"? Get in touch with us at email@example.com.