Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Serious Camp: More with Mark Hooker

By Russ Bickerstaff
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After a number of years in Milwaukee, most recently as Artistic Director of Spiral Theatre Company, Mark Hooker is leaving for the twin cities. Before he does so, he will be starring in his final production in Milwaukee—Charles Busch’s campy comedy Die Mommie Die! I spoke with him about the comedy a few weeks back. In this, the second part of the rough transcripts of the interview Mark Hooker discusses the act of taking campy comedy seriously and more . . . 



Me: You’re going to be up there. You’re heavily involved in this. And the audience is going to come in knowing something about it. But what happens if it’s silence? Because you’re intention is to play it serious. What happens if it actually plays serious?

Mark Hooker: Wow. If that really happens? . . . I think we’ll have emergency rehearsals from the moment the “curtain goes down” until the next day. And I think that Charles Busch is such a good writer that the words themselves are funny and that’s what I’m banking on. It’s sort of like when you sing an Irving Berlin song. The words are so exquisite that you almost don’t want to add any vocal embellishments to it because the melody and the textures are built into the notes and into the words. And I think that’s what it is with this play. But I’m not sure because I don’t know everything. When I played the role of Christopher in Charles Busch’s You Should Be So Lucky, I realized that I didn’t have to play as gay because you can’t say those words and not come out being a homosexual. Even straight men can’t say those words and not look gay. And I [later]
 Directed it with a straight man in that role once. And he was incredibly straight and very gay looking on stage just by uttering those words and adding nothing to it. So if nothing else I’ll get a good thesis out of it for my doctoral degree.

Me: Because so much of the comedy in straight ahead camp is the attitude and if people go into it. Because different people can see the same campy movie and one of them can enjoy it as a serious movie and the other one can think it was a brilliant comedy.

Mark: I feel like this, Russ, how much camp do you have to add when your character is trying to murder your husband with a suppository the size of a candle laced with arsenic?

Me: [laugh]

Mark: I feel you don’t have to add anything to that. And when I say, “Now you know how I felt all those years when you force yourself on me,” you don’t have to add any attitude to that.

Me: But there’s a difference between trying to add that melodramatic tone to your voice when you say a line like that . . .

Mark: Right.

Me: . . .. and actually trying to take a line like that seriously.

Mark: Right. And I think some of these plays . . .  a lot of this stuff is a lot harder than it looks because . .  . (and I don’t think we quite got it right with the last Charles Bush thing that we did, because it goes from dead serious to this wild over-the-top thing and then back  to dead serious again.) And you really have to be able to just switch gears all the way through. And it takes a very tight company. And [Charles Busch] is working with people he’s worked with for a while. A lot of these people I’m working with for the first time. We’re all getting used to each other’s rhythms. Plus: we only have three weeks to do it. Because I’m one of these directors who thinks, “I can’t take-up everybody’s entire life for six performances.” So we do it in six weeks like it’s a summer stock production. And they all come-in terrified thinking they can’t.


Actually, they can and the will. I’ve heard back a few brief word from Mark since this interview and everything seems to be coming together. The Spiral Theatre production of Die Mommie Die! Runs March 20th through 29th at the Plymouth Church on 2717 E. Hampshire Blvd.

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