Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Floyd Collins: Steve O'Connell: Processing Floyd Collins

I came into the process of Floyd Collins late. No, I wasn’t a last minute replacement or anything, but I wasn’t called during the first few weeks of music rehearsal because my character, the engineer H.T Carmichael, head of The Kentucky Rock and Asphalt Company, doesn’t sing.

There is a reason behind every choice a playwright makes while writing a script. As an actor is is my job to interpret those choices. How I interpret and shape those choices, along with the director and fellow actors, is how the story of the play is told and it’s the story that is most important. You could watch an actor give a great performance on stage, but if it’s not part of a larger whole, the actor’s job is not done properly.

So why doesn’t Carmichael sing? There is a reason, and that reason must be specific.

As I continue to search for this answer, I have been met with more questions, but that is the beauty of this process: the challenge! Carmichael offers a unique challenge though, because many of the answers I am searching for are not in the script. Not much is said about Carmichael beyond the fact that he is an “outlander”. We also learn that he is a licensed engineer who is up for a promotion at his company. But why him? Why does he come to help? Who asked him? Did he decided to do this himself? Does he want to be here? What does he get out of this? What’s at stake for him both personally and professionally.? What surprises him about the town, the townspeople, the rescue operation and how does he feel about that? These are only some of the questions I have asked myself during the rehearsal period.

Much is said about an actors “process.” It can be an illusive term and one that has been given an air of mysterious import. Stories of Hoffman, DeNiro and Day-Lewis have been passed around rehearsal rooms like a game of telephone:

“I heard he stayed up for three days before he shot that scene.”
“I heard he stayed in character for three months and made everyone call him Travis.” 
“I heard he worked as a butcher for a year before he played that role.”

The truth behind any of this is inconsequential. At the end of the day, every actor’s process is unique and personal. But I would venture to guess that every actor’s process starts with a single question, which leads to another and another and another. I can’t speak for Mr. Day-Lewis, but that’s how it starts with me. And who knows... if there was more time in our rehearsal period, perhaps I would be in Kentucky, on a rig drilling a hole right now, singing a song about saving a man’s life and realizing it doesn’t sound quite right... Nah. Probably not. No offense, Daniel... But I think I’ll just use my imagination.

-- Steve O'Connell is a Chicago based actor, writer and musician and will be seen playing the role of Carmichael in Floyd Collins. This is the third show he has collaborated on with Boho. For more information please visit his website at

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Floyd Collins: Sarah Bockel: From the Perspective of a Little Sister

"Lucky, is what I am."
Inevitably when working on a show that’s all about family you start to think of your own. When rehearsals first started I found myself struggling to identify with Floyd and Nellie’s unique relationship; brother and sister who accept and understand each other without words. Nellie even says they "think the same thoughts." Naturally, the relationship I have with my own brother came to mind. My brother and I have recently grown much closer than we used to be. He's eighteen years older than me, he was already out of the house by the time I was born. Until I moved to the city two years ago I wondered if we had much in common. It wasn't until our holiday car rides home would we talk and catch up. As time went by I could see that we have the same anxieties and opinions, even our stomach problems are the same! Perhaps we don't share thoughts as Floyd and Nellie, but I know we understand each other.

What I love so much about Floyd and Nellie's relationship is that once Floyd finds himself trapped he relies on Nellie for comfort and a sort of protection. Its not often us little sisters get to help our big brothers, they seem to have everything figured out all ready(at least mine does.) Both of Floyd's younger siblings, Nellie and Homer are forced to step up to help Floyd the best they can. During this difficult time, we get to witness their love and unbreakable connection to each other. That's family. I'm not sure there will ever be a situation where my brother needs me as much as Floyd needs Nellie, but that's what big brothers are for, right? Floyd Collins has certainly given me a new perspective on family, I am so grateful to have mine close to me (and above ground).

-- Sarah Bockel is a recent graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University's music theatre program currently living in Chicago. Please visit BoHo Theatre's website for ticket and production information.

Floyd Collins: Greg Foster, Truth be Told

What have I set in motion here?

Ever wonder what you're meant to be? Or what your part is in this world? Or you think you have it all figured out, but then a surprise awaits you around the corner? In a single moment that surprise can be something that can change your life forever. Fate perhaps? Destiny. These are all questions that Skeets Miller discovers the answers to within a short period of time.

Behind every good story is truth. Skeets Miller is an honest, sincere man who finds himself thrown into a story like nothing he's ever encountered before. A story that not only changes the media, but himself all together.

This role has been such a challenge, doing all the historical research, getting the accent down with such words as Louisville, or "Luville," and actually putting myself in the darkest, blackest, claustrophobic hole ever imaginable. Truly living that and doing everything in my power to save a mans life. Thats pretty deep stuff. Its a blast! I love it! Even more so, I think the thing that gets me more than ever is that this all actually happened. It's real. It really is something to let that reality sit in you. These people went through this together, Floyd and Skeets, Floyd's family, the world and I just want I honor and respect that and give it justice.

