|Eric Welch (first row, left) with the cast and crew of the
Chicago production of Circus Circus. Photo – Craig James Jr.
Eric Welch is taking his play Circus Circus to cities en route to LA
By Carmen Marti
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.
Last July, when 29-year-old Eric Welch and his collaborators opened the play Circus Circus in Louisville, Arts-Louisville.com ran an interview with Welch about his career (July 3, 2012). Primarily an actor, Welch had co-written the dark comedy about prison life with his friend, Louisville playwright Brian Walker; Welch played the lead in the production in The MeX Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, with George Bailey directing.
“To me, the thing that’s interesting about the play,” said Bailey, “is that it’s a-stereotypical.” When asked what prison was like, Eric said, “It’s like being dropped in the middle of a circus. You don’t know what’s going on. In Circus Circus, you get to see the scariness of prison, the loneliness of it, the strangeness of it – that’s the circus.”
The show repeatedly sold out the 100-seat theater over its six-show run. Typically harsh critics admonished Bailey and Welch for making them cry. The experience was a complete success.
After the Louisville run, Welch went on through the summer and fall pursuing his other endeavors – the Still Spinnin indoor cycling studio and painting houses. “I do everything to pay the bills so I can act,” he said. And by January, Welch was ready to generate more action around Circus Circus. “I was bored,” he said. But more so, he had a story itching to be told.”
The play is based on Welch’s experience going to prison for selling large amounts of marijuana; he was released from a two-year sentence in 2010 and will complete three years of parole next month. But the trim, smiling, self-proclaimed health nut is no gangster; he’d been forced to drop out of the University of Louisville because he couldn’t afford it, so he starting looking for ways to generate cash.
“I was broke,” Welch said. “Yeah, I enjoyed the weed, but I was also a businessman. There’s a business model to selling drugs. You don’t make any money selling ounces. But you work your way like a business does, and I learned.”
“That part of my life helped me honestly,” Welch continued. “It gave me confidence; it gave me the knowledge that I am smart enough. I learned how to turn 15 cents into a dollar. I learned I have a talent for making money. I can make things happen – turn things around.”
“Makes me realize I can do this acting thing,” Welch concluded. “I can do this.”
And so he is. Last January Welch got on the phone, asked some questions, found a venue in Chicago, slapped down his credit card and booked six performances for June. (“I’m impulsive,” he said.) Welch called George Bailey and asked him to direct the show again. He recruited two of the actors, Sean Childress and Robert Hatfield, from the Louisville production to go along, then auditioned and selected actors in Chicago to fill the cast. He launched a self-propelled publicity program to sell seats. And Circus Circus ran at the Den Theater in Chicago’s hip Wicker Park neighborhood from June 7 through 16.
Though Welch lost money on the Chicago show, “It was an incredible experience,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Except now Welch is going for more – he’s begun plans to produce Circus in Denver this fall. Almost the entire Chicago cast is going, and maybe some of the actors from Louisville. Welch will co-direct the play this time, and he’s partnering with a money man in Denver who is helping with marketing and funding. “I’ll get paid,” Welch said. “All the actors will get paid...which is the whole goal.”
Beyond that, Welch wants to get back to Los Angeles. “The show is getting bigger and better,” he said. “My goal is to make it to LA and hopefully make it into a movie.”
“This is my dream,” Welch said. “I believe if you follow your dream, it can happen.”