The Second Annual Milwaukee Fringe Fest rests somewhere near the end of the month. One of the shows to be featured on the festival this year is a new one by local playwright/actress/theatre person Liz Shipe. The Incredible Adventure of Alvin Tatlock is a brief, little adventure set to appear at the Todd Wehr Theatre on an early Sunday evening.
In the past you’ve written (among other things) a swashbuckling pirate play, a series about Sherlock Holmes and a rather cool holiday show featuring Jack Frost, Father Christmas and a beautiful Krampus. Now with ALVIN TATLOCK you move on in the direction of a bibliophile named...Alvin Tatlock...who finds himself pulled into an adventure. What’s the inspiration for the story?
The inspiration really comes from my old roommate and friend. She is a great lover of books in a way that really inspired me. We also lived together for 10 years and she recently moved out, I wanted to write something as sort of a tribute to her. I think it's a show that she would very much enjoy. I've also not really had the opportunity to do small cast shows and that was something that really appealed to me at this point in my career. Even though the show, hopefully, will feel relatively big I wanted to get back to basics and really have some fun. Also, I've been wanting to to a show with Fringe Fest since it started and this year I had the time, so it felt as good a time as any to take a chance on something new.
How long is the play...and how long have you been working on it?
The play runs just under and hour; 56 min (Fringe rules). I've been working on it since early March. We've had a bunch of table reads and we're really kind of pushing it quickly or at least that's what it feels like. However, I look back and all three Sherlocks for the Bakers Street Trilogy were written in two weeks, give or take, so this isn't quite as harried.
The graphics posted to promote the debut of the show suggest high adventure. There’s real romance in high adventure. Typically that romance is associated with bigger budgets. You’ve got one stage and a small budget for a single performance. (Just one performance.) How do you bring across that sweeping sense of adventure suggested in the promotional stuff?
Bryan Quinn plays a Narrator character that we use to set the stage. We use his monologues to set the stage almost as an underscoring. For a Fringe Festival there was no way we were going to be able to have the sets, lights, and sound to create a sweeping adventure but I think we've come up with some really imaginative ways that the audience will really respond to. We're asking them to imagine with us, a little like what we did Jack Frost. In a theater setting, I think it's more impressive showing what you can do with almost nothing. Looking at improv shows is a great example, setting a scene with words and pantomime is something that I've wanted to play with for a while.
There are three guys in this show. (Just three guys.) In the promo copy you’re making reference to Irma Vep and the stage comedy adaptation of The 39 Steps. So it’s just three guys...but how many characters? And how distinct have you been able to make them for the show?
There are 3 guys in the show and me. I didn't put myself as a feature on the poster because I don't like seeing my name everywhere on the promotion, but in hindsight I should've because I've had comments like that pop up over the last few weeks. Sean Duncan plays the title role of Alvin Tatlock, I play a self described Adventurer and Dilettante named Gertie Pike, Bryan Quinn plays the Narrator, and Bobby Schmeling plays 5 different people over the course of the play. I would say all of Bobby's characters are really unique, but that's because Bobby is a brilliant character actor. I knew what he could do so I was able to create parts that are really tailor made for him.
Vep and The 39 Steps were...comedies. How comic is this comedy? Is it screwball spoofery or are we looking more at something sharp and witty with its heart in serious adventure?
I think the show is very funny, which is almost always a credit to the actors for bringing some really amazing work to the table. After almost every show I've ever written people say something to the effect of, "I was surprised how funny it was." This show is definitely a similar tone to some of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who with a bit of Monty Python thrown in; there's a ticking clock, high stakes, and some good humor.
And Duncan, Quinn and Schmelling...what has it been like working with them?
It's great! Sean was the first on board and really helped me through the development process. He was an amazing sounding board for figuring out how many actors, the type of story, what was doable in the time frame. Bryan Quinn is absolutely one of my favorite people to work with, of the nine shows I've written, seven of them have a part for Bryan Quinn. He's such a smart actor and comes with so many ideas it's so nice to have him there. Bobby is also a dream, he doesn't have a ton of time outside of his day job, but had been wanting to create a part for him for years and I finally had the right opportunity arise.
Just one performance...just three guys (and you.) Just one adventure. Is it safe to characterize it as a brief glimpse of something that might expand into something else later?
I am hoping to use Fringe as a spring board for this show. Sometimes the only way for me to get a show rolling is to put a definite deadline on it or it's too easy to put off writing. I really like the idea of create a show that travels well and could either potentially go to other Fringe Fests or schools or a small tour. I'd like to push this show further one day, but for right now we're just concentrating on creating the best show for Fringe that we possibly can.
The Incredible Adventure of Alvin Tatlock will be staged at 6:15 pm on Sunday, Aug. 27. For more information about the fest, visit it online. For further information about the show as it becomes available, visit its page on Facebook.
(You know what else is cool about Liz? She’s is also working on a podcast which is specifically set-up to mock Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog. It can be found at the Goop Pod online.)