An interview with director Michael Cotey
by Matt Wickey
most regulars around the Broadway Theatre Center know, MCT's
mission is to produce intimate, high-quality, professional
theatrical works while employing, supporting, and nurturing local
talent. It is this dedication and mission that allows both
MCT and its friends to celebrate the work of artists like
Michael Cotey, director of MCT's upcoming quirky,
'bro-mantic' comedy THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE by Wendy
MacLeod. Michael is a Milwaukee-based director and actor who
enjoys an incredibly impressive resume, working in nearly every
theatre company in the city. His work has also been featured
in places such as both the Utah and Illinois Shakespeare Festivals,
not to mention Youngblood Theatre Company, where he was a
co-founder and artistic director from 2009-2013. As a young
theatre artist myself, people like Michael Cotey truly inspire me,
so I was thrilled to be able to talk with him and gain an insight
to his perspective on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. Michael was
generous enough to let me "pick his brain" on all topics regarding
the upcoming production, where the special relationship between man
and man is investigated and uncovered. I hope you enjoy our
conversation as much as I did!
For context on the conversation to follow, a bit about THINGS
BEING WHAT THEY ARE's featured characters. In the play, we
first meet the character Bill McGinnis. Bill is a seemingly
stable and well-mannered man, and he has just moved in to a new
condo with his wife, who we soon learn is "at her folks."
While Bill awaits her arrival alone in his new home, he hears a
strange voice: "Hello?" Jack Foster, his new next-door
neighbor, has arrived. And thus, our 'bro-mance' is
Matt Wickey (MCT): What is it like working on a script
that examines a 'bro-mantic' relationship, with the unique
perspective of a female playwright?
Michael Cotey: I find it fascinating when a
playwright captures a voice other than his or her own so
completely. And (playwright) Wendy has done that here with
two distinct male characters. Just as actors use their great
capacity for empathy to understand and relate to unfamiliar
circumstances and emotions, Wendy has successfully empathized with
what it means to be a man-and further, with how two men, seemingly
different from each other, will stumble upon what unites them if
left to each other for long enough (with just the right amount of
beer to lubricate the conversation). I couldn't be more
excited to begin working on Wendy's marvelous and well-paced
dialogue with the two "bros" of this 'bro-mance': Ryan Schabach and
MW (MCT): This unique opportunity to speak with THINGS
BEING WHAT THEY ARE playwright, Wendy MacLeod, fascinates
me. What has this connection provided to the process?
And further, what has it been like, in general, to have the chance
to communicate with the playwright of this unique
MC: It's always great to have the opportunity
to speak with the playwright, and Wendy has been very receptive to
any questions I toss her way. In my experience, I have often
found that playwrights, while willing to help, enjoy seeing how we
answer the questions of the play through our own exploration of
it. I imagine that's part of the excitement of writing a
play. Unlike a movie, which exists in a more permanent
medium, a play can be revisited and the same set of questions can
be addressed with a wholly different set of answers by the simple
virtue of putting different people in the room to work on it.
My conversations with Wendy have been primarily simple
clarifications and gathering her thoughts on what worked or didn't
with previous productions of the show. The rest I'm leaving
up to the fun of the rehearsal hall.
MW (MCT): What first struck you about this script/piece?
How does this script "speak" to you?
MC: I'm drawn to the exploration of the
relationships Bill and Jack have with the women in their lives;
specifically how much they stake their personal identity in the
loves of their life. That's something I absolutely relate to,
and in the two and a half years I've been married, it has been
strange (in a great way!) to see that line between "mine" and
"hers" or "me" and "us" blur. Part of this show questions who
we are if we aren't defined by our relationships with others.
MW (MCT): How well do you envision this script
translating to the Studio Theatre space at the BTC?
MC: This script is perfect for a space the size
of the Studio Theatre. Scenic designer Steve Barnes has
transformed the Studio Theatre into what looks like the skeleton of
the same generic condo you'd see in any city of any state in
America. It feels empty, a bit of a suburban wasteland with
something essential missing, not unlike how both our main men are
feeling in the show.
MW (MCT): What excites you most about working on THINGS
BEING WHAT THEY ARE? Also, what are some of the challenges
that you face (as a director) with this production?
MC: This is a real genre shift from what I'm
used to tackling as a director. Many of the things I've
directed either have had a lot of moving parts, multiple scene
and/or time shifts, larger-than-life characters, or all of the
above. In THINGS, we have two people in the same room,
measuring each other up through their conversation. At first
glance, I wondered what I would bring to this script. Upon
continued study, however, it became clear that the real gymnastics
of the play lie not on the surface with theatrics, but deep in the
thoughts and in the thread of the conversation. Peeling away
the layers of this story one by one and at the right time will be
the challenge, and that is very exciting for me. Thankfully, Dan
and Ryan are both exceptional actors and Wendy's script is a strong
foundation for any production to stand on.
MW (MCT): What would you like the audience to take away
from THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE? What would you like this
production to accomplish?
MC: This show asks a number of questions about
relationships, love, mortality, expectations, and preconceptions
(among other things), but it offers few answers to those
questions-and smartly so, in my opinion. A major theme in
this show is about taking honest stock of where we are in our
lives, hence the title: THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. What we
do with that knowledge after we cut through all of our defenses and
deflections, and get to the honest, core truth of it…well, that's
up to us to determine.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this play is
hilarious! It does all of the above with humor and wit.
Like any good comedy, honest revelations are sudden and slipped in
at just the right moment to sneak up on us between the laughs.
THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE runs November 20 - December 15, 2013 in the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre
Center, located in the heart of Milwaukee's Historic Third
Ward. Hope to see you at the show!