Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Catching up with......Scott OKen

Scott OKen is an American original.  There literally ain't no one else like him.  I sat next to OKen at last night's Actor's Night for Mop Top Festival (3 more short weeks!), an experience almost as entertaining as the show itself.  This is a guy who gives it everything he possibly has -- even when he's just sitting there watching a show.  Granted, it was a show he himself wrote and directed, but still.  

When White Trash Wedding And A Funeral was in its first few weeks, the Chicago Tribune decided to grace our ramshackle theater company for the very first time with its exalted presence.  Until then, we usually had great luck with the Reader and had done fairly well through word of mouth.  We were putting butts in the seats, but the major Chicago media continued to ignore us -- until that fateful night in late '95.  

So Larry Bommer sat uncomfortably in our dilapidated seats at 1257 W. Loyola Ave., while we the cast tried our very best not to freak out too much backstage.

Anyway, White Trash began with the opening notes of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird", and at the very top the lights went down one by one with each drum fill -- as opposed to a traditional slow fade.  It really gave the show a rock n' roll feel (I swear, this whole aside has to do with OKen.  I tend to ramble).  As the first organ notes began to play that night, with our destiny before us and the liquor-fueled crowd of about 45 starting to whoop it up, OKen suddenly and violently took me aside.

"The Tribune is here,"  he said to me with fire in his eyes.  "We're gonna be fucking famous."

I obviously never forgot that moment, and 14 years later he still gets excited about the theater and about the Factory in particular.  In many ways, right now he is the Factory.  So we put the following tough questions to him!  

Scott OKen
Member of the Factory Since: 
You wrote and directed Mop Top Festival, the Factory's latest hit show.  Now that it is up and running, what's your take on the finished product? 
I have never been so proud of a cast and crew. They brought my exact vision on to the stage. I am 100% Artistically satisfied.
Movie you are looking forward to the most this summer:
Xmen Origins: Wolverine!

Explain the genius of Bill Bixby.
I grew up on Bill Bixby...he was in a lot of tv series ingrained on my early tv watching brain...My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Magician, and of course, The Incredible Hulk..(you wouldn't like me when I'm angry...).  Truly a genius....plus I just like saying "Bixby".
You have now written several shows for the Factory, beginning with Surface Dwellers.  Do you have a favorite show out of all them?
I like different shows for different reasons. Surface Dwellers holds a place in my heart because that is mine and Ernie's first script. Toast of the Town may be the most perfect play that Ern and I have written. Top Shelf was my first solo effort and first lead role..GI's in Europe, I got to play Elvis essentially...Bustin' out of the Hell, was a subject matter that I really had a good time exploring, and Mop Top Festival may be the most personal and satisfying.
The "delivery room" scene near the end of Toast of The Town belongs in the Pantheon of All-Time Great Factory Scenes.  How did you come up with the idea and was it easy to write?
It was a slightly heightened version of what really happened with the birth of my first son. Ernie and I added some bits in, and Nick Digilio, the director, really took it to new heights. Yes, it was very easy to write!
What's your prediction for the Cubs this year?
Do you have a favorite role out of all the Factory shows you have ever done?  If so, what is it?
Tie between, Chet in GI's in Europe, Satan in Bustin' Out Of The Hell, or the Detective in Preying Manthis
What makes Thin Lizzy one of the all-time great rock outfits? 
Outfit.....ha!...Phil Lynott is a vastly underrated songwriter and singer. I love the dual guitar attack of Scott Gorham/Brian Robertson(and a few others) Every song on every LP is good...and they jam so hard!!!!!
Toast Of The Town is heavily influenced by the Marx Brothers.  Is that how it started out when you first began writing it?
Exactly. Ernie Deak (the co-writer) and I are major Marx Brothers fans...this was the perfect formula for us to use.
Will Jay Cutler be the finest Bears QB since Sid Luckman? 
3 Superbowls...just to start out....
The "Sexy Sadie" scene is my current favorite in Mop Top Festival.  What led you to choose that particular song?  Was it for the reasons that Christine Jennings' character describes in the show? That's part of it. I didn't want to use an "easy" crowd pleaser, like Imagine, or Hey Jude, or something like that. It was always one of my favourite Beatle tunes, and I think it lends it self to the rest of the character participation and buildup perfectly.
As the artistic director of the Factory, what is the accomplishment you are most proud of?
Getting more people to write and submit plays.
What are your goals for the company going forward?
I want the Factory to be on the MAP! I want everyone to know that THIS is the place to be...where creative expression is NOT dead!!!! In a perfect world I would love for us to be in a financial postion to do 6 plays a year.
You are trapped inside an elevator with the members of Genesis.  What do you say to them?
Why did you try to ruin music? It almost worked! Stop now! Go now and destroy all the master tapes now! Please! I see why you picked the name Genesis....the beginning...of the END OF MUSIC!!!!
Hardest song to play on the guitar:
Any song by Genesis, Wilco, or R.E.M.  because the guitar instantly rejects the bile that those songs produce...it locks up...I have to talk to it and promise to play some Hendrix...
Secretly the most difficult chord progression is the bridge from "Dance Hall Days" by Wang Chung....took me forever to figure it out!!!!

Your five desert island discs as of this week:
1. Thunder and Lightning-Thin Lizzy
2. Let it Be- The Beatles
3. Montrose- Montrose
4. Captain Beyond-Captain Beyond
5. Black Sabbath-Black Sabbath


Corrbette said...

3 out of 5 are self titled. Not Wang Chung Tonight by Wang Chung off the album Wang Chung? Or Talk Talk by Talk Talk off the album...ok, I'll stop.

Thank you for relaying the genius that is OKen. I love these!

Barbara said...

Wow, OKen puts Wilco on the same level as Genesis? How are we even friends?