Letting the Audience Figure It Out: Cotey on SPIRITS pt. 2

Michael Cotey Talks More About His Second Time As A Director

Apr. 22, 2010
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest

Some time ago, Youngblood Theatreco-founder Michael Cotey Googled the words superhero and theatre, and ran across something by a playwright named Mickle Maher. Having read Mahers 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 Coteys 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 Shakespeares 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 Coteys got his hands full.

He talked with me over coffee a little while ago . . .


Me: The only big criticism that Ive heard about this show is that its just so dense. It hard to follow and youve got all of these characters up there and theyre all lined-up with T. Stacey Hicks looking Christ-like in the middle of it all

Michael Cotey: Laughs.

Me: Is what Im visualizing correct?

Michael Cotey: Thats not giving too much away. Youll notice that the first thing when you walk into the room.

Me: It is like The Last Supper.

Michael Cotey: Well, Jason Fassl whose lighting the show for us [said] you do realize the width of the table is the width of the proscenium arch at the Cabot Theatre.

Me: Laughs

Michael Cotey: . . . and Im like, well? So be it. Ill bet it is. Heres the thing: if someone comes to this show expecting a standard play . . .it not that. Its something different. Its still theatrical. Its still a play. Its unlike anything Ive ever seen in Milwaukee. And thats what kind of appealed to me in the first place. It looks challenging. It was very interesting and I dont expect any other company to even attempt to tackle something like this. So those are a lot of the reasons why we decided. Red Light Winter was a challenge based on content and themes and it was a challenge for the actors. This also a challenge but in a completely different spectrum. The language is challenging. Its a very intelligent play and it involves a lot of chops in order for us to act and I feel like weve assembled a really solid cast in order to do it.

Me: One of the comments that was made [in previous productions] is that its difficult to differentiate between the characters. Are you working on tat at all?

Michael Cotey: Well, these characters have sort of bizarre super powers . . . and they lend themselves to their personalities. And I think each of the actors is unique both in how they lookjust physical appearance and how they approach the work . . . its not going to be difficult to keep them straight. I do imagine people are going to have a hard time keeping . . . maybe through-lines of characters straight, but thats the nature of the beast. If you go to listen to the symphony, youre not going to hearunless youre an aficionado of the music, youre not going to hear each instrument . . .

Me: or even certain sections of the symphony.

Michael Cotey: Yeah, youre going to hear it as a whole. I mean, I would love people to come multiple times to catch things that they didnt the first time. But, yeah I think if you get worked-up and try to understand everything and hear everything to the syllable, some people might get frustrated. But I think that if people come with an open mind, itll be something different to see.


Me: So how does this thing look? Ive never been inside that building. [The Miller and Campbell Costume Service where the play is being staged] Youve got the long table . . . youve got the audience facing them . . . I would imagine thats a proscenium, right? Straight ahead? Twelve people lined up?

Michael Cotey: Its a VERY wide room.

Me: Laugh. Well, it would have to be.

Michael Cotey: It used to be some sort of office space. Its currently NOT being used for anything and we were . . . uhmm . . . originally we were going to do it in the Alchemist [Theatre.] How we would have fit the table in there now is beyond me, but there was a scheduling conflict. We werent able to do the number of weeks there that we wanted . . . and Im going away for the summer, so I needed to get it in in a certain timeframe. So we heard the Uprooted [Theatre Company] was doing some of their rehearsals in the building and we just needed a space to rehearse, so we checked it out. There was one space with one entrance five flights up, so it didnt work. I asked what else was available and we saw this space and I was in there for a little while and it sat with me and I thought it would actually be really cool . . . this would work. The play takes place in a submarine, so the space feels a little claustrophobic because the ceilings are low and . . you get the feeling of being confined in the space.

Me: And theres a whole set thats been designed for it?

Michael Cotey: Yeah. Its pretty minimal, though. Its a table and chairs . . . after that everything else is icing on the cake. Its pretty simple among the complexity of the whole thing.


Me: And with the costumes, thats pretty minimal too?

Michael Cotey: Yeah. Leave it at that.

Me: Presumably, these people have seen each other outside their masks, right?

Michael Cotey: Yeah.

Me: They dont physically look like super heroes.

Michael Cotey: Yeah. I feel like one of those superheroes trying to keep everything in secrecy, but I want people to experience as much of it . . . but I think . . . I think people will think that . . . since its superheroes its sort of the wham, bang [Adam West in Batman] variety of thing but I think its nothing like that at all. If anything its much the opposite of that.

Me: Right this is a drama. And how much does the Shakespeare end of things enter into the show?

Michael Cotey: Oh, its integral to the script.

Me: So this could be a sequel to The Tempest?

Michael Cotey: I think that was [Mickle Mahers] intention all along. I mean, it really is . . . Ariel is Ariel in the show. And the Shakespeare text enters in from either a sales pitch or a sheet of text from the show. Theyre all trying to put on a production of The Tempest in this homage to what their past used to bethis time in their life when they really felt needed and worthwhile. The story opens when the superheroes had just put away their biggest super villain ever. And now they dont know what to do with themselves. Theyre out of work. And they dont know what their purpose now is in life. And so they go back to their past by doing this version of the tempest.

Me: THATS really interesting.

Michael Cotey: Yeah, it is.

Me: Because . . . [Alan Moores graphic novel] Watchmen did a lot to sort of finish-off the superhero genre [by bringing it into a world of contemporary politics] and then this is now tying that into heroes from ancient literature . . . do we need heroes at all . . that sort of thing.

Michael Cotey: Yeah its that and also a love affair with The Tempest. Its a great commentary on fundraising for the arts and what youre willing to give-up in order to get a dollar in order to put on a show. So theres some really brilliant commentary there on.

Me: Are they working from a fund raising script? Are we hearing a lot of repetition?

Michael Cotey: Yeah, they have a script that they work off of with some unusual things that you probably wouldnt find in a normal call script. Whereas the Rep might say, Did you see Government Inspector? How did you enjoy the show? This is Did you enjoy our last victory over Professor Cannibal?

Youngblood Theatres Spirits To Enforce runs April 22nd May 9th at the Miller & Campbell Costume Service on 907 South First Street.


Would white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan pose the same threat they do now if a mainstream Republican were president instead of Donald Trump?

Getting poll results. Please wait...