This Wednesday, Queen City Flash, a brand new theatre company, debuts the first installment of THE COMPLETE TOM in a still secret location. It’s wild, its brazen, and as far as I know its never been done in Cincinnati before. We sat down with Trey Tatum and Bridget Leak to talk about this new, creative project.
Let’s talk about how you ended up in Cincinnati. Where did you come from and why did you come here?
Bridget: Grew up an army brat, so I’ve lived all over. I moved to NYC in 2007 for grad school. That’s where I met Trey. After grad school, I started directing and assisting fulltime. I assisted Timothy Douglas on The Trip to Bountiful in Cleveland in 2011 and later at Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where I met Blake Robison. So, when the job posting became available for the Directing Internship at Playhouse in the Park, I jumped at it.
Trey: We got married in June 2013 and Bridget was set to leave in August for the year-long position at Playhouse. We decided that I should quit my job, rather than hold down the fort, so we stuck a match on our life in NYC and moved to Ohio.
Tom Sawyer is an interesting choice for source material. Why Tom?
Trey: It’s a web of reasons – there’s a bunch of Mark Twain ties to Cincinnati (He lived on Walnut St., teases us for having clean water in Huckleberry Finn, one of his illustrators was Daniel Beard, whose house is in Covington), Liberty St. is the place in America where slaves became free. Tom and Huck’s adventures are among the most banned stories we have. Being able to introduce/reintroduce a piece of Classic American Literature faithfully was also an exciting challenge. It’s also going to be fun. Who doesn’t want to see Huck Finn on an actual river? Recently though, Tom’s story has taken a new importance for us. Ultimately, these stories are about growing up with tolerance and empathy for others. Tom Sawyer’s St. Petersburg, MO is separated from this week’s events in Ferguson, MO by 100 miles and 170 years, but the lesson of how we should treat those who are different than us is seemingly more important than ever.
I think the gimmick of the secrecy of location is fun . . . but why so secret?
Bridget: Trey and I had always dreamed of doing flash mob-style theater, but we knew that crowd control would be difficult (especially for a free show). Artistically, we didn’t want our style of storytelling to be limited to “making it big enough for the back row,” so smaller house sizes was a must. There’s also the practicality of a bunch of people stumbling over each other after sunset. The secret locations emerged out of that, but it also ties into our idea that theater should be more of a party than viewing a golf tournament. “Flash mob” sounds informal and that’s what we want to do, take out some of the formality of going to the theater and encourage something a little different.
Trey: But we also have the community center performances to balance that out. We want to make theater available to people who might not have frequent access, while offering something different and exciting to regular theater-goers who might be interested. With the flash mob, you’re part of a secret society: the call goes out, we assemble in dark places and magic happens.
What should we expect (especially for those of us who might be shy or apprehensive about audience participation) with the “flash mob” part of the project?
Bridget: As a director, I hate audience participation – as an audience member, actors looking at me makes me uncomfortable. Our definition of flash mob is that we all show up for this momentary event. Obviously, with indoor theater, audiences are also asked to “show up,” but we want to expand that. Show up early with your picnic, eat and talk with the cast, meet new people, live tweet the whole thing. Flash mob is about uniting communities over a shared experience and discovering/experiencing parts of your city in a new way.
Trey: We’re also still figuring this thing out. Right now it’s pretty cut and dry, but as we grow with this experiment, I think you can expect a lot more when you hear the phrase “flash mob theater.”
Well, I’ll be there – wherever THERE is – on Wednesday night. What’s next for the two of you after this?
Bridget: The Cincinnati Art Ambassador Fellowships totally enabled Trey and I to stay in Cincinnati creating theater. The Complete Tom is four different 90 minute plays and then it’s time for CincyFringe again. In between here and then, I’ll be directing one of the touring shows at the Playhouse [in the Park] and both of the spring shows at Indian Hill High School.
Trey : The super amazing thing about making theater in Cincinnati is how much more fulfilling it is over NYC. It’s cheaper to produce, audiences are eager to see weird stuff and the city has an amazing talent pool. Our cast for Adventures (Erin Ward, Sam Rueff, Travis Black, Brandon Holcomb and Tara Williams) are just stupid talented. In New York, I was lucky to work on one show a year, so it had to be whatever I was most passionate about, usually socially-conscious pieces like what we did in Fringe. Here in Cincinnati, I have the resources of time, energy and opportunity to tackle all of the things I love: activism theater projects like Slut Shaming, weird stuff like Mars vs. the Atom, epic projects like The Complete Tom and more. I hope that every project we work is radically different from the last so that people aren’t sure what to expect when they hear Bridget and I are onto the next thing. It’s such a gift to able experiment like we are and Cincinnati is a great theater town to do it in.
THE COMPLETE TOM 1. ADVENTURES debuts this week in an undisclosed location. All of the flash mob shows have sold out, however there are still tickets available for the community center performances. Click here for more details.