That's what I want to accomplish, playing Skeets Miller like he really was.

The truth.

-- Greg Foster , is a Chicago actor playing "Skeets Miller" in BoHo Theatre's production of Floyd Collins. Greg is "so pumped" to be working with BoHo and sends love and thanks to his family, friends, and God. Tickets are on sale now!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Floyd Collins: Russell Alan Rowe, A Family Redefined

This is a story of how a family comes together and re-defines itself in the wake of impending tragedy. I experienced this first hand when my mother passed away one day after Thanksgiving last year (and a day before her 84th birthday).

 My sister, (who I hadn't communicated with in 15 years) came to Chicago to assist with the arrangements. Not being sure how well this would go, I entered in to the situation with complete trust in the good intentions that I knew would possibly get me through this difficult time. Miraculously, all of the perceived 'built-up tensions' between my sister and I melted away as we reunited for a common family purpose. My Father, generally rather stoic and non-emotional, now, had a new found respect and admiration for the redefined family unit. "I wish your mother could have seen this", he remarked, refering to the newly built relationship between my sister and I.

This shifting family dynamic is what fascinates me and attracts me to Floyd Collins...I truly believe that Lee, Floyd's father, loves his children immensely, but finds himself in changing times and doesn't always understand their motivations. This was true of the relationship between my father and I. Lee and my father? very 'old school'. Floyd and myself?...not so much... As we work on this piece, it seems clear that 'truth' must be told and 'freedom' should be alluded to...left in the hands of the audience member to hopefully reflect on as they absorb this work. Whatever the reaction, I feel confident that in the loving hands of Peter Sullivan, we have all come together for a common good- to tell a story that isn't easy but might possibly make us look to the sky for further answers and assistance- whatever you may beleive in.

There is a pivotal scene towards the end of this play that bears SO much information and really 'colors' the relationships between Lee and his three children. In my work on this play, I continue to come back to the 'family scene' to obtain more clues about the Collins Family dynamics; over and over again. The escalating tensions in this scene are further underscored by the family's mounting concern about Floyd.

It all comes back to Floyd.

"How many times I gotta tell him? Cavin' never comes to nothin'"...(pgs. 9-10)

Floyd lives within us all...a gentle dreamer, a hopeful soul and a tireless laborer who knows that something more exists; either 'out there' or within is with his example that we can all move forward to be closer to our own personal destiny. This is the brilliant piece of work that Adam Guettel and Tina Landau place before us for our lucky we are to have this 'wake -up' call...and not a moment too soon.

-- Russell Alan Rowe is a Chicago actor last seen in BoHo Theatre's production of The Rainmaker. He can be seen playing Lee Collins in Floyd Collins, opening June 15 at Theater Wit.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Floyd Collins: Jim DeSelm, Alone in the Dark

If I could self-diagnose for a moment, I believe I have a nasty case of restlessness.  I stopped wearing a watch because I would constantly, nervously check the time, even when I had nowhere to go, no future event to anticipate.  This would cause my wife to ask reasonable questions like, “I’m sorry, am I keeping you?”  I am a disciple of my smart phone, because it allows me to talk to someone, listen to something, and do something completely different all at the same time.  I’m fidgety; I’m easily distracted. I’m frequently overextended, and find myself in a culture that seems intent on allowing me to exercise all of these habits.

Have you ever found yourself forced to be still?  Ever had your phone taken away, ended up in a place with no television, found yourself alone in the dark, forced to stop moving, to be silent, to simply be?  Who do you meet there? What do you see?

Floyd Collins is a man who is chasing things.  He’s done with being a farmer, and believes wholeheartedly that his “glory” is awaiting him in the next crawl.  He wants to show his father that he’s wrong about Floyd being a “crazy caving fool.”  It drives him to move, to push harder.  And then, in that cave, call it a twist of fate, call it the Hand of God, call it plain bad luck, he is forced to stop, to hold still.  He can’t move his feet, he can’t help himself, he can only fill the dark, cold space with his own thoughts.

Floyd’s story invites us to put ourselves in that dark, cold space, and this prospect can be downright terrifying.  Not just because you’re trapped, but because the person you meet when you’re alone in the dark is yourself.  And what if that’s company you’re not actually willing to keep?  Maybe I’m chronically restless because the motion keeps me from communing with the hard things I know to be true about myself.  And maybe being forced to be still is really the cure.

-- Jim DeSelm can be seen in the title role of BoHo Theatre's production of Floyd Collins which opens June 15 at Theater Wit. Jim lives in Chicago with his lovely wife, Karri.