Thursday, September 17, 2009

Catching Up With.....Eric Roach

If anyone embodies the current soul of the Factory Theater, that one would have to be Eric Roach. He wrote the amazing Siskel & Ebert Save Chicago, directed three shows (including the upcoming 1985), served as ensemble director, and has starred in countless other productions. He has stamped his current sensibilities on the Factory while effortlessly retaining the spirit of its raucous, ridiculous past.

As much as anyone, he led the infusion of talent into the Factory around the middle of this decade, which reinvigorated the company and changed its direction. His stellar work has led to gigs at other theatre companies around town (and his very own celebrity roast), but his home is here. The Factory Theater Rooftop Shuffle is next Saturday (tickets still available) for 1985. So with that in mind, we sat down Lipton-style with His Comic Majesty:

Eric Thomas Roach


After your turn as the doomed cop Mac in Dead Wrong, you're jumping right back into the fray with 1985. Give the blog readers a quick synopsis of the new Factory show, and why the script appealed to you.

Well, it's George Orwell's 1984 mashed up with the 1985 World Champion Chicago Bears. I mean, that's the deal. It's also hilarious and weird and dark and also science fiction, which is one of my favorite genres. It's real sci-fi too, in that it's something that is an allegory for something else...namely the poor tortured soul of the average Chicago sports fan. But, doing a show about a Chicago sports fan would probably cause audience members to hang themselves, so this is an amazingly entertaining way to tell that story.

You're known for your comic characters, so the role of Mac (Dead Wrong) was a big departure for you. Looking back on Dead Wrong, was the investment in the character different for you, and was it easier or harder than some of your previous roles (such as Laughter on the 23rd Floor or Red Noses)?

Mac is a character like any other I've played. He just happened to have almost no sense of humor, which is definitely different for me. It was fun to be him for a while, and to explore a kind of sick side of myself. Please don't ask my wife what she thought of my "process" though. I wasn't very fun at parties for a few weeks.

You wrote the brilliant Siskel & Ebert Save Chicago, probably the biggest hit the Factory has had in the past five years. How did you come up with the idea to make Siskel a James Bond-type back from the dead, to fight the evil forces led by Oprah Winfrey?

I came up with the concept right after Siskel passed away, probably because I'm a sick bastard! I always loved Siskel's reviews, and I knew that At The Movies would never be the same when he passed. He and Ebert were heroes, just not superheroes...yet! It took a few years for the idea to germinate, but with the help of the Factory Writer's Workshop (who were absolutely invaluable with shaping the play and the characters) I was able to formulate a first draft that I was happy with.

The opening night of Siskel & Ebert Save Chicago may go down as the greatest opening night in the history of the Factory. Looking back, what are your memories of that night?

I remember being hungover...we were still doing Saturday benefit nights in those days, and I had had a scorcher of an evening the night before. I was like any 1st time writer...scared shitless that no one would show up, and scared again that people would show up and hate it! I remember that we were about to start the show, and Scott OKen (director of S&E and AD of the company) came up to me and said "Don't shit your pants!" And in walks Roger Ebert himself. I don't even remember if I said hello to him. He and his wife and some other folks grabbed their seats. Scott, Mike Tutaj (who did our amazing credits sequence), and I ran down the hall and silently screamed for about 3 minutes and went back in. The fact that Mr. Ebert was laughing at bits that I had come up with was amazing. When he pulled away in his car after the show and gave the cast outside a thumbs-up...well, I'm kind of choked up even writing about it. I remember having an amazing night that night, and the rollercoaster ride of the next few weeks was incredible. It was truly something I'll never forget, and the fact that Roger Ebert even wrote about us in his column in the Sun-Times and helped us out when he didn't have to is one of the highlights of my life. Thanks, Mr. Ebert.

A gun is pointed to your head and you must choose. Point Break or Road House? Discuss.

Point Break, definitely. I know Road House has Sam Elliot and the Jeff Healey band, but it's always been a little too redneck for my tastes. However, Point Break has Gary Busey. Busey wins.

You seem equally comfortable as an actor or director. Is there one "hat" you enjoy wearing as opposed to the other?

Either function has it's own set of challenges. No one becomes a director because they love accolades...if your show succeeds, it's the result of your actors. If it fails, well then fuck you, you shitty director! I suppose I enjoy being an actor because I know that I have 100% control of myself and that's all you can go for in this life. But directing truly immerses me in such a collaborative state...I love the idea of full show unity, even if it's only a goal and not a possible destination. The fact that it's all about having you and your cast and your crew and ultimately your audience working together to make something worthwhile...that's what directing is for me.

Kenneth Branagh is slated to direct Thor, which comes out in 2011 -- should we just give up on this project now?

Hey, long as Branagh doesn't cast himself as Thor we should be okay. Thor is a great comic book character...I just don't know how well he'll translate to the big screen.

How did you discover the Factory Theater, and what made you decide you wanted to be a part of it?

God...let's see. The first thing I ever saw by the Factory was Dragontales...back in the DAY! I kept up with shows as much as I could and would submit my headshot from time to time...but, apparently back then I must have been too much like Mike Mazzara or Todd Oldham or something because I NEVER got called in. I was about to give up when I got cast in a production of Factory's Lab Rats at Stage Left. It was a dismal show, but I met a lot of great people and had a ton of fun with it. But, again, once I was done wearing that sweaty rat suit nobody gave me a call. WTF, yo? Finally I went in and KILLED at my audition for Menage a Trailer and soon after was asked into the company. I believe it took about 5 years of trying to be noticed by the Factory...and thank God they did, because Factory is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I'm going to list the following movies for you to rate "GOOD" or "SUCK" -- and of course, add additional comments as the spirit moves you:

Spider-Man - GOOD. Sam Raimi wins.
Batman Begins - GOOD. Thank the LORD Nolan resurrected it.
Superman Returns - SUCKSUCKSUCK. The most disappointing movie of the summer that year. Holy BALLS.
Spider-Man 2 - GOOD. Alfred Molina stole the show.
Fantastic Four - SUCK. Asstastic Four.
Hulk - SUCK. Sam Elliot with no mustache = bad film. Do the math.
The Incredible Hulk - Didn't see it, I kind of want to give it a shot.
The Dark Knight - I waver between GOOD and SUCK on this one. Has someone done the 25 minute Heath Ledger only cut yet? Because I would watch that again.
Blade - GOOD. Always bet on black vampires who hunt evil vampires with Kris Kristofferson.
The Descent - GOOD. This is actually one of the finest horror films of the past decade. Don't believe me? Watch Rob Zombie's Halloween and try to argue with me.

What Factory show or role are you the most proud of/satisfied with?

There's so many that are great...but Mac from Dead Wrong challenged me the most. I am satisfied by a job well done. I am also egotistical and a genius.

Anything else you'd like to add about 1985?

I'm more excited about this show than Mike Singletary contemplating a juicy QB sack!

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