If it’s summer, then it’s time for another wacky original musical from Tamarie Cooper and her merry band of creative cohorts. Past topics for this almost annual event include aging, the apocalypse, patriotism, domesticity and the chaotic inner-workings of Tamarie’s brain. This year’s production, The University of Tamarie, will bring the same formula of songs, gags and shenanigans to The Catastrophic Theatre with a focus on education.
“Every year, we’ve been busting out these shows,” said Cooper. “There always comes the moment, right after I open the show, when I’m asked ‘what’s happening next year?’” While most years the jump-off theme is obvious, this time it wasn’t. Instead, Tamarie found that she was spending a lot of time thinking about her preschooler’s next move.
“It sort of became clear I was talking obsessively about the differences now with kindergarten. It set off a lot of different runaway tangents. We have a scene that is a reenactment of my first theater class experience. It is so bizarre. [Co-author Patrick Reynolds] was like, ‘why are we not just doing that? It’s so weird.’”
“I have some very topical numbers. For example, there’s this whole thing with the Texas State Board of Education; it’s popping up on my Facebook feed right now,” said Cooper. “You certainly don’t have to have a kid in school. You don’t have to have gone to college to find hilarity in this latest installment. I tend to laugh at myself in these shows. I think we all can relate to the universal quality that comes in the shows.”
“As usual, I think it’s a cast of 17. We’re just out there singing and dancing like crazy, welcoming,” said Cooper. “There’s this crazy cast of ‘over the top.’ It’s 90 minutes of camp.”
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Cooper, who co-authored the play and helped with costume design [along with Pam Pellegrino], also directs and acts in the production. She is quick to give credit to her creative team, many of whom have worked with her for quite a while. “I have a fantastic team of people helping every year. I have great composers, designers, musicians that work with me,” said Cooper. Music direction is by Jesse Lozano, lighting design is by Eric Marsh and prop design is by Tina Montgomery. “Kyle Sturdivant [assistant director] will be filling some of those wilder ‘John Belushi type’ roles.” The musical includes touches on Greek life, standardized testing, bullies, hot teachers and John Hughes movies.
“I have a pretty unique writing relationship with Patrick Reynolds, who has a long history with me. He’s been my lead writer for the last several years,” said Cooper. “So basically I storyboard, I come up with the idea, he will flesh out the dialogue, I edit to piss him off, we go back and forth. We share the same sense of humor and worldview.”
“I have to say, creating these shows and performing these shows will definitely be a highlight of my life. It’s a great feeling to have new people come every year as well, but also to have those people who are so excited every year, come multiple times, bring large groups of people,” said Cooper. “It’s like that feeling when I was a kid at Astroworld.”
The University of Tamarie opens July 17 and continues through August 29, at The Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 E. Freeway, Wednesday to Saturday 8 p.m., 713-522-2723, catastrophictheatre.com. Pay-what-you-can ($25 suggested).