By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Since I am both a member of the Houston arts media and an actor, my name has found its way to the editorial/PR crossroads on several occasions over the last 15 years. In a given issue of the Houston Press, for example, you might find me listed in the masthead as well as mentioned in a theater review.
Such close relationships between artists and media can be sticky. The line between objective reporting/criticism and self-serving promotion must remain wide. But my being a member of the media doesn't preclude me from participating in media-worthy projects. That would be ridiculous. In such cases though, transparency is called for — something that's also referred to as "ethics."
So I'm coming clean. I'm a featured actor in Catastrophic Theatre's production of Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood.
I've been a member of Catastrophic since the group's Infernal Bridegroom days, and I've been aware of this particular project since its conception in 2008. About a month and a half ago, I was cast. Because of this, I was not interviewed or consulted by John Nova Lomax for his feature story.
Several members of the large cast play real-life people who are still alive. My role is Koos Van Dijk, Brood's former manager. And how's this for pressure: The guy's flying to Houston from Amsterdam to check out the show.
Since Koos has been bald since the late '70s, I had no choice but to shave my head (and learn a Dutch accent). In fact, the only piece of information surrounding Lomax's story that I've been made aware of is a quote from Koos that Lomax thought I might want to use for this sidebar. When Lomax told Koos I'd indeed gone bald to play the part, Koos replied, "Is he married?" Lomax: "He's divorced." Koos: "Oh, good." Needless to say, it will be a thrill to meet the man himself.
It was definitely a thrill to be in the same room when Black Francis sat in for rehearsal back in September, and then again to watch him onstage that same night with the Pixies. It's those moments when a fascination with a certain artist can come close to reaching the sublime. For instance, I'm a big Pixies fan, but not as big as my friend John Duboise, who plays guitar in Bluefinger. Black Francis is one of his heroes. During that rehearsal, when Black Francis strapped on John's guitar to demonstrate a chord or a riff, I could only imagine what was going through John's head.
It's also been hard work. The nature of staging an original production is completely unlike rehearsing a published script. I've done it on several occasions, but Bluefinger is a monster. The script has been through at least six drafts over the course of rehearsal. Whole scenes are often added, edited, trimmed or cut entirely, and new song arrangements are introduced. It's a lesson in flexibility and ego-suppression. You're not allowed to bitch when your lines get cut. (Although I suppose as an editor that's a natural proclivity. I get paid to cut words and sentences.)
It's been a way of working, in fact, that both Herman and Koos would champion. When Jason Nodler was doing research, he asked Koos to clarify some of Herman's unintelligible lyrics. Koos encouraged Jason to make up his own: "Hairman...He change de words effry NIGHT!!!!"