Spirits To Enforce: Apparently Chaotic
Michael Cotey On SPIRITS TO ENFORCE Pt. 1
Some time ago, Youngblood Theatre co-founder Michael Cotey Googled the words “superhero” and “theatre,” and ran across something by a playwright named Mickle Maher. Having read Maher’s script for SPIRITS TO ENFORCE, Cotey knew that this was going to be a very, very interesting project. With a dozen actors sitting down and facing the audience as characters in a call center, the challenges of Cotey’s third directorial project were going to be unique. As a student at UWM, Cotey directed himself and one other actor in a production of THE DUMBWIATER. Some time later, he directed a particularly memorable short for a Pink Banana Theatre show. Now Cotey is helming a single production featuring a spoken choral arrangement of a dozen actors. The premise goes a little something like this: a dozen superheroes are out of costume in a submarine making calls to try to raise money for their production of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST. The piece pairs the “high art” of Shakespeare against the generally disrespected “pop art” of superhero fiction in a weird fission that hits all kinds of dichotomies. So Cotey’s got his hands full.
He talked with me over coffee a little while ago . . .
ONLY APPARENTLY CHAOTIC: ABSTRACT COMPLEXITY
Me: So . . . from what I’ve been able to piece together . . . there are only so many reviews of this show and it’s very, dense. But this strikes me as one of those shows—if you tried to pitch this to a producer in Hollywood . . .it would be very, very difficult. I remember the first time I talked to you about this you said, “it’s more intelligent than I am.” I could be paraphrasing.
Michael Cotey: No. That’s probably right on the money.
Michael Cotey: Um . . . Mickle Maher the playwright is just a genius with language. And every decision he’s made in this play . . . like where characters are overlapping, when Shakespeare is used. The order in which lines are said. On first glance, it looks random . . . but after you re-read it and you start looking, you see patterns and you realize that nothing is random in this script. He has hand-picked each of these sections to work in a specific way. And when you start realizing that, it’s a whole new play.
Me: From what I’ve read, it almost sounds like it’s constructed like a symphony. There’s little direct conversation between the characters, correct?
Michael Cotey: Correct.
Me: The overlapping monologues.
Michael Cotey: Yeah, so it’s like a jazz band, or a jazz orchestra. And people riff off each other. Things are repeated, but sometimes things aren’t repeated in the same way. There’s a variation of a theme that’s repeated. Characters seem to comment on each other’s conversations, but not directly, so you’ll have someone talking about something and someone else talking about something completely different, but with them juxtaposed, it looks like they’re in the same context, but they’re not. So once we (all of us) sat down with this script and we started seeing this stuff, it’s a little intimidating . . . wow . . . how do you do this justice? And part of it is . . . we’re trying to educate ourselves as much as we can about the script and then hit as many notes as possible. Like any orchestra would. Hit as many notes as possible in the best way we can.
Me: Is there room for improvisation?
Michael Cotey: Well, I met with Mickle and . . . he’s always really interested to see how people interpret his scripts. I read one thing about him that . . . as far as Avant-garde goes, he’s a safe bet. Everything he’s written has done remarkably well. Red Moon Theatre is a big puppet theatre in Chicago—has just extended the run of his show and this is a re-mount of his show The Cabinet . . . and I saw the show and it was amazing . . . so there’s room for improvisation as far as what we do with the text, but I’m trying to keep us as close to the text as possible . . . we’re not cutting anything. We’re not altering anything. The text is the gospel and whatever we’re able to do with it is our interpretation.
IT’S COMPLICATED: BASIC CONSTRUCTIONS AND WEIRD TEMPORAL THINGS
Me: Are there multiple acts?
Michael Cotey: It’s all one act.
Me: In real time?
Michael Cotey: In real time . . . that’s the interesting thing about the script, I don’t want to give too much away, but not necessarily everything happens in the present . . .
Michael Cotey: So things happen in other spots in time—past, future . . . at the same time, so if it wasn’t complicated enough . . .
Me: You’ve got weird temporal things going on.
Michael Cotey: Yeah, and it all serves a purpose. And it’s all wrapped-up in a superhero comic book explanation. Superhero science, but it’s great. IT was one of those things—when I first read the script, I didn’t even realize this [temporal thing] was even happening. I had to go back and re-read it and think. . . “oh! THAT’S why these things occur.”
7:30 am: A Conversation that seemed much more coherent at the time continues as Michael Cotey continues to talk about SPIRITS TO ENFORCE.
7:30 pm: The Show opens.
A lengthy review of the show.