Wednesday, July 24, 2013

17 Questions for Todd Zeigler

Elizabeth Cox & Todd Zeigler in the 2012 production of
Dirty Sexy Derby Play.

By Brian Walker
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Brian Walker. All rights reserved

Todd Zeigler is a man of many talents. Originally from Atlanta, Todd graduated from college with a journalism degree and drama minor. After graduating he dove head first into theatre and moved to the great city of Louisville. He worked with numerous companies in town as an actor, director, technician – sometimes all three in the same production. He joined The Alley Theatre in 2009 playing drums for Evil Dead, The Musical, and has recently stepped up into the company’s Artistic Director position.

Brian Walker:  I’d love to do a “17 Questions for…” interview with you, if you’ve got time and are willing?
Todd Zeigler:  I am flattered and tickled as hell.

BW:  Oh good – I love a good tickle!
TZ: Thank you for asking! The pleasure is mine, yours, and if we do this just right, several random passersby.

BW:  Indeed!  Alright, Number 1:  So Artistic Director, there’s a ton of work that goes into running a theatre; what’s been the most challenging thing so far for you at The Alley?
TZ:  Learning to juggle and then finding a show to put it in!  I'm totally kidding…I'll never be able to juggle. In all seriousness, though, the biggest challenge that I totally thrust upon myself is keeping all our projects organized and on track. This is probably our most ambitious season yet, and our goal is to be as prepared on the front end as possible. That has included show selection; securing directors, stage managers and technical for the season; casting as many roles in advance as possible. And that's only the standard theatrical fare. We'll shortly be putting the call out for submissions to our spring new play festival, which is a mini-season in and of itself. Plus we're entering a team in the 48-Hour Film Festival, developing some other short film projects, planning some new play and acting workshops, and trying to bring some incredibly cool theater in from beyond the Ohio Valley. On top of all that, I've set myself up to write at least two of our shows this year – maybe three, if I am in the exact right place at the exact right time with the exact right drink for someone special…Zeus's Raven. What have I done to myself? Look at all that!  Whoever reads this, shake me the next time you see me. Just warn me you're going to first.

BW:  I’m going to shake you.
TZ:  Okay.
(Brian shakes Todd)

BW:  That’s a ton of stuff, but that’s great! Good for you! 
TZ:  Thank you.

BW:  Number 2:  What upcoming Alley project are you most looking forward to producing this season?
TZ:  It's hard to pick one. My A-number-one criterion for every show this season was, "Am I excited about doing it?" But today, I'd have to say All the Whos in Whoville, our Christmas special that pits a seemingly ageless time-traveling hero against an outcast villain declaring war on Christmas and the universe. It will be an epic sci-fi adventure and a whole lot of yuletide fun. I say that one because it combines everything we love doing here: cult classic material which people adore and celebrate like they own it, a little bit of our signature spin on the source material, plus the opportunity to do something really special for the Christmas season that has a bit of a point while still being tons of fun. I get to see how epic a story we can pull off onstage while throwing in a few surprises and left turns that will still make the hardcore fans happy. The pressure. That's a big part of what makes it so fun. Why do something that's easy?

BW:  Number 3:  And I hear tell of a late night Buffy the Vampire Slayer show? 
TZ:  Yes, indeed! In the spirit of how we've adapted Flash Gordon and Commando Cody for our late night performances (i.e.: lunacy and drinking games), we're developing Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 12 and Firefly: The Lost Episode, original 30-minute shows with a heavy improv bent that are tributes to these classic Joss Whedon opuses. (Someone can do more than one opus, right?) They'll be premiering at the Fright Night Film Festival July 26 to 28, and then run Saturdays at 10 p.m. all through the month of August. – longer, if the demand is there.

BW:  Number 4:  So you act, you direct, you write plays, you produce, you build sets, and I swear, if it can be done in a theatre you can do it. But is there one specific aspect of doing theatre you wish you had more time to focus in on?
TZ:  Definitely writing. Of everything that happens in the creative process, writing is the one thing that makes my soul do the Diet Coke Sip-and-Sigh of Satisfaction. [Pops top, sips, "Aaaaaaah."] The entire process is so incredibly fulfilling, from pouring over tons of research to connecting all these seemingly disparate threads, to rewriting and rewriting to hearing your words in someone's voice and going "No! Who wrote this crap?! You'll have fresh pages tomorrow." It makes my soul radiant. That and candy corn. I love candy corn.

BW:  Number 5:  You also play the drums. Ever thought about writing a musical?
TZ:  I've actually had a few ideas. But that would be a very atonal musical. [Rim shot.]

BW:  Haha!  Yeah, I guess you’re right.  Number 6:  You starred in the latest incarnation of Point Break LIVE. What was your favorite thing about playing the late great (God, I loved him) Patrick Swayze?
TZ:  Without getting too artsy-fartsy actory about it, I aimed more for the Bodhi character than Swayze himself :). But there are some Swayze moments, and it's all about quality over quantity. The one I'm most proud of is that we throw in two lines of "She's Like the Wind," the song he sang for Dirty Dancing. I can actually sing IN KEY. I may have ruined half the joke.

BW:  Number 7:  The Alley is known for doing very “movie-inspired” theatre. What’s one movie ya’ll haven’t brought to the stage yet but are dying to?
TZ:  No joke: two years ago, LEO did an April Fool's review of our production of Schindler's List: The Musical. There's a file folder floating around our office somewhere titled Schindler's List: The Musical. It's empty, mind you, but for a second, we thought about it...

BW:  Number 8:  Who are your favorite playwrights, and why do their plays hit you?
TZ:  I came to theater very late in life. I've learned by doing, so I don't have a deep knowledge of too many writers. But my tastes definitely bend toward the UK. Once I understood Samuel Beckett, I marveled (and still do) at how much life is in all of his characters. You think they're so weird and abstract and "WTF?"; and then you see them done right, and you think "My god, of course" and "I've been there." Secondly, Tom Stoppard. If dialogue and character were candy, Stoppard would be Willy Wonka. Just wow. Candy corn!

BW:  Number 9:  What’s your favorite Louisville hangout?
TZ:  The Alley Theater. I'm artistic director. I never leave this place. Why do you think we leave the bar open during the late shows?

Todd Zeigler.

BW:  Duh.  I should’ve known!  Number 10:  What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the local theatre scene?
TZ:  No matter where you start, jump in. Go to every audition, go see every show and talk to the people involved afterward. Learn an offstage skill. We all want to be onstage. It's the people that can design a light plot or sew that are infinitely valuable. See Question Number 1 – I really have done all that, and more. And for me personally, the biggest quality to have is this: Always be pleasant. If you're not there, be the person everyone misses.

BW:  Number 11:  In years past The Alley has hosted a Zombie-themed play festival – The InHuman A Festival – and this year it’s going to be different, right?
TZ:  Indeed it is. Even as we started this past season with Living Dead in Denmark (Shakespeare…with zombies), we were saying, "Ya know, we really need to get away from this." And this past spring's InHuman A Festival was much more diverse. I think only two plays featured zombies. So next spring, we'll be doing Superhuman: A Festival of New American Superhero Theater. Aside from it being another loving wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the Humana Festival (And in all seriousness, we love Actors Theatre and the unparalleled opportunity they provide for new plays. They're fantastic.), I think it will appeal to a different side of the writing process. Zombies and the undead can appeal to a certain dark, macabre part of the soul. It's fruitful but can get you down. I'm hoping the superhero genre will bring upon us an optimistic, hopeful assortment of plays.  I guess maybe what I'm saying is, Man of Steel disappointed me. 

BW:  Number 12:  If you got to be deserted on an island with any living celebrity for thirty days, who would it be and what would ya’ll do all month long?
TZ:  While there are degrees of celebrity, I would have to say comic writer Grant Morrison. The conversation would basically consist of me devolving into Chris Farley from "The Chris Farley Show" sketch on SNL. "You remember that one time when you had Batman defeat the god of all evil, who was, like, the archetype of all evil, only to have him send Batman traveling through time to write his own history and become a time energy-fueled bomb that was going to destroy all reality? … That was really coooooool."

BW:  Number 13:  What inspires you to keep doing theatre?
TZ:  At this point, having worked and studied and had my successes and failures and gotten to the point where I guess I'm a leader of sorts now, it's taking a glance into someone's soul and seeing what's in there waiting to get out; and then finding just the right thing for that person, and seeing it in their eyes when they feel it for the first time. I get burned out just like anyone. Discovery. That glint in the eyes as they widen with recognition. That keeps it fresh. 

BW:  Number 14:  If you had to name one single favorite experience doing theatre in Louisville, what would it be and why?
TZ:  There are too many, so I'm going to pick two. So, nyah. 

BW:  Hey, it’s your interview. You can say whatever you want!
TZ:  On the acting side, it was being in the cast of the revival of Dirty Sexy Derby Play. That was just a magical group in a magical show.  On the backstage side, it was my first time directing a show – The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis. It was a big show (3 hours, 8 minutes: yeah, yeah, I know…), and I gave the closing monologue to someone who was not an actor by training, just someone who was innately a performer yet very grounded and real. We worked the monologue a bunch, and I'm a light hand when directing. I try to give just enough for an actor to find the golden ticket themselves. And after one rehearsal, he sent me a text that said, "I finally get it. That Stanislavsky sh*t that you guys do." That moment…well, see answer to Question Number 13.

BW:  Number 15:  What’s something you've learned since taking over as The Alley's Artistic Director that you wish you would’ve already known?
TZ:  The magic combination for saying "No" in just the right way. We are incredibly fortunate to come into this season with a lot of momentum and a lot of people who believe in what we're doing and want to be a part of it. And I'll give full credit where it's due: I got where I am because Scott Davis (Alley Theater founder and Producing Director) kept giving me opportunities and saying “Yes” to things I wanted to do (like three-hour shows – trust me, I've learned my lesson). I want everyone that comes here to have those same opportunities. But a big part of my job is knowing when to say "No." No one, not even me, can do everything they want to do. I just try to make sure if I have to say "No," whoever is hearing it knows that it either means "Not right now" or "Hmm…well, no, but check this out…."

BW:  Number 16:  Any secret Alley plans for this season or next you can share with me…give Arts-Louisville a little "breaking news" story?
TZ:  "Point Matrix Live: The Ultimate Mash Up."  Not really – no. But can you imagine? "Morphi, this is your wakeup call! I am an IT Developer!"

BW:  Number 17:  What’s one thing most folks would be surprised to learn about you?
TZ:  I know every single word to "Ice Ice Baby." It is the only thing I will do at karaoke. I don't even need to look at the screen. But I do require a bourbon and coke to make it happen.

Reservoir Dogs
"White" (Male) Cast: Fridays (Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23) at 7:30 p.m.
"Blonde" (Female) Cast: Saturdays (Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24) at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $17 + coupon code for $5 to see the other show
Industry Nights ($12 tickets): Men on the 5th, Women on the 12th
Student Nights (Name Your Price w/ ID): Women on the 8th, Men on the 15th
At The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Reserve tickets at 713-6178 or

